Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!

Pots in the Studio – Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ (About to Bloom) Shares Space with Other Succulents (Mustard pot: Crassula ovata ‘Minimus’, Senecio macroglossus ‘Variegata’. Green pot: Kalanchoe mangini and Crassula ovata)

By now, it should be fairly obvious that I take as much pleasure in my garden during the winter months as I do during the warmer seasons. However on the grey and stormy days, when the temperature drops and the wind kicks up, there is much to be said for houseplants in January! I spend a great many hours in my painting studio at this time of year, and with its cathedral ceiling and bright, indirect light, it makes a perfect winter home for larger pots and taller plants. However this one room is hardly the limit of my indoor gardening. In fact, my entire house becomes something of a winter oasis after the hard frost in mid-October, with plants distributed throughout the studio, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, entry hall and secret garden room. In short, there are green, and multicolored things growing almost everywhere you look! And I love to admire the lush leaves and colorful blossoms against a snowy backdrop…

I Love the Contrast of Rich Green Houseplants Against a Wintery Back-Drop (That Red in the Snowy Background is Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ Beyond the Studio Door) Here, Kalanchoe ‘Tessa’ is About to Bloom, and Looks Particularly Luscious… Especially to Aphids!

Right now, my collection of Kalanchoe is about to blossom, and the various cultivars all look delightful -particularly to the aphids attacking them! It seems that sometime over the holidays —while I was too busy to notice the early signs— these nasty little freeloaders hatched and multiplied on one of my beautiful plants! Well, I caught them -and not a moment too soon. I pulled out my neem/soap mix (an OMRI approved insecticidal soap), and set to work spraying all of the foliage on this particular plant —and those sharing the space nearby— until it was thoroughly wet.  Take that you sap suckers! Experienced gardeners usually know what to look for when it comes to aphids, but just in case you are unfamiliar with them, here’s a photo to help you identify the problem…

Aphids on Kalanchoe (After Spraying with Neem) You Can Click the Photo to Enlarge & Get a Better View of Them !

Of course, this unpleasant invasion lead me to investigate my other houseplants. And lo-and-behold, there on the fine foliage of my agave: scale! Ugh! Spritz, spritz, spritz; on again with the neem insecticide. I really dislike scale, and find it difficult to eradicate. If the neem/soap mix doesn’t do it, I will upgrade to horticultural oil. Although one of scale’s natural predators, the ladybug, is active in the warmer parts of my house, this overwintering insect seems to avoid the cool studio. I always carefully check for ladybug larvae (click here for photo) before spraying, because even organic insecticides can kill beneficials like ladybird beetles as well as —outdoors during the growing season— bees, other pollinators and helpful bugs. I will have to keep close watch on this scale situation and repeat application of neem or horticultural oil weekly. Scale can become a real problem indoors unless the gardener is vigilant.

Scale on Agave geminifolia (after spraying with neem) This image may also be clicked to enlarge.

Many of my houseplants move outdoors during the summer months, but some —like the giant Ficus pictured below— are permanent indoor residents. These larger plants require regular maintenance to look their best; including pruning, which is done from a ladder in some cases. It looks like I accidentally damaged a branch while turning this tree last month, so I’ll need to get up there and make a clean cut; removing the unsightly dead foliage…

This Giant, Door-Framing Ficus Gives My Studio a True Conservatory Feel. But it Looks Like I Need to Tend to a Few Branches with My Pruners… Time to Pull out the Ladder!

After my rounds today —feeling the soil for moisture and checking all leaves and stems for pests and disease— I felt that most things were looking pretty healthy. I try to keep my houseplants on the dry-side during the winter months, but it’s important to strike a good balance between sahara and monsoon. The plants living in my studio —mostly succulents and many trees which are not particularly fond of humidity during the winter months— don’t seem to mind the dry, cool air. I keep most of the humid-air-loving tropicals —such as orchids, citrus and the mini-greenhouses: terrariums— upstairs in my bedroom, where I run a humidifier both for myself and my houseplants. I also segregate plants known and listed by the Humane Society as potential threats to my cat and dog (click here for article and links). The studio is closed up unless I am in there (where I can monitor munching), as is the Secret Garden Room.

My Feathery Sago Palm (Cycus revoluta)  —Making a Winter Home in the Painting Studio— Is Looking Healthy and Happy

Although It is the Most Commonly Grown Houseplant, Few Ficus benjamina Manage to Reach This Monstrous Height Before Getting the Old Heave-Ho. I Inherited This Specimen a Year Ago, After It Had Outgrown Its Former Home. The Weeping Fig Arrived by Trailer, and Is Now About 15′ High. The Studio is a Bit Cool for This Plant, But it Seems to Like the Bright, Indirect Light.

