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Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Polk County

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  • 20 Jul 2022 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak


    The zucchini pictured above is an AAS winner which is a great producer called Bossa Nova F1.

    Prevention is the best method to eliminating the threat of squash bugs.

    It’s important to keep a close watch and eliminate the threat of squash bugs at this time in the garden. Zucchini and other members of the cucurbits family are at risk for squash bugs.  Cantaloupe, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash are all susceptible to the squash bug and should be monitored closely. The small brown eggs are laid in small clusters, usually on the underside of the leaf.

    Manual removal of these insects at the early stages.

    These eggs can be manually removed from the leaves. Check the underside of leaves frequently and remove any of the eggs that can be seen. Once hatched, nymphs have pear-shaped, pearly grey bodies with darker legs and antennae. They become darker and wing pads begin to develop as they grow. This is the best stage to control with insecticides, which include organic products. The squash bug adults have flattened, tear-shaped bodies. The are commonly found in fairly large colonies, with several different stages of development present at the same time.

    Each year we raise food with is later donated to the local food panties. You can read more here.

  • 13 Jun 2022 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Blue False Indigo

    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis), also known as Blue Wild Indigo, is a hardy herbaceous perennial that grows to a moderate size.  Resistant to poor soil, drought and pests, it attracts butterflies with its blooms in May and June. Blue false indigo is ideal for native gardens while hardy and suitable for any home  landscape.

    Facts about Blue False Indigo:

    Blue False Ingigo FACTS
    Scientific Name : Baptisia australis
    Bloom Time : May to June
    Color: Dark Blue
    Type:  Perennial
    Height:  3 to 4 feet
    Width/Spread:  3 to 4 feet

    Good things to know:

    Blue False Indigo is a herbaceous perennial native to the eastern United States. It grows easily in dry to medium moist soil in full sun to partial shade.  It is tolerant of drought, rabbits, and poor soil, and attracts butterflies.  Very low maintenance, it grows well, maturing to a more shrubby appearance. It can be used in borders, prairie or native meadow gardens.  Plant in U.S. Hardiness zones 3 to 9. It is not recommended to transplant or divide as its roots grow very deep. However, they can be propagated by stem cuttings.

    Blue False Indigo for Native Gardens.

    A welcome addition to native and prairie gardens, it is an ideal cut flower. In addition the seed pods which develop make a pretty cut stem for dry flower arrangements. You can find blue false indigo at Demonstration Garden in the water wise garden behind the bulb garden.

  • 27 Apr 2022 1:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Know Your Seeds | Demonstration Garden

    Seed Spacing and Preferences.

    It’s helpful to know your seeds before planting. You may think that “seeds are seeds” and if you water them they should grow. But it couldn’t be farther from the truth. All seeds are different. Most seed packets detail seed preferences. When specifics are not available, as a general guide plant seeds a depth of two to four times the greater diameter of the seed. Some seeds desire cooler temps while others prefer the soil to be warmer.  Some seeds require scarification (when you knick the surface) and others do well to be soaked in advance.  Do your research first and the time will be worth your while for an optimal germination success rate.

    Seed Storage and Viability.

    You don’t need to use all your seeds at once. In fact, it’s likely you will only need to plant a fraction of your seed packet for the space you have available. Be sure to consider the spacing your plant will require at full size when sowing directly into the garden. You can store leftover seeds in cool and dry conditions and many will last 3-5 years when stored properly.

    Gemination and Interplanting.

    Different seeds have different germination times. Radishes, for example, are quick to sprout taking as few as 6 days to germinate while carrots can take up to 20. This offers the opportunity for interplanting, or companion planting. You can plant complimentary plants together to optimize time and space harvesting the radishes in time for the carrots to come to maturity. This practice can also minimize soil crusting that can cause poor emergence of carrots.

    When to Plant Your Seeds.

    We all tend to plant seeds in the spring and that’s often the one time of year it’s considered. However, a small change in mind set can help you  see that you should be planting the right seeds and the right time. For example, planting fall crops in the summer. In addition, some seeds are best broadcast in the fall such as larkspur, for example, and some other perennials. These fall loving  perennials may be attempted in the spring, but you will simply have more success with some in the fall.  Turf grass seeds also prefer fall sowing.

