Avoiding Plant Epidemics

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on September 26, 2011

Plants get sick, too.  They become infected with diseases or infested with pests.  In either case, they either do not grow to their potential or they flat die.  There are some steps you can take to avoid introducing diseases or pests into your little part of the world.

New plants are the most obvious route for diseases and pests to hitch a ride to your place.  Most plants come to us in three ways:  we buy them, we are given them, or we collect them.  While there are specific hints for each route home, there are some commonalities in the way we should treat these plants before we introduce them to our ecosystem.

  • isolate new plants for a week to ten days away from other plants to see if they are healthy
  • examine the plants carefully to make sure there are no pests
  • treat plants for any pests thoroughly and completely eradicate them before introducing the plant to the rest of your plants
  • dispose of dead or dying plants in the trash along with the soil they came in
  • sterilize any pots the plants may have been in with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water before putting them away

When buying a plant, it is important to look at the plant carefully.  Do you see any pests, any web like material, or sticky places on the plant?  What about brown leaves or wilted stems?  If so, pass this one by as it has a problem.

Plant swaps are fun places to get rid of what you have too much of and get some of what you do not have enough of.  However, it is still important to inspect the plants carefully for problems.  Swapping for a sick plant and having it infect your plants at home is no fun at all.

Collecting wild or feral plants should only be done with permission.  Clippings from plants on old cemetery plots, saving a plant from the bulldozer, or similar rescues can net an heirloom variety of a plant not obtainable elsewhere.  Despite the find, it is still necessary to isolate the new plant or cutting when you get home.  You don’t want to bring in bugs that will become a continuing problem no matter how spectacular the find is.

In this time of heightened security, everyone worries about terrorist attacks when being screened at the airport and other ports of entry.  However, invasive insects and diseases  have caused much more damage than terrorist attacks ever did.  Chestnuts are gone, ash trees are under attack, and many more plants and animals here are at risk due to insects or diseases that hitched a ride here from other places.  Never bring a plant from another country home.  Not only will you get fined and possibly jailed if you are caught, you may introduce the next chestnut blight, fire ant, or emerald ash borer to the country.  That is not something you want to be famous for.

In summary, to protect your existing plants, it is important to scrutinize new plants before they are introduced to your ecosystem.  Visually check them before purchase or collection for signs of infestation or illness.  Isolate them when you get them home.  Never bring plants home from other countries.  Easy steps to keep your plants healthy and stay out of the record books as the one who introduced the xyz pest to America.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Elin September 27, 2011 at 11:29 am

Yeah, keeping the new plant isolated for a couple of days or even weeks is a good idea. A lot of times you bring home a new plant and it looks healthy but all of a sudden these little spider mites (we have red ones in Sweden) start popping up from out of nowhere! Some plants will die from this, there is no real cure as far as I know, but if the leaves are thick enough the mites can’t bite through them and they will survive (for example, Cordyline Australis).


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