Mealybugs on my Pothos!

June 16th, 2014

Ok folks, it’s time for another post about pest management.

At one time or another, one or more of your houseplants may become infested with some kind of insect or bacterial pest. These infestations can happen quickly, or slowly over time, but it is always important to treat them as soon as you catch them in order to save your plants.

Some types of insects, like fungus gnats, may infest your plants and never actually kill them (you’ll just have to deal with annoying fungus gnats flying around your house), though it is still advisable to get rid of them. Other pests, like mealybugs, will definitely kill your plant, and potentially spread to other plants if the infested plant is not quarantined.

I’ve had a lot of experience with mealybugs. They will show up on a variety of different houseplant species, most notably the Prayer plant (I love Prayer plants, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a Prayer plant that did not have mealybugs at one time or another. Mealys usually make their homes in the leaf nodes, which makes it difficult to see them until your plant is so terribly infested it is too late.

I found this guy crawling around on a leaf on my new Pothos plant recently, which lead to a full inspection of the plant, and a thorough cleaning. This is also on of the biggest mealybugs I’ve seen on a houseplant, so I decided to photograph it so that you all could see what this disgusting enemy of houseplants looks like. (Zoom in on the pictures for a closer look).


A mature mealybug


They’re gross, I know.

The one good thing about having mealybugs as opposed to another type of insect pest like scale, for example, is that they are easy to treat: you only need rubbing alcohol and Q-tips. You can also use insect cleaning soap, which is a good thing to have around for pest management purposes. If you are thorough, it is possible to completely eraticate a mealybug infestation from your houseplant. Let me also clarify that “thorough” could take a long time. Check both sides of every leaf, every node, and every inch of stem. Also check the surface of the soil. Then repeat.


Here is another look. Zoom in for detail


In the picture above, you can see a huge mealybug on the leaf, and a slightly smaller one making his way up from the node.

Fortunately in my latest case, this guy gave away his colony rather early and I was able to send him and his brethren to Valhalla. Two days later I checked the plant again and found one more mealybug crawling around that I had missed. I will probably continue inspecting this plant until I haven’t seen a bug on it for weeks. Hey, if you are a horticulturalist, consider it a labor of love.

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Thanks for reading plant people!


Ficus Elastica Defoliation 2014

May 14th, 2014

It’s that time of year again folks! Our old friend F. elastica is ready for a haircut.

Not just a haircut, actually, but a complete defoliation. Those of you that read HPB will remember that I hack this guy back every year in order to attempt to encourage this plant’s foliage to reduce in size. This started, somewhat, as a challenge after a local bonsai master told me that I could never reduce the size of the foliage on f. elastica, and therefore that this species is unsuitable for bonsai. At least in the northern hemisphere.

F. elastica pre-defoliation.

Here you can see the mostly-uncut plant.

I also started cutting this plant back as a way to manage a pest infestation. This plant was given to me by a friend who was moving. It had been bought as nursery stock five years earlier, and was thriving (albeit quite overgrown and leggy), except for a massive scale infestation. In my early days as a horticulturalist, I prided myself on my plant doctoring skills (bragging rights in some circles), and put in a lot of time with this plant. Scale is not easy to get rid of.

Here you can see the plant after a full defoliation


Check out the sweet Felco F-5 Classic Manual Pruning Shears I used for cutting the larger stems. You can also see my stock pruning shears that I used for more precise cuts on thin stems.

I admit, this plant needs a lot of work. I do not wish to submit it as a bonsai, or even pre-bonsai. Like I said, this started out as an experiment in foliage reduction, and I love the way the plan stay bushy and healthy-looking as a result.  And hey, those of you that read HPB know how much I like to prune!

Welcome back. I know it’s been a while, but  I hope you’ll stay with us and continue to read.

Feel like being encouraging? Drop us a line if you read this article and want more Houseplant blog!

The Ritual Potting of Pothos (Epiprenum aurem) feat. Nick H

February 20th, 2012

Well it’s mid-February, and here in Burlington, VT it already feels like spring. Trees outside are confused, breaking buds too early in the season. Houseplant growth-rates have picked back up as the days get longer. It’s time to start feeding your houseplants again. I’m using a 1/2 strength fertilizer dilution for the next month or two, before going back to full strength.

Anyway, my friend Nick asked me to help him take some cuttings of his Pothos plant. And frankly, the dude needs more plants. So I agreed.

Here are a few shots from our session.


Cuttings waiting to be potted up


You’ve all seen this stuff before. Pothos is one of the most popular houseplants because it is so easy to propagate, and because it will grow vigorously anywhere.

The cuttings were placed in water for about 2-3 weeks, until roots were visible, then transplanted into commercial potting soil. We got lucky with the containers, scoring 6″ plastic pots at a second-hand store for $0.25 each.


Nick with his cuttings


Come on Nick, smile!

If you have an over-grown, leggy plant why not hack it back and double (or triple) your stock? I take cuttings at least once a year from each of my plants. Anyone else hack their Pothos into pieces recently?

I guess that’s it. Not much more to say on Pothos propagation–there are several articles here on that topic already. Thanks for reading!