  • 9 Mar 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    All gardeners have felt the thrill of receiving that first spring seed catalog, or the joy of walking from frigid outdoor temperatures into a store and spying that inviting colorful display of seed packets.  A seed holds a promise of spring, a promise of summer, green leaves, glorious foliage, beautiful flowers, delicious and bountiful harvests.

    As inviting as those colorfully packaged seeds are though, don’t forget that saving your own seed can be just as exciting.  While purchasing seeds is a fairly inexpensive option compared to purchasing starter plants, it costs nothing to save your own seeds for future use. Not only does saving your own seeds keep more money in your pockets, it also has other benefits.

    Saving seed helps preserve genetic diversity. Seed companies only offer so many varieties for sale. Saving your own seeds ensures that you have access to varieties that are not easily accessible for purchase. It also allows you to re-grow your favorite plants year after year, and those plants may eventually adapt to perform their best in your specific garden climate.

    The first step in successfully saving seeds is to determine if the plant you wish to save seeds from is a good candidate or not. The seeds of hybridized plans may not contain the same traits as the parent plant and therefore growing plants next season from their seeds may not provide the results you experienced the year before.

    Cross pollination is also a factor. If you’d like to save pure seed avoid gathering seeds from plants grown next to other varieties that may have cross pollinated. The fewer varieties of each plant you grow, the lower the possibility of cross-pollination resulting in seed that produces plants that differ from the parent. This may require research to determine if the plants in question are capable of cross pollination, or if this is not a concern save the seed and perhaps next season you’ll have a new variety that you like even more.

    Another important aspect of seed saving is knowing when seeds are ready for harvest. Many seeds, especially those of vegetables, are not ready when the produce is market ready or ripe for eating.  Research the specific plant you’re saving seed from to determine when the best time to collect seeds is.

    If you’ve never saved seeds before, start simple with plants that are easy for beginners such as peas, tomatoes, beans, lettuce, and peppers. 

    • Peas
    • Leave the peas on the vine and harvest when they turn brown and start to dry.
    • Lay them out to dry completely before storing.
    • If there is fear of frost bring them inside and hang upside down in cool ventilated area out of direct light.
    • Beans
      • Leave on the vine and harvest when the pods get leathery.
      • If there is fear of frost bring them inside and hang upside down in cool ventilated area out of direct light.
    • Lettuce
      • Lettuce bolts (forms flowers and gets bitter) so either have one patch for seed and one for eating or allow only some to go to seed. Lettuce will bolt at varying times so you may need to harvest throughout the season.
      • The flower will opens as a fluffy dandelion type head when seeds are ready.
      • Harvest and keep in cool well ventilated area.
    • Tomato
      • Harvest when you harvest the tomato for eating.
      • Scoop out the seeds. Rinse off and allow seeds to dry in a warm ventilated area on a coffee filter as seeds may stick to paper towels.
      • Once dry store in a cool well ventilated area.
    • Peppers
      • Open the pepper, scrape out seeds and allow to dry.
      • Store in a cool well ventilated area.
    • Flowers
      • Sunflower, coneflower, black eyed susan, morning glory, nasturtium, zinnia, poppy are easy varieties to gather seed from.
      • Harvest after plant is done blooming and when flower has lost all petals. Snip off flower head and allow to dry (if not dried on the plant) separate seeds from husks or pods, allow to dry in well ventilated dry area. Save in paper bag/envelope

    Once you’ve determined when to gather seed from the plants of your choosing, then you must determine the best way to harvest and store them over winter to ensure the best chance for success in following seasons. In general seeds should be stored in a cool dry, well ventilated area. Store them in envelopes, brown paper bags or other containers that allow seeds to breathe.

    Seed viability can vary from species to species, but in general germination rates decline each year seeds are stored. If you gather more than you will use within the foreseeable future, take the opportunity to share them with friends and neighbors. You can also search online for local seed groups, where you can donate, receive and swap seeds.

  • 9 Mar 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Annual is a term used to describe plants that only grow for one season as opposed to perennials that come back year after year. True annuals are adapted to grow quickly and flower prolifically therefore ensuring future generations by abundant seed production. Other plants may be considered annuals only in particular climates where they are not adapted to survive the fall and winter seasons. For example,  Coleus plants are perennials in their native subtropical regions, but here in Iowa are treated as annuals.

    Annuals are easy to grow, and often grow more quickly and bloom longer than their perennial counterparts because they are not expending as much energy on creating roots and nutrient storage for the following year. Planting annuals can provide a large variety of blooms and allow you to add new color and variation to your garden spaces. 

