Larvae of Fungus Gnats

TheGardenLady received the following question from Mattie:

About two weeks ago I got a Peace Lily. Everything was going great. But then the leaves started to droop. So my friend has been giving me advice. Today I was pulling the cutting the dead roots and there were milly worms (?) in it. What should I do to prevent this and help save my plant?

Since there are no photos of the “worms” you describe, TheGardenLady thinks that you may have the larvae of fungus gnats in the soil of your Peace Lily. You either brought the plant with the larvae in the soil or your other house plants may have had the fungus gnats in the soil but the infestation may not have been so bad that you many not have noticed them.  Fungal gnats can be a major problem with indoor plants and can be difficult to get rid of – but we will try.

You are doing the correct thing in getting rid of the dead or rotting parts of your plant. Since your plant has been taken out of the soil to accomplish this, get rid of the soil completely. Do not compost the soil. Throw the soil in the trash. (Had you not removed the plant from its soil, you should still discard at least the top two or three inches of the soil.) Wash the roots of the plant while it is out of the soil and repot it in sterilized potting soil. You can add some sand to the potting soil. The larvae do not like gritty soil.

You can buy and use a fungicide for fungus gnats – there are many different brands, so follow directions for their use. This Garden Lady does not like to use chemicals indoors and has heard that many of the safer fungicides really do not do a good job in getting rid of fungus gnats; but many sources still suggest using them. So you have to decide whether to go this route or not.

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Helping a Sick Peace Lily


TheGardenLady received this question about a Peace Lily from Janet.

I just moved my Peace Lilly to a room with better light to discover why my leaves were turning brown on the tips then turning black. What I discovered were little white worm-looking bugs crawling in the soil. I have not found any help on the Internet and am praying for any help you can give me. Please any help will be greatly appreciated.

Not seeing the white worms in your Peace Lily plant soil it is impossible to be 100% sure of the pest you are describing. That being said, hopefully we can still save your plant if it is not too sick. I hope that I can answer your prayers, but sometimes plants cannot be ressurected.

Peace lilies are strong hardy plants, but like every living thing, it does have pests that attack it. Here is a professional website that talks about diseases and pests that harm Peace Lilies.

Sometimes people buy plants that are infested with some pest but do not see it when they bring the plant home and the pest multiplies. Sometimes a healthy plant gets insects or diseases or pests from a nearby plant.

Whatever happened to your plant we will try to help it.

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Saving a Sick Peace Lily

Spathiphyllum by PiccolaTerry
Spathiphyllum by PiccolaTerry

TheGardenLady received a question from Billie on her post  “Caring for Sick Peace Lilies”.

I have a peace lily that has sympathetic value.  And it looks awful. I have not moved it. It has been in same spot since april. The leaves are wilting and just hanging over the edge of pot and the leaves are starting to turn brown. It has been like this a couple months. I tried watering it, putting it outside under ashade tree and fertilized it. I recently re-potted it. But thats not helping. I dont know what to do. Please help

Peace Lilies, Spathiphyllum, like well-drained soils that are relatively acidic and like warm temperatures.  (see here) You should be fertilizing the Peace Lily plant regularly during the growing season to maintain a dark green foliage color.Usually the Peace Lily is a plant that is resistant to most problems. However, occasionally mites, scales, and/or mealy bugs may be a problem. So check your plant leaves. If you have properly cared for your Peace Lily and have ruled out any insect problems, a last try is to repot the plant in new soil. Try one of those brands of potting soils that have slow release fertilizer. (see here)

One problem for plants kept in pots is that there is so little soil in the pots that the soil might not be able to do its job after a while. For example salts can build up in the soil from the fertilizers that were used over the years. (see here)  Fertilizers are salts and if you do not water thoroughly, salts can become concentrated in the soil in pots. High soil-salt concentrations are toxic to roots and can kill a plant. Peace Lilies are one plant that cannot tolerate any salt build up.

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Protecting Plants from Cats

Wardie meets Lily by pierrotsomepeople (on flickr)
Wardie meets Lily by pierrotsomepeople (on flickr)

TheGardenLady received this question from Tiffany.

I recently purchased two three foot tall peace lillies and my cat keeps chewing the leaves. How can I stop the cat from eating the leaves without damaging the plants?

From your question it doesn’t seem like the cat is using the plant soil as its kitty litter but is eating the leaves. So this column will not give suggestions on how to keep cats from digging in the soil.

