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Lawn and Garden

by Andrew Jozwik
Johnny Appleseed Greenhouses

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02/01/2012 - I know February's main holiday is Valentine's Day so, as a flower guy, it would only seem right that I should talk about roses and other flowers this month. But, instead, I think I would rather talk about something that really bugs me.

You know those little fungus gnats that fly around your old fruit and irritate you as soon as you see them? If you are anything like me they bother you like nothing else can. Once I see one I have to hunt it down and kill it no matter how long it takes. Because I know if I don't, that little bug is going to find some way to trick me into eating it. I know it seems like it would be counterproductive for the bug to want me to eat it, but they all do. Whether that thing flies into my orange juice right as I am taking a drink, or if it finds some way to hide in the folds of my sandwich as I take a bite, I know I am going to be eating it at some point, unless I do something about it.

One of the most common bug questions we get at the greenhouse during the winter is, "How do I kill those little black gnats that are flying around my plants". If a person wants to rid their home of these pests they need to know a little about them first. Unlike other pest insects, fungus gnats do not feed on the green parts of the plants. In fact, adults don't really feed on the live plant at all. The only time that these insects actually feed on a plant in a detrimental way is as larva, when they have been known to cause some root damage. But unless you have a real bad infestation, (and by bad I mean adult gnats blanketing the entire plant, and its soil as well) the amount of roots damaged by the larva will not hurt the plant.

So the good news is that although they are irritating, they probably are not hurting your plants. The bad news is, many times they show up when the soil of a plant has been staying too wet for too long. The excess of water in the soil can be very detrimental to your plants. That is one reason we see so many of them showing up in our homes in the winter. The sun is not as bright so plants don't use as much water. Or they can also come in on plants we have brought in from outside.

At any rate, I had better get on with telling you how to kill them before I run out of page to write on. The first thing you can do that will get rid of these gnats in a hurry is to identify their food source. What I mean is where they are living and what they are feeding on. Sometimes it is as simple as a drip tray under a plant that is holding water. Once you dump out the water their food source dries up and soon they will all die off or go away with no insecticide at all.

Sometimes though, they are in the soil of your plants. In this case you may need to use some insecticide to get rid of them. But the first thing you want to do is to rake the soil of that plant with your fingers. This will loosen it up, and it will fill any voids between the pot and the soil. Gnats love to live in the cracks between the pot and the soil ball. Filling in this crack will make them much easier to control.

When you rake the soil with your fingers pay attention to see if it feels very wet. If it does, lessen the frequency of your watering slightly to allow the soil to dry out more. If you cannot control them by letting your plants dry out more or other non-chemical means, you may need to use some insecticide.

The best control method I have used is a two insecticide process. The first is a killing spray labeled for indoor use. Use this to spray the adults that are landing on the soil. There is no reason to spray the plant itself with this insecticide unless you can see the gnats on the plant. The spray will kill most of the adults. Then apply a systemic granule that is labeled for houseplants to the soil surface and water it in. This systemic insecticide will not kill any of the adults, but it is effective at killing the larva in the soil. As an added bonus it will protect your plants from other insect pests for 3 to 6 months. Seven days after you sprayed the first time, spray the problem areas again with the houseplant spray. This should effectively put an end to the infestation. If it does not, spray again in seven days. If there are still gnats flying around after the third spraying look again to be sure that you have found all their sources. Insecticides are poisonous so please only use them when needed and follow all the directions carefully. For more information on this method of controlling gnats stop by the greenhouse and we will be glad to show you just what you need. I hope this helps you get rid of those annoying gnats before they make themselves a meal for you, too.

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