Sunday, March 13, 2011
At Rosy Dawn Gardens we try to be as environmentally responsible as possible. All of our packing and shipping materials are recyclable and biodegradable with the exception of the small plastic bag on each root ball. We feel that this small bag is preferable to using a plastic pot that is not recyclable in many areas. The trays that we use to grow our plants in the greenhouse are reused over and over. When they have outlived their usefulness we can return them directly to the manufacturer (local to us) for recycling.
It is important to us that we send pest and disease free coleus plants to our customers. It is also important to us that we use as few chemicals as possible while producing our coleus, both for our own safety and for the safety of the environment where we live and work. We have tree frogs and toads that live all winter on our greenhouse, which we feel is a testament to our safe practices. Amphibians are some of the most chemically-sensitive creatures on our planet!
Earth Day is fast approaching, so I thought it appropriate to begin a series of posts about growing coleus naturally. When growing coleus outdoors, we seldom have a problem with insect pests at Rosy Dawn Gardns since there are a bevy of predators about, including birds, toads, and wasps. In Michigan, our cold winters kill or set back the life cycle of a lot of insect pests. We also refrain from using pesticides in our yard and garden, which allows beneficial predators to