Growing Plants Indoors: Pest and Disease Management

Growing plants indoors can be very rewarding. Learn how to nip problems such as pest insects and plant disease in the bud so indoor house plants can flourish.

The Integral Urban House

Growing plants indoors allows you to pick ripe Chile peppers from the pot or snip fresh herbs at your convenience. Learn how to manage your indoor plants and you can have a lush culinary garden at your fingertips. Prevent an aphid infestation, help them bounce back from mold or solve other common indoor gardening problems in this excerpt from The Integral Urban House (New Catalyst Books, 2008). This excerpt from Chapter 9, “Raising Plants Indoors” discusses indoor insect pest management and plant disease control. 


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Growing Plant Indoors: Insect Pest Management

Because of the extremely simplified ecosystem, indoor plants may suffer from the lack of biological controls, that is, the predators that would keep plant pests in check in a more biologically complex environment. Insect pests may be even more difficult to control in the house than in the greenhouse, where lacewings and predatory mites can sometimes be maintained on a year-round basis.

The major pests indoors are aphids, scales, whiteflies, mealybugs, and mites. (These first four are all closely related Homoptera, producing honeydew.) The pest insects usually enter the home on the houseplant itself or are brought in with other garden materials and find their way to the house plants.

The first strategy you might wish to use when a few bugs appear is physical: handpick, squash, or rub them off. Cotton swabs or a small brush dipped in alcohol may help you to get into hard-to-reach nooks and crannies where the insects may be found. Washing the plant off in a mild soapy water may also help.

During late spring and summer, when plenty of general insect predators and parasites are found in the garden, putting the afflicted plant outdoors for several weeks may take care of the problem. Either the pests will be consumed, or, as with migratory aphids, the summer generation may fly away to another host.

Twice a small hot pepper plant that grows indoors on our kitchen windowsill and provides us spices for chili and beans has been infested in the early spring with an aphid (Myzus persicae). Infestation became obvious because the aphids’ honeydew (the sweet, sticky sugar protein excreted by many plant-sucking insects) began to shine on the leaves. We usually squished the first few aphids by hand, but invariably the aphid population escaped this control measure and began to spread. Usually by this time, the weather had become so mild that the plant could be set outside in a protected sunny spot on the porch. However, the aphid parasites and predators had not arrived in the area yet, so the pepper plant had to be hosed off vigorously each week. If this was not done, the plant began to turn yellow and drop its leaves. As the season progressed the biological controls appeared. First we would notice parasitized aphids among the colonies; then we would see syrphid fly larvae and adult lady beetles consuming their share. By early summer not an aphid was to be seen. Apparently all had either been eaten by insects or flown off to other hosts. The plant was then promptly moved back into the kitchen, where it lived without apparent insect companions until another spring. How did the aphids get there each year? Since there are a couple of early spring aphids in our area that can live on more than one species of plant, it is easy to see how a winged one might fly or be blown in through an open window or door.