No gardener likes to hear this, but regardless of what kind of plants you’re growing or how well you take care of them, it’s almost inevitable that some pest or disease will start dishing out trouble. Spider mites and thrips are so small that you can’t even see them without a strong magnifying glass, but they can cause major damage to every green, growing thing in your yard.
Spider mites. When mites go on a sucking spree, plants look dull and unhealthy and lose their get-up-and-grow power. You’ll see what looks like angel hair clinging to leaves and stems, and foliage will appear pale, wilted, or covered with yellowish specks. Once these bad guys get a toehold, they can be the dickens to get rid of. So don’t waste any time — go get ‘em!
- At the first sign of trouble, blast ‘em with your garden hose.
- In later stages, mix 2 teaspoons of ammonia and 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid in 2 gallons of water. Pour the solution into a handheld sprayer bottle, and spray your plants from top to bottom every five days for three weeks.
- During dry spells, sprinkle water on bare ground to keep dust at a minimum. There’s nothing spider mites like more than dry, dusty soil!
Thrips. These thugs scrape away a plant’s tissue and then suck sap from the wound. Damaged leaves take on a silvery sheen. Afflicted flower buds either never open or unfold covered with odd-colored streaks and speckles. Severe infestations weaken plants and stunt their growth. As thrips feed, some of them also spread viruses. Take action by:
- Clipping off the thrip-infested plant parts and dunking them in soapy water to kill the little suckers. Send any lingerers flying with a good blast from the garden hose.
- Filling blue margarine or chip-dip containers with soapy water, and setting them on the ground among your plants. The color blue draws thrips like a magnet, so they’ll fly right in and drown.
Once you’ve thrown out the thrips, prevent a virus outbreak by spraying your plants with a “flu shot” made from 2 cups of leaves from a healthy, sweet green pepper plant, 2 cups of water, and ½ teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. Liquefy the leaves and water in a blender, dilute the mixture with an equal amount of water, and add the dishwashing liquid. Pour the potion into a handheld sprayer bottle, and have at it!