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Say there, chickadees, how ya doing? Happy Wednesday!
So you regular readers know that I have a small plant care business in Albuquerque called Good To Grow. Frequently, people will come up to me and ask me their burning plant questions.
Which is great, I love sharing my knowledge and passion about houseplants or officeplants. I know that plants are living, breathing creatures and that if you bring them indoors, they’re 100% dependent on your care. They cannot fend for themselves like the trees and flowers outdoors. People have questions, that’s normal.
Don’t ask me if you don’t listen.
Did you sense the emphasis in the way I wrote that? Formatting can only do so much – if we were talking in person, I would be waving my arms and asking, “Why? Why are you wasting my time if you already know it all? Why bother me?”
Nah, I wouldn’t actually do that, because I rely on good customer relations for my business. But I might be thinking it, haha.
Let me tell you a story from a few weeks ago. It’s not the first time I’ve had this type of conversation with someone but it was representative of how they usually go.
Imagine this: I’m caring for the plants in an old adobe office building downtown on a pretty sunny day. An employee approaches and asks for advice about one of his houseplants.
Him: “Hey there, I’m having problems with one of my plants, can I ask your advice?”
Me: “Sure, I’d be happy to help. What kind of plant is it and what’s wrong?”
Him: “I don’t know the names of my houseplants, but these fruit flies are flying all over my house and I know the plants are to blame.”
Me: “Fruit flies? You mean fungus gnats?”
Him: “It doesn’t matter, they’re driving me crazy. How do I get rid of them?”
Me: “Fungus gnats thrive on moisture, so the best way is to let your plants dry out.”
Him: “No, I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work.”
Me, thinking: Uh-oh, he’s one of those guys. Mr. Know-It-All-But-Gets-It-All-Wrong. Darnit!
Me, saying: “Ok, well, what else have you tried?”
Him: “I tried Neem Oil, a couple of spray pesticides, a systemic pesticide…hmmm, what else?”
Me, startled: “In your house? Do you have kids?”
Him: “Yes, why?”
Me: “It’s just that there are plenty of non-toxic ways to get rid of fungus gnats that won’t harm your children.”
Him (defensively now): “I would never put my children in harm’s way.”
Me (darnit!): “Of course you wouldn’t knowingly do that! I understand!”
Him: “Good. Now, what type of insecticide do you recommend?”
Awkward pause. Ummmm.
This guy obviously didn’t want my expertise, so I just shrugged my shoulders and suggested he google it. Then I walked away, fast.
There was a time in the past I may have tried harder to talk to someone like him about pest control. But I’ve seen his type too many times to do that now.
Maybe one day he’ll google “how to get rid of fungus gnats” and he’ll wind up here and recognize himself. Although I doubt it, because assholes are usually the last to know.
So how do you get rid of fungus gnats?
The best place to start is to stop overwatering your plants. If the soil has a chance to dry out, they’ll all die.
You should also replace either the top few inches of soil with better quality soil (like FoxFarm or Happy Frog¹), or all of the soil. Start fresh.
I am a big, big fan of using yellow sticky strips, like this one:
To catch the gnats. They live in the potting soil, so as they emerge, they are attracted to the yellow, fly over and get stuck. Will they all die in a day? No. But sticky traps are the most effective way to kill gnats.
There are insecticides you can buy, like gnaterol. But to me, it seems risky to use them indoors, especially as far as my business is concerned.² There’s no way to know how people may react or what the long-term ill effects may be, on adults or kids. We are talking about poisons, afterall. Most office buildings have windows that don’t open, so if nothing else, the stink lingers and that alone is reason enough not to use them. Also, spray pesticides don’t work because gnats are too little – they just fly away as you try to spray them.
Some people may wonder why I don’t live and let live in regard to pests indoors. Those people clearly have never tried to work while gnats buzzed around their heads. Pests in a workplace or home are unacceptable to me. They indicate not a healthy ecosystem but a problem with the plants.
If you have questions about how to get rid of bugs on your houseplants, let me know.
I’ll be back manana, hope to see you here.
¹ Just because Miracle Gro is popular doesn’t mean it’s good quality. At the big box stores, bags are stored outside in the rain. Because of this, pretty much every single bag of Miracle Gro is already infected with fungus gnats. Your local nurseries carry better brands and keep them dry.
² There are non-toxic ways to kill virtually every pest that might attack a houseplant. The exception, in my experience, is scale. There’s no natural or easy way to kill scale. Every once in awhile, I’ll encounter an extreme case of mealy bugs that requires Neem Oil, but usually rubbing alcohol does the trick. If I do need to use Neem, I’ll take the plant outside and spray it.