This Indoor-Outdoor Pot Contains Plants Recycled from a Smaller Container They Outgrew (Clockwise from top: Kalanhoe pumila, Portulacaria afra ‘Variegata’, and Echeveria cvs)

I May Not Have My Conservatory Yet, But I Can Still Fake It By Creating an Eden Indoors (Cycus revoluta in foreground)

Someday, I hope to have a tiny conservatory all my own. But until then, I can enjoy most tender plants inside my home by finding the right micro-climate to suit their optimal growing conditions and by carefully catering to their needs and desires. For help with houseplants of all kinds, I highly recommend Barbara Pleasant’s The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual. I am a fan of this author in general —I adore her book Garden Stone, which I’ve mentioned here several times— and I think this book is particularly useful for indoor gardening. Pleasant thoroughly covers the essentials of growing over 150 common houseplants and —unlike some of the other books on my shelves— it is both well photographed and well written; with carefully organized, richly detailed horticultural information. Dorte Nissen’s The Indoor Plant Bible is another great resource, and with its compact size, tough cover and ringed-binder format, I find that it stays out near the houseplants where it is frequently used for quick reference. Both books are set up encyclopedia/dictionary style; with all plants arranged alphabetically by latin name. Barbara Pleasant’s book is also broken down by plant group (succulents/cacti, flowering/foliage plants). If you are new to houseplants, these two titles would be my top-shelf recommendations for indoor garden reference.

The Indoor Plant Bible and/or The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual are always on hand

It’s quite windy here today —and cold— so I won’t be spending much time outdoors. In meantime, I have my little Indoor Eden to content me and keep my color-loving eyes satisfied. My exotic houseplants bring a little bit of tropical warmth to my wintery world, and help me to more fully appreciate the stark and crystalline beauty of the landscape just outside the glass doors…

A Dusting of Sparkle-Dust on the Stone Terrace Greeting Me This Morning

And Flurries Swirled About In the Outdoor Dining Room

Reminding Me That, Of Course, Winter is Still a Beautiful Season


Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

Gardener's Supply Company

Plow & Hearth


10 Replies to “Indoor Eden: Trouble in Paradise… Aphids & Scale Attack the Studio Oasis!”

  1. Michaela

    @ Shadowhawk – what an awesome thing to read! It’s such a pleasure to hear from an enthusiastic reader. You made my day :). Now, on terrarium plants: when I buy plants with a particular container in mind, I try to determine the mature size of each plant and divide the space accordingly. I leave room for plants to grow and enough space for the design to look attractive. Usually that means leaving at least 1/4 of the space, to 1/3 of the space ‘open’. I try to plant in odd numbers – or use an object to make the composition move to an odd number. Sometimes, I will put slow-growing, larger plants in a terrarium, even if I know they will eventually outgrow the space. Later, I just move them to a larger terrarium or a regular flower pot. The best rule of thumb is to look up the plant online or in a book and determine its mature size and the kind of conditions it can handle. My orchids tend to do best in exclusive containers. I will be writing more on terrarium design again soon.
    Thank you for commenting and for following the blog!
    xo M

  2. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Happy New Year Michaela! Wow, it must be nice. Do I ever wish I had the amount of window space that you have. Remember my almost forty year old grapefruit? Well, he shares window space in the living room with a Benji that’s around 25 years old, is just shy of 7 feet which, coincidentally, just happens to take up the entire window opening. (Our’s is bad enough, I can’t imagine what it’d be like moving a 15footer around! Anyway, after coming in again since summer, I noticed that Benjamina has put on a lot of new branches that are much lower than normal [perhaps because no pruning was done, other than cleaning out bits of dead branches, to either tree this year. (No bugs so far, knock wood ; )] So, I was just wondering if your’s might regenerate from dormant buds lower down the trunk too? xoD.

  3. Michaela

    Hey there Deb, Yes, I do love my windows and doors. I would be outside year round, but the frost bite is a something of a deterrent ;). You have a BIG Benji. Mine is putting out shoots on the lower part too. I think that is quite common. The tree’s previous owner did not prune. I have the ficus in a larger pot now and I have been pruning. It seems to be happier here at my house, where it is cooler and is exposed to less direct sun.
    Happy New Year! xo M

  4. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela, Ha! Well, here we are again, back at this same spot only one year later…
    Not so lucky this year. Brought in a nicotiana (“Why?” you say… Just because it started from seed in one of my pots and I wanted to see what it would do inside. Bad idea): which happened to have free loading white fly/ies on board. Any suggestions? xo D

  5. Michaela

    Hi Deb – Indeed. Here we are again!
    Whiteflies. Oh, the joy.
    Here’s the plan of attack, as I would fight it:

    Segregate the plant!

    1. Put out yellow sticky traps to catch the mature flies (you can get these at a big box or local garden center or online at any of the basic suppliers, like Gardener’s Supply Co..

    2. Wipe off, squash, vacuum and other wise massacre as many flies as possible.

    3. Then spray (underside of leaves very important) with insecticidal soap and/or garlic oil or pyrethrin (be sure you aren’t allergic).

    Repeat spray every 2-3 days for a week. Then repeat the process in about 25-30 days to get the next cycle.

    That should do it.

    Good luck at battle!
    ;) M

  6. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Oh I “segregated” it all right… (Pitched it right out the door after I asked you what to do. She’s good and frozen now; )
    But there was contact with other plants that I can’t be quite so cavalier with, so thanks for the info and the luck. xo D

  7. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Found the sticky traps at our local Canadian Tire (hope I don’t catch any ladybugs as well): but they don’t have any insecticidal soap right now. Will Neem spray work just as well? xo D

  8. Michaela

    Hi Deb, you will have to be careful of sticky traps if you have ladybugs in the house. Also, you will need to be very careful when using soap or yes, you can use neem. FYI you can make your own insecticidal soap with dish detergent and water. I need to cover a recipe for that in a post. So many things to do! Good luck. Whiteflies are a pain, but scale and mites are by far the most difficult pests to eradicate. As long as you remind yourself to follow up in 25 days, you should win this battle! xo M

Comments are closed.