    If you peruse the aisles of the big box garden centers, review the pages of a gardening magazine, or search pictures of gardens online, more often than not the annual plants you see are in full sun. They are bright vibrant plants and large blooms basking in direct sunlit gardens or containers. However it is rare that all areas of a garden are in full sun. Despite what you may see at first glance at your local garden center, there is a wide variety of annual plants and flowers that will thrive in shaded areas of your garden and provide just as much color and beauty as their sun tolerant counterparts.

    Below are some annual options that are well adapted for shade:

    • Begonia
      • Light requirements:
        • Prefer filtered sunlight beneath thin tree canopies
        • Will wilt/burn in direct sun
      • Advantages:
        • Variety of colors and flower shapes
        • Bloom continuously until a hard frost
        • Deadheading is not required
    • Impatiens
      • Light requirements:
        • Shade – will wilt in direct sun
      • Advantages:
        • Variety of color
        • When planted close together they create a carpet of blooms.
    • Lobelia
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • blue, purple, or white blooms in cascades of color
        • blooms before night temps get too warm- trim it back if it gets shaggy and it will revive when cooler weather returns
    • Fuchsia
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade (prefers morning light and afternoon shade)
      • Advantages:
        • drapes over hanging pots
        • attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
    • Coleus
      • Light requirements:
        • differs based on variety – choose a shade tolerant variety
      • Advantages:
        • wide variety of color and foliage shape
    • Caladium
      • Light requirements:
        • Full to partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • great accent plant with large heart shaped leaves
    • Torenia
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Delicate flowers that resemble snapdragons
        • attracts hummingbirds
    • Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)
      • Light requirements:
        • Full sun to partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Sweetly scented flowers open in evening or during cool ties of the day
        • drops lots of seeds and may return the following year
    • Magilla Perilla
      • Light requirements:
        • Shade, Sun
      • Advantages:
        • Showy coleus-like foliage
        • extremely heat and cold tolerant
        • fills in mixed containers quickly
    • Sweet Potato Vine
      • Light requirements:
        • Sun or Shade
      • Advantages:
        • beautiful leaves in various shades
        • Great accent plant that fills in quickly and covers large areas
    • Polka Dot Plant
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial to full shade
      • Advantages:
        • Showy, spotted foliage
        • can bring indoors in the winter as a houseplant
    • Browallia
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Low maintenance
        • Blooms prolifically and for an extended period
        • Attracts hummingbirds
    • Balsam
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Heirloom flowers
        • Great as cut flowers
    • Sweet Alyssum
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Low growing carpet of tiny flowers
    • Tradescantia
      • Light requirements:
        • Partial shade
      • Advantages:
        • Grown for its foliage
        • Often kept as a houseplant but can be planted in shady outdoor gardens
  • 7 Jan 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Offers Blossoms, Berries, and Beauty

    Looking to go Native with your plantings? If you have room for a tall shrub or a small tree, consider the multi-use serviceberry (Amelanchier).  It offers showy white blossoms in spring, edible berries in June, and fall colors in bright red, orange, and yellow.

    Maturing around 15-25’ tall, serviceberry is an excellent ornamental for small landscapes. Serviceberry is naturally a multi-trunked shrub.  It can be pruned to a single-stemmed tree.  It’s easily grown in average-to-moist soils in full sun to part shade and is hardy to Zone 4.

    Common name Juneberry

    Flowers appear around April and are followed by edible fruits in June. Berries resemble blueberries in size, color, and flavor.  They have long been used in jams, jellies, and pies—or eaten fresh off the tree. It’s not uncommon to see serviceberry pies alongside the blueberry pies at the Iowa State Fair!

    Except for two or three species they are Native North America and Canada.  There are at least two dozen species of Amelanchier trees and shrubs worldwide.  Every state but Hawaii boasts one or more varieties. The most common used in home landscapes and easiest found cultivar is “Autumn Brilliance” (A. grandiflora). Which features large white blossoms and vivid fall colors. For berry production, however, growers might prefer cultivars of A. laevis, the berries of which are reportedly plumper and sweeter than the fruits of other cultivars. Laevis (most commonly found online) has fall color comparable to other varieties.  In fact, a bit of delving online reveals a host of Amelanchier cultivars. Take your pick!