Blue Steel?



Erika’s Collection of Houseplants

November 7th, 2011

My friend Erika recently graduated from Green Thumb University. And with her confidence soaring, she went out and bought a bunch of houseplants. Exciting news!

Erika sent in some pictures of her growing collection (pun intended) for our critiques, comments, and tips.

Here we see a nice little Aloe plant. This plant looks healthy and strong. Except for needing a larger container in the near future, I’d say it looks good. Make sure to let it dry out completely between waterings.  In my experience, Aloe grows best in Terra Cotta containers like this one, because these containers dry out faster than plastic or ceramic.



Next we have a lucious Arrowhead vine. This plant also looks healthy and strong. Arrowhead vines thrive in low-light conditions, which makes them a perfect candidate for fluorescent-lighted offices. The constant “cool” light is perfect for this plant, which really does appear to be thriving.



Here we see a small Dracaena marginata sitting next to what I can only assume was a wig from someone’s Halloween costume. Dracaena marginata likes high light, and will thrive in a south, west, or even east-facing window. Allow the soil to dry out somewhat between waterings– the plant should never become mummified, but should be over-watered either. Also be careful not to over-fertilize D. marginata, as they are among the slower-growing tropicals.



Here we have a nice looking Pothos cutting. These are also great office plants as they thrive under a mellow fluorescent light. This plant looks like was taken as a cutting and has developed quite a root system. It could be allowed to continue to grow in water, or transplanted to soil. If you decide to transplant it, make sure to prune the roots back before you do.



Next we have a Spider plant and a Jade plant. The spider plant appears to be rooted in water, and thriving. This could also be transplanted into soil–trim it’s roots when you do and watch it double in size. In soil, Spider plants do not like to be over-watered or over-fed. They are pretty low-maintenance plants though, so I feel like the more I write about them the greater chance I have of confusing you. Whatever you’re doing with this guy, it is working. Are these plants under a desk lamp?

I would also recommend letting the Jade plant dry out in between waterings. I’ve heard that these guys grow differently in CA as they do here in VT, but Jade is still a succulent plant so make sure not to drown it!



This is a succulent, a Sedum species I think. These guys are easy propagated by leaf cuttings, and it looks like this guy has dropped some leaves that are ready to go! Plant these leaves in a well-draining cactus and succulent soil mix and watch as a new plantlet grows from the rooted leaf. Once you’ve planted the cutting, keep it out of direct light for a few days and then treat it exactly like the parent plant, making sure to let it dry out somewhat between waterings.



Last but certainly not least, we have one of my all-time favorite houseplants: the Wandering jew. Cuttings like this root easily in soil or water. Make sure to continually pinch out the terminal growing tips to encourage lateral growth, or else these plants will get long and leggy quick. Be careful of their delicate stem too, which break easily making new cuttings for you when you don’t even want them. I’d let this one continue to grow in his watery home, but sometime when you get a whole bunch of cuttings like this you can plant them in soil.



Thanks for sending in these pictures Erika! Let us know if you have any more questions. Looks like you’re well on your way to houseplant success!

Winterization 101: Preparing your houseplants for winter

September 28th, 2011

As summer winds to a close and fall is beginning to show it’s face, I thought I’d share a few tips for preparing your houseplants for winter.

First of all, if you haven’t already, it’s time to begin thinking about bringing your tropical houseplants back indoors. I had many of my tropical plants outside on my back porch for the summer. But as temperatures begin to fall lower and lower at night, they’ll need make their way back into your house for the cold season. The best way to transition your houseplants back inside is to leave them outside during the day, take them in at night, and put them back outside during the day. This technique is known as “hardening off” your houseplants, and it is the best way to prevent them from being damaged from any serious shock that could occur during this period. Remember, tropical plants aren’t happy in temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

It should be noted, also, that cacti and succulents are comfortable outside longer than tropical plants. While I have already begun hardening off my tropical houseplants, my cacti and succulents are still outside full time and will continue to live out there until nighttime temperatures get down to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point they should be hardened off in the same way as your tropical plants, and treated for pests as appropriate.

When I am hardening off my houseplants I also make sure to clean them to make sure I don’t bring any insect pests into my house. I use an insect cleaning soap for this. It is also a good idea to quarantine them for a few days until you are sure they are pest free before you place them back among your other plants.

During this time you’ll notice that your houseplants will begin to grow more slowly. Tropical plants do not go dormant in the home, but their growth rate slows during the fall and winter months. Depending on the conditions in your home you should also cut your feeding to compensate for this. You may notice some stress on your plants but this is normal–don’t freak out and do anything drastic, if your plants drop a few leaves they’ll be OK.

Questions regarding winterization of your houseplants? Email us!

Thanks for reading.


Sago Palm ROT

September 6th, 2011

About a year ago I bought a nice Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) for my mother. The reason I bought this plant for her is because they are super easy, almost impossible to kill. Well, she did her best to prove me wrong.

All jokes aside, when I noticed that the plant had stopped producing new growth, and that the existing foliage was slowly dying off I decided to bring the plant to HPB HQ for examination.

