Intro to Pest Control
Pests are something seemingly unavoidable when keeping plants indoors or out. Pests can damage our plants in various ways, but the most common damage is due to sucking insects that drink the sap from the leaves or shoots and starve the plant of moisture and nutrition.
Pest species aren't limited to insects though, as many fungi and viruses parasitize plant cells and are common issues for home gardeners.
There are a number of different approaches people common take for pests. A big one is the "nuke it" approach, usually avoided by home gardeners and hobbyists but a favourite of large-scale growers. When we say nuke it, we mean spraying (or soaking soil with) heavy duty chemicals that are highly toxic to either the person applying it, other plants, off-target insects (such as pollinators), or soil microfauna.
While we hate the blanket term "chemical", (even water is a chemical!), when referring to 'heavy duty chemicals' we mean chemicals that are toxic to living things and do not readily biodegrade meaning they will remain in the tissues of animals, soil, and water, continuing to cause damage for months or years to come.
Among the most common of these is GBH, aka Round Up, and neonicotinoids. Proven less harmful (less toxic to pollinators and mammals, drastically shorter persistence in tissues and environment) alternatives to these chemicals include Pyrethrins (a natural insect deterrent derived from chrysanthemum flowers), Neem oil, insecticidal soaps, or better yet, a strategic combination of all of these and a few more.
Using pesticides strategically, to us, means using them only when and where they will actually make a difference. For example, spraying neonicotinoids on the leaves as part of a "nuking it" approach will do nothing for the grubs munching on your roots. Instead, solutions should be targeted to the problem as much as possible.
In order to use a targeted approach, we need a better understanding of what exactly is plaguing us. We will focus on arthropod pests here, but viruses and fungi will be covered in another segment elsewhere. While knowing the exact species that's affecting your plant can bring peace of mind, we don't consider it necessary by any means. Instead, a broad understanding of how pests work may be your best weapon.
As a final note, plant health is often the number one factor in insect pest issues. Particularly with spider mites and thrips, they are often present in low numbers in many commercial soils and therefore hard to avoid. However when plants are healthy and kept in the correct conditions, their natural defences are often enough to keep the pest populations below a certain threshold. It is when plants are dehydrated or stressed that they will be particularly susceptible to sucking insects such as spider mites and aphids. For this reason, the best offense is a good defense! Prevention is much easier (and less stressful) than dealing with an outbreak, so keep those plants healthy by doing a little bit of research on what they like. You can always head on over to the Care Guides on our site for a summary of key notes for a few common species!