    Used for centuries

    The name “serviceberry”—or “sarvis tree”—may have come from the spring thaw when roads in early America became passable and colonists could once again attend church services. Another version of the name states that, with the thaw, mourners were able to have burial services for those who had died in the winter. (“Sarvis” was an 18th Century pronunciation of “service.”) Another name, “shadblow,” came from the fact that the trees blossomed at the same time the shad began to run in New England streams. “Saskatoon,” another name, derived from the Cree Indian name for the tree—which, in turn, became the name of the city in Saskatchewan. Native Americans reportedly mashed the berries and mixed them with minced meat and fat as a food for journeys.

    While mostly disease free, serviceberry has the same occasional problems as other members of the apple family: rust, leaf spot, powdery mildew, and fire blight. The best way to keep these at bay is to keep the plant healthy by raking up leaves in fall, ensuring moist (but not wet) soil, and mulching to the drip line.

    If you have the space in your landscape for a lovely, underused native, why not give serviceberry a try!

  • 1 Jan 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    Most gardeners have a deep appreciation for nature and, in turn, for wildlife. However, those feelings of reverence tend to fade after a herd of deer pillage the landscape you’ve so meticulously planned and cared for, or help themselves to the fruits and vegetables you planned on enjoying yourself. 

    While anyone who gardens should plan on sharing some of their plants with the many creatures of nature, whether it be slimy slugs, odious squash bugs, or adorable bunnies, the graceful deer can take more than their fair share of your hard work. Adult deer can eat six to ten pounds of greenery and they’re not very picky, especially during the spring. All members of the herd are working to gain back the weight lost during the winter, and doe especially are hungriest as they are nursing their fawns.

    There are several products, methods and practices that can help alleviate the damage done by deer. The best and most effective way of keeping your garden deer free is fencing. Ideally a fence should be eight to twelve feet tall, with spaces between the pickets no more than eight inches. Electrifying the fence is also a great option to ensure your garden is undisturbed.

    If you don’t have the capability of making a fence up to eight or twelve feet, a shorter fence, around 4 feet high, that slants outwards at a 45 degree angle can keep deer at bay. While deer can easily scale a 4 foot vertical fence, the depth of the slanted fence will keep them at bay because they won’t risk jumping both high and long.

    Fencing an entire garden can be costly and impractical. If this solution is not available, consider protection for individual plants that deer are targeting. Deer netting, a sturdy plastic netting sold in rolls at most home improvement and hardware stores, can be placed around plants and small areas with metal fence posts. Chicken wire and galvanized hardware cloth are also good options to protect individual areas or plants.

    These deterrents can be effective but are not the most aesthetically pleasing alternatives. If aesthetics are a factor, consider stringing fishing line on tall stakes. The deer will come in contact with the fishing line and become spooked because they did not see it. In general deer are timid in nature and have a flight response to unexpected objects and sounds. Use this to your advantage by hanging empty cans or other noisemakers on the aforementioned fishing line for an added effect.

    You can also utilize things like wind chimes, motion activated lights, and motion activated sprinklers to keep deer at bay without installing fencing. Sometimes just placing unexpected objects, such as yard décor, in an area deer visit can keep them at bay. Be warned though that deer will quickly become accustomed to these objects and you’ll need to change up your methods often.

    If these physical deterrents are not possible or are not working, consider attacking deer’s senses.  There are many over-the-counter and homemade concoctions that can convince deer to move onto someone else’s garden. Solutions that can be purchased may contain things like the urine of predators (coyote, and wolf, etc.). Some homemade options include a simple bar of Irish Spring soap, a sprinkling of human hair at the perimeter of the garden, or a solution made of rotten eggs or milk.  The disadvantage of these types of deterrents is that they need to be reapplied often, especially after being washed off in the rain. Deer can also become accustomed to or tolerant of these smells over time.

    Attacking the deer’s sense of smell may not be enough. You may also need to deter their tastebuds. The rotten egg or rotten milk solutions mentioned above serve as both a scent and taste deterrent, but another long term option would be to consider what plants deer do and do not enjoy eating, and planning your garden and landscape with those things in mind.

    In general deer enjoy smooth, tender and flavorful plants; things like English ivy, lettuces, beans, hostas, impatiens and pansies. This isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy these plants, but you should think carefully about how to protect them and where to plant them. Consider planting things you know deer enjoy closer to the house or in areas that deer cannot access.