When I pulled the Sago Palm out of its pot, I immediately noticed that the root ball was almost completely rotten. Now, if this wasn’t such an incredibly hardy houseplant, it would have gone right into the compost pile. And honestly, it still may be destined for compost–I do not have much experience with Sago Palms. But I decided to give it my best shot.

The root ball is mostly rotten and covered in some kind of fungus

You can see that there is some sort of fungus growing around the root ball, probably due to poor drainage and/or improper watering. Again, as much as I’d love to blame my mother for this, I really can’t.

If the fungus was already present in the roots when I bought the plant, there wasn’t much that could have been done. This is one of the dangers associated with buying plants from big box stores (in this case Home Depot)– they are inexpensive, and often times you get just what you pay for.

Rotten roots

Soaking the root ball

I cleaned off all the rotten root mass (over 90% of the root ball), cleaned away all of the fungus, and treated it plant with a diluted fungicide. Here you can see the roots soaking in order to make this process easier. I had to be careful to both remove all of the rot, and not to damage the remaining roots.

The remaining roots

After the plant was clean, I gave it’s container a thorough cleaning and re-potted it in a nice well-draining mix. Again, I don’t have much experience with these guys, but I do know that they like to dry out. So I used a commercial cactus soil with about 1/5 added perlite to ensure proper drainage.

I’m going to hold off posting a picture of the finished product until I’m sure the plant survived. Usually this is evident when you can see new growth on the plant, so we’ll just have to wait and see. Keep your fingers crossed for us, and thanks for reading!

Free Houseplants for HPB members!

August 31st, 2011

Hey folks,

In conjunction with our annual houseplant sale, HouseplantBlog is offering free houseplants for registered HPB members! That’s right–come and get ‘em. Or email us to schedule a pick-up.

Hope you’re all enjoying the end of a wonderful summer (it’s not over yet…) and getting your houseplants ready for the fall.

Happy planting!



Annual Houseplant Sale!

June 25th, 2011

As you may have heard, HPB has just begun it’s annual houseplant sale. Here’s a sneak peak at some of what we have in store:


Mother-of-millions. Many of these already have plantlets growing on their leaves!



The mystical succulent!



Some lanky new spider babies. They fill in very quickly.


Plectranthus amboinicus, "Mexican mint"




And more to come, including Sanseviera “Snake plants”, Tradescantia zebrina “wandering jews,” Ficus benjamina “Fig trees.” Email or stop by our Burlington, Vt headquarters next week to pick up your plants.


Happy houseplant-ing!





Houseplants in Florida

June 15th, 2011

Hey folks,

Sorry for the lack of activity here over the last couple of weeks. We’ve been super-busy over here at HPB with lots of new projects in the works.

Recently, I took a trip to Florida and thought I’d share a few pictures I took of tropical plants down there. Being from the northern hemisphere, it is always fun to see tropical “houseplants” growing outside, used in landscaping and other large outdoor plantings. It’s easy to forget that the Dracaena growing in a little pot on your desk would be a full-sized tree in it’s natural habitat, or that the Pothos vines in your livingroom would spread quickly as grown cover in a tropical setting.

So here are a few shots I took, forgive the lack of resolution–my camera battery died, so I had to take these with a mobile device.

Variegated dwarf Schefflera planted as a hedge around palm trees.



Dracaena growing outside in partial sun


Another shot of this neat Dracaena. These guys are everywhere in Florida.


Croton growing along side the road as part of a hedge


Snake plants growing in full sun in a public park


Philodendrons growing in a bed next to a building


Scheflerra arbicola growing free next to a building


Variegated pothos growing in partial sun next to a hedge of Dwarf Schefflera


Mature Norfolk Island Pine. These trees were easily 50 feet tall, and probably over 70 years old.


Mother-of-millions growing in a container in full sun


Tradescantia grows like a weed.


Monstera deliciosa used as part of an ornate landscape design


A huge ficus tree with aerial roots that have grown into the trunk


Massive agave plants.

Look out for more information on these tropical plants here soon. Thanks for reading!


No Geranium is safe!

May 26th, 2011

To continue encouraging you folks to prune your houseplants, I decided to decapitate another one of mine.

This Geranium was purchased as an annual last year, but I decided to bring it in at the end of the season and keep it as a houseplant. Geraniums are super easy to care for. They will adapt to a wide variety of lighting conditions, and can survive drying out between waterings. I’ve put mine back outside for the season, and when I did so I decided to remove all the straggly growth from this previous winter.

Here you see the unkempt Geranium. I pretty much let it go all winter long. It lived in an east window, receiving morning sun, but as a result of the decrease in light the new growth from this winter was leggy and scraggly.

This is another situation where total defoliation isn’t really necessary for the plant’s survival, but I find that using this technique will keep the plant looking great. By hacking it back you encourage branching, compact bushy growth, and a less leggy look. Here is the end result:

As you can see, I left the newest buds intact but removed literally every other leaf. The plant now lives outside in full sun and it won’t be long before this guy has a whole new set of leaves. Have you been inspired to hack back any of your houseplants this spring? Send us a picture!