Trouble In Parasites
January 23, 2009 6:43 PM   Subscribe

Two specific questions about growing my own...


1. While watering yesterday, I saw several tiny white bugs. They don't seem to be interested in the plant; they seem to prefer crawling around in the bark/soil. What are they, and should I be concerned?

2. I found several dead twigs/branches trimmed from one of the outdoor trees, and I'd like to use these for stakes to support the stalks & blooms. These twigs/dead branches have been lying on the ground for two or three weeks. Can they carry or transmit diseases or parasites to my orchids? Should I sterilize them before I stick them into the orchid pot? If so, how does one sterilize a dead branch/twig?
posted by mattdidthat to Home & Garden (4 answers total)
1. Do they look like this? If so, you should be a little concerned; they're mealy bugs, and they'll eat your plant.

I'd say yes for the stakes (provided there are no visible mites or insects). I don't know much about growing orchids, but it seems unlikely that unless they're visibly infested that they'll transmit stuff.

And they'll be really pretty!
posted by puckish at 7:51 PM on January 23, 2009

Might be white flies. Might be fungus gnat larvae. Might be the above-mentioned mealy bugs. A good resource for easily identifying houseplant pests are the bugfiles at Dave's Gardens (registration is required, membership is free) or you could try using a magnifying glass to add a little detail to your description.

Regarding found support stakes: I grow orchids and carnivorous plants in a greenhouse setting. Because my greenhouse is a contained area where introduced pests can spread like fire, I do not use found natural materials as support stakes or potting medium. All sorts of critters reside under the bark of what looks like a dead branch. If you must have it, you could try boiling or steaming the sticks somehow (although by the time you're done doing a thorough job of sterilizing, the wood is going to be very soft). A better choice would be fresh bamboo (fewer pests, no bark and you can cut down to the end of a section so you can see that there's no bugs hiding within) or silvered ocean driftwood.
posted by jamaro at 8:12 PM on January 23, 2009

if I introduce natural wood elements into any of my reptile tanks, I put the wood into the oven first at like 300 degrees. That should kill anything, I would think, including molds or fungus.

--not an expert at anything.
posted by Lou Stuells at 8:42 PM on January 23, 2009

If they are mealy bugs..

I've had mealy bugs on my orchids before -- they produce a white "nest" eventually, kind of like a bundled up spider web. I tried a lot of insecticidal soaps/dilute hydrogen peroxide/non-nasty stuff before resorting to the really nasty crap, but it did the trick. Better to get them now than when they are nesting. Try swabbing them individually with whatever potion you try first -- especially if they wander up to the leaves. Cotton swabs are great to get all of the critters out of the crevasses between the leaves, etc. Also isolate the orchids from other plants for the time being.

I love my orchids, I just wish I could get them to bloom more often!!
posted by sararah at 9:39 PM on January 23, 2009

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