    Consider choosing plants for your landscape and garden that deer don’t enjoy. The texture of plants like lamb’s ear, mullein, and boxwood are offputting to most deer. The scent of things like catmint, lavender, bluebells, bugleweed, daffodil, or bleeding heart will also convince deer to graze elsewhere.  This doesn’t mean you have to plant these items exclusively, but consider planting them around other plants to deter deer from snacking.

    One of the most important things to remember is that it’s impossible to protect all of your landscape and garden from all of nature’s creatures and deer can be especially troubling.  You should always plan for losses and vary deterrents and strategies to find out what works best for you and your landscape and to keep deer from getting used to your methods.
  • 1 Jan 2022 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak

    There are many advantages to growing perennials in your landscape. Perennials require less maintenance since they don’t have to be planted each year. Their root systems are deeper than annual plants which means they require less water and can reach deeper into the soil to gather more nutrients and help improve soil structure.

    One of the other great advantages of perennials is the ability to divide them. Dividing perennials may help plants perform better by reducing overcrowding and allowing more room for roots to grow and absorb water and nutrients meaning more vigorous growth and blooming. Dividing can also help manage the size and spreading of plants. If you’ve ever grown mint in your garden, you know of this firsthand. For the frugal gardener, dividing perennials increases the number of plants in your landscape at no cost.

    In general, plants should be divided in the opposite season that they bloom. Plants that bloom in late summer and fall (examples: aster, sedum, ornamental grasses) should be divided in the spring after the danger of frost and when new growth is emerging. Plants have stored up energy from the winter that will aid in their recovery; their emerging small leaves will suffer less damage and have the entire season to recover.

    Plants that bloom in the spring and early summer (examples: hosta, daylily, peony, daisy) are easy to locate as they are fully established. Plants should be divided at least 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes to allow time for the roots to become established in their new location.

    The actual division of perennials can vary based upon the root structure of the plant. The hardiness, size and type of root system should guide you when determining how to divide them.  Below are some general tips when dividing perennials:  

    • If possible, divide plants on overcast days and not during the heat of the day.
    • If possible, water 1-2 days before dividing. This may help ease the digging up of the roots and ensures the plant is less stressed.
    • Pull plants out of soil using a shovel or spade.
    • Remove soil from the roots to more easily determine the best place to divide.
    • Gently pull or tease roots apart with your hands if possible or with knife or spade. Allow the plant to dictate what is needed to divide. For example, Lily of the Valley has smaller delicate roots that can easily be teased apart by hand; however, a large clump of ornamental grasses will require a sharp spade and possibly some muscle to divide.
    • Each division should have 3-5 shoots and healthy roots.
    • Keep divisions moist and shaded until planted in their new location.
    • Plan on watering after transplanting to help the divisions establish.

    While the general rules and tips above apply to the majority of perennials, there are always exceptions to the rules. Below are some common perennials that respond well to division and can be divided at different times.

      • Hostas are very resilient perennials that can be divided in either the spring or fall. It’s possible to divide them even in summer if they are kept hydrated and well watered.
    Bearded Iris
      • Divide these perennials every 1-3 years.
      • Fewer blooms may mean a need for rejuvenation by division.
      • Divide 4-6 weeks after flowers are finished blooming.
    Siberian Iris
      • This particular variety of iris can be divided in spring, late summer or early fall.
      • In the spring divide before leaves are 3-4” tall.
      • In the fall cut leaves to 6-12” then divide.

    Perennials are a great addition to any landscape. Consider getting the most out of your plants and help them thrive by dividing them. Plant your divisions in other areas, create a new garden bed or share with friends, neighbors or family.

  • 31 Dec 2021 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak
    Forcing Bulbs Indoors | What is Layering Bulbs?

    Have you ever seen a web on your houseplants? Or how about weird black dots that wipe off? Or maybe little things fly around and bug you when you water?… Welcome to houseplant pests.

    What are Houseplant Pests?

