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Garden Help Desk: Improve indoor plants’ appearance with a little maintenance

By USU Extension - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 20, 2024
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Brown leaf tips, small tears and other leaf damage can make a plant look untidy. Careful trimming will improve the appearance of otherwise healthy leaves.
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Trim away small areas of damage by cutting just to the outside of healthy leaf tissue. This will improve the appearance of the plant.
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Aphids and other pests can thrive indoors where there aren't natural predators to help control their populations.
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Pests can hitchhike indoors on plants that spent the summer outdoors. Inspect plants carefully before bringing them inside.
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Baldfaced hornets prefer to make their nests up high in trees but also will nest under eaves and soffits, in shrubs or in similar places. There is no need to remove the nest until late fall unless the hornets are causing problems.
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It is common to see a baldfaced hornet nest in a tall tree. The wasps generally don't create problems in locations like this, and they provide useful pest management services by eating other insects and spiders.

Some of my plants look a little worn out. Not sick, just not as nice as they did during the summer. There are also some brown leaf tips and a few yellow leaves now.

It sounds like you probably just need to do some simple houseplant maintenance and careful inspections. Here are a few things to think about.

Are there any old, worn out or badly damaged leaves on your plants? These should be removed. You can just snip or carefully snap them off. Otherwise healthy leaves with just a little minor damage at a tip or margin can be carefully trimmed. Trim the damage off just inside the damaged portion; don’t cut into healthy green leaf tissue. Don’t leave any trimmings or dead leaves on the surface of the potting soil.

Brown leaf tips can be a sign of watering problems or fertilizer salt buildup in the soil. If you’ve been fertilizing during the winter, stop doing that until March or April. Indoor plants should be resting during the winter and don’t need fertilizer. Make sure your plants have good drainage, water deeply but avoid watering frequently, and do some leaching (several heavy waterings over the course of an hour or so) to dissolve and flush away excess fertilizer salts.

Is it possible your plants are just a little dusty? Plants can collect dust and lint just like any surface in your home and they need to be cleaned once in a while. Plants with small or very soft leaves can be cleaned monthly with a blow dryer set on the no-heat setting. Houseplants with large, sturdy, glossy leaves can be gently dusted with a very soft, clean cloth or duster. Take care that you don’t apply pressure with your cloth; you don’t want to scratch those leaves. You can also take plants to your sink or tub and wash off the leaves with a gentle spray.

Resist the urge to use a leaf polish on your plants. These products tend to collect dust and lint, making it more difficult to clean your plants.

Lastly, examine your plants carefully for spider mites, scale and other pests. Their feeding can give plants a dingy, grey-green, dirty or sticky appearance. Look along stems and petioles, check the underside of leaves and the places where leaves attach to stems. Use insecticidal soap, 0.5% to 1% horticultural oil or a systemic insecticide for indoor pests.

What is this thing growing on my house? It looks like a weird mushroom, but I think it might be an insect nest. If it’s from some kind of bug, how can I get rid of them and keep them from coming back?

This looks like a hornet nest, most likely a baldfaced hornet nest. My own home hosted a nest on a basement window several years ago. You have probably seen other baldfaced hornet nests in trees, a common location for their football-shaped nests.

Baldfaced hornet queens are the only members of their colonies that overwinter. The worker hornets in the nest die at the end of the season. Their nests aren’t reused, so you won’t be seeing wasps in this nest next year.

Right now, a queen from that nest will be overwintering in a protected place somewhere, before starting a new colony next year in a new location. The other hornets in your nest will have all died. You can simply remove the nest if you can safely reach it, but otherwise, leave the nest to break down in the elements.

Hornets are more docile than yellowjackets, and like other wasps they are beneficial insects, eating other insects and spiders, and helping to keep pest populations in balance. Unless a nest is in a location where the hornet activity will bring them close to your own activities, it’s best to just leave an active colony alone.

If hornet activity is creating a hazard, and you can locate the nest, you can make an evening application of an insecticide labeled for hornets and then remove, securely bag and dispose of the nest. Hornets can become pests when they also feed on over-ripe fruit and picnic foods in late summer and early fall. Keep ripe or old fruits cleaned up and keep picnic foods covered if you notice any hornets or wasps next year.


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