If the cat eats the leaves of the plant, there is the possibility that the cat is missing some nutrient from its diet. Have you tried to plant catnip? Cats love catnip. They go crazy for it. So perhaps if you plant some catnip for the cat, the cat will forget the peace lily and go after the catnip. Buy a cheap dish drainer to cover a pot indoors or on the spot it is planted outdoors. An example of a dish drainer is on here, but I would see if I could find one in a garage sale. Why waste money on an expensive dish drainer? The catnip will grow through the openings of the dish drainer but won’t let the cat pull the catnip out by the roots and the dish drainer won’t allow the cat to knock over the pot. Try to start a few different catnip plants around the house to distract your cat.

Another option is to buy catnip toys to switch the cat’s behavior to play with toys rather than your plants.

Another option is to have a spray bottle of water or a water pistol and when you see the cat chewing on the leaves of the plant to spray the cat with the water and hope the cat learns the lesson that it is not to eat the flower leaves or it will get sprayed. Cats don’t like to be sprayed with water. But one has to be consistent and whenever you catch the cat in the plant surprise it with the water spray. But don’t use anything stronger than water to spray at the cat.

You can also try making a loud noise when you see the cat going for the plant. Cats have sensitive ears and will learn to avoid the plant if each time it goes near the plant it hears the noise. But again, you have to do it each time it approaches the plant.

Another option is to spray the plant (not the cat) with a solution of cayenne and water or sprinkle the plant with a mixture of 2 parts cayenne pepper,
3 parts dry mustard and 5 parts flour . Sprinkle it on any plant you don’t want the cat to eat. Reapply periodically. If using it outdoors, reapply after a rain.

TheGardenLady read that cats do not like the citrus smell, so if you place some lemon peel or any other citrus peel on the soil of potted plant, the cats should leave the flower alone. Reapply periodically.

Good luck with training your cat. Let the readers know if any of these suggestions worked for you.

Caring for Sick Peace Lilies

Simplicity by love_child_kyoto (on flickr)
Simplicity by love_child_kyoto (on flickr)

TheGardenLady received this question from Linda.

I have a peace lily indoor plant which has sentimental value to me and over the past winter it has contracted a leaf condition – the leaves die from the tip towards the stem.  It’s as though a critter is “sucking” the life from it. It still flowers, but I am afraid as more and more leaves are infected I will lose the battle. Any suggestions?

TheGardenLady has to assume from your brief email that you have not changed anything in your plant’s environment- you haven’t moved your plant or changed the lighting, temperature, humidity or care. Usually most brown tips are caused by low humidity. And I also have to assume that you had not re-potted your Peace Lily Spathiphyllum improperly or put it in poor soil.

Or your Peace Lily might have to be re-potted. Sometimes a plant that has been in the same pot for a long time has a build up of salts in the soil from fertilizers and alkaline tap water. When you re-pot your plant, be sure you do not re-pot it too high or too low and use good potting soil (see here).

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The Filtering Power of the Peace Lily

Distant Peace by chefranden

TheGardenLady received this comment from Rikesh.

I just love Peace Lilly. They have really amazing power of filtering the air.

Rikesh’s comment about the Peace Lilly – Spathiphyllum is correct.

Recently Natural News had an article entitled “Clean Your Air and Brighten Your Day with Houseplants” which not only gives a list of good low light requiring plants for your home or dorm room, but also tells about the research
that NASA and other groups have done to show plants ability to remove some common pollutants from the air. And the research has shown that there are ” other benefits from having indoor plants, such as fighting fatigue and colds.

Dorm Plants to Eat

                                            Photo taken by dinesh_valke

TheGardenLady received this question from Elena:

I want to spruce up my college dorm with something living, but I would also like to spruce up my dining hall meals. Last year I tried pepper plants, which unfortunately suffered because I was unable to change their soil. I was hoping for some general herbs- basil, rosemary or fennel. Preferably something that wouldn’t require special lighting, frequent soil changes, or religious watering. I am good at caring for plants, in general, but cannot guarantee that I won’t be absent for up to 4 days at a stretch. … For decoration, I usually keep cacti for this reason. I’m also at school in Cleveland, so light quality in the winter can be very poor, aside from artificial light.

Once again, with school comming up soon, students want to decorate their dorm rooms with flowering plants or herbs. Some of TheGardenLady’s suggestions are in the articles What Flowering Plant is Good to Grow in a Dorm Room? and Growing plants in your dorm room.  Most of the plants that grow in low light don’t have flowers such as

  • Chinese Evergreen
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Calathea
  • Prayer Plant
  • Button Fern
  • Creeping Fig
  • Pothos
  • Philodendron Vine
  • Remember that flowering plants like lots of light and/or sunlight besides their special temperature needs when they are grown indoors.
  • Herbs, especially, need sunlight to manufacture the oils in their leaves that make them so tasty. That is why grow lights were invented for indoor plant growing. Most rooms do not have enough light for flowering plants.

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