    Houseplant pests are organisms that cause harm to your houseplant, or organisms that live off your houseplant and annoy you. Unlike garden pests which include animals such as rabbits, dear, moles, and mice, houseplant pests tend to be quite small and may not even be noticed unless their numbers get out of hand, or you go hunting for them. The most common pests you will find are:

    • Scale Insects
    • Mealybugs
    • Whiteflies
    • Aphids
    • Thrips
    • Springtails
    • Fungus Gnats
    • Mites
    • Ants

    For more information on pests and how to identify them go to:


    As most houseplant pests are quite small the only way you may notice them is to scout (look) for them. Here are a few tips when scouting:

    • Inspect all plant parts. Pests love to hide, so check hidden areas. You may need a hand magnifying lens to see some of them as they can be VERY small.
    • Check for evidence of insect damage. This can include webbing from spider mites, holes from beetles and caterpillars, and stippling (discolored tiny dots on leaves) from piercing insects. Also look for “honeydew” a shiny, sticky substance excreted by many piecing insects (aphids, mealybugs, and scale insects). Honeydew can be found on the tops of leaves, or on surfaces surrounding your plant.
    • Inspect the container. Some pests can be found along the edge/rim, or even the pot bottom or the saucer under a pot.
    • Check for pests when you water. Some pests such as springtails and fungus gnats will move when disturbed.
    • Yellow and blue sticky traps can be used to detect flying insects like whiteflies, fungus gnats, winged aphids, and thrips. Sticky traps will not catch them all, but will give you notice of what is present.

    Integrated Pest Management Triangle

    So you found something and even identified it. Now what? According to the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) triangle you have 5 options: Prevention, Cultural/Sanitation, Physical/Mechanical, Biological, and finally Chemical

    1. Prevention

    At the base of the triangle, and what you should try first, is Prevention. First, if your plant is healthy it is less prone to pest infestations. If your plant is not healthy or highly infested the best option may be to toss it. Trying to save unhealthy and infected plants may not be worth it, especially if it puts your other plants at risk.

    If you are bringing plants in from outside for the winter or acquired a new plant. You may want to put those plants in isolation for a week or two to see if any pests emerge and to protect your existing houseplant collection.

    1. Cultural/Sanitation

    Prevention ties in well with cultural care and sanitation, which is the next step up on the IPM triangle. Are you growing your plant correctly? For trees outside the saying goes “Right Tree, Right Place”. Are you growing the right plant in the right environment? Does your house plant like full sun (direct light) in it’s native habitat, or is it an understory plant (indirect light)? Should it get regular watering or does it prefer to dry out between waterings? Not all plants like the same amount of water, at the same time. Nor do they all like the same lighting, potting media, humidity or even temperature. Research your plant and figure out what its needs are. Perhaps you should consider moving your fern that loves humid air into the bathroom or kitchen and away from the vent putting out hot, dry air.

    Please note: It is possible to OVER WATER. Many plants, especially houseplants, die from over watering rather than under watering. Plant roots need oxygen, if the potting media is waterlogged, the water is taking up the space the oxygen would fill and the plant may succumb to root rot. Make sure plants are not sitting in drainage water.

    1. Physical/Mechanical

    So your plant is healthy with proper lighting, watering, temperature, humidity, and potting media, but you still have pests. Sometimes plants, like people, just need a bath. Place your plant in the sink or shower and give it a nice gentle rinse. Another option is a sponge bath. Wipe leaves with a damp paper towel. Just be sure to change out towels regularly. You don’t want to spread or relocate your pests to a different area of the plant. Or even worse a different plant completely.

    Larger pests can be removed by hand, such a slugs and caterpillars. Scale insects can be carefully scraped off, while others can be removed with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. If you have soil borne pests, repot your plant with clean potting media after washing as much of the old media off the roots as possible.

    If the pest problem is isolated you may be able to prune out the infected area. Or if widespread, prune out the most infected area or, depending on the type of plant, cut it back. Removing as many pests as possible makes it easier to deal with the remaining pests. Be sure to watch new growth for pest issues as new growth is more susceptible to pests.

    1. Biological

    Biologicals are beneficial insects or natural predators that prey on unwanted pests. Unfortunately, unless you have a sizable green house this is not practical for most home owners. Especially as most home owners find the idea of any insects in their home to be unwelcome.  Biological controls are typically used in large-scale production or interior-scape facilities.

    1. Chemical

    At the top of the pyramid are chemicals. These should only be used when all other options have been eliminated.

    Things to know before you go shopping.
    • All chemicals are regulated by the EPA.
    • If you use a chemical (this includes all pesticides such as: herbicides, insecticides, miticides, fungicides, etc.) you MUST follow ALL of the directions listed on the label.
    • Not doing so is a violation of federal law.
    The label will tell you:
    • what pests the chemical will target
    • where the chemical can be used
    • when and how the chemical should be applied
    • how to mix the chemical
    • how to dispose of the chemical and its container
    • what safety gear must be worn
    • what types of plants can be treated
    • plus much, much more!!!

    There are a limited number of pesticides available for indoor use. Look for them at plant nurseries, garden centers, building supply stores, and online. BE SURE to keep them locked up and away from children and pets.

    Please note, that some chemicals are labeled organic. This DOES NOT mean they are safe. One of the most common natural sources for organic pesticides is plants. Plants have been fighting pests for eons, and have adapted methods, including chemicals, to deal with pests. However, many of these plant chemicals are dangerous even poisonous. Treat all pesticides with care and FOLLOW the label!


    If you are having issues determining what pest is bugging you and your plants, you can contact the Plant and Insect Diagnostic Clinic at Iowa State University

    Here are some additional resources with more information:

  • 15 Dec 2021 12:00 AM | Brenda Peshak
    Care of Christmas Cactus

    Congratulations! You just inherited a holiday cactus that has been in the family for years… and I do mean years. Great Aunt Ethel passed it down to Grandma Rose, who passed it down to your dad, who passed it on to you. Now what?

    Holiday Cacti Basics

    There are three types of holiday cacti:

    • Thanksgiving cactus
    • Christmas cactus
    • Easter cactus.

    Just because you have a Christmas cactus, don’t expect to wake up Christmas morning and find your cactus to be magically in bloom. The common name gives a general time frame for what time of year the plant blooms, not a specific date. Bloom time is actually determined by night time temperatures and hours of light each day. Holiday cacti can live for over a 100 years, so it is very possible for your cacti to out live you and be passed down to future generations.

    Holiday Cacti Care

    Holiday cacti are true cacti, but unlike most cacti they are native to rainforests, not deserts. Because they’re native to rainforests, they need high humidity, relatively moist soils, and bright but filtered light year round.

    However, like other cacti, holiday cacti need good drainage and aeration for healthy roots. Pick a potting mix designed for cacti, or make your own by mixing builder’s sand or perlite into sterile potting media.

    When you water, allow plants to drain thoroughly and make sure they are not sitting is excess water.  Empty trays or saucers beneath plants is a good way to provide moisture without drowning them. Excess water could cause flower buds to drop, or cause root rot and wilting. Allow soil to dry out between waterings.

    If you put your cactus outside during the summer, make sure you put it where it will receive part shade (3-6 hours of sunlight). Too much sun could cause the branches to sunburn. Make sure to check your cacti, as well as other house plants, over before bringing them back inside in the fall. Look for pests and diseased branches. Remove any pests and debris such as leaves. Make sure the container is clean as well. Clean containers with a damp cloth.

    Budding Help

    As most people grow holiday cacti hoping they will bloom, there are a few things you need to know. Holiday cacti require shorter days and longer nights as well as cool night temperatures in order to produce buds. This can be accomplished several different ways:

    • Option 1: Leave cacti outside until just before frost danger. Nature will take care of lower night time temperatures and shorter days (assuming it isn’t placed near a street light).
    • Option 2: Place cacti indoors in a cool but bright location where daytime temperatures are 65-70 degrees and evening temperatures are 55-65 degrees. Plants must have at least 12 hours of complete darkness every night for about 6 weeks.
    • Option 3:  Place cacti indoors where night temperatures are about 55 degrees. Plants should bloom in 5-6 weeks, sometimes regardless of the day length.

    If you have an Easter cactus, your plant will need longer short days in order to bloom. This means that in late fall/early winter reduce the light your plant receives to be less than 12 hours a day, and reduce the temperature. Then be patient and wait, it may take 8-12 weeks before buds form.

    Once your cacti has budded decide if you need to move it for display. Move it as soon as buds appear as holiday cacti do NOT like changes to their environment once they start to bloom. Changes in light, temperature, and humidity can all cause buds to drop.

    Holiday Cacti Dos and Don’ts

    • Do keep your cacti in a humid environment.
    • Don’t waterlog it. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Otherwise you are liable to end up with a dead, rotting plant. 
    • Do allow your cacti to be chilled, especially at night (55-60 degrees).
    • Don’t allow your cacti to be frosted or frozen.
    • Do allow your cacti to be root bound.
    • Don’t forget to repot your cacti every few years, as they do like nutrient rich potting media, and media will break down over time.

    Additional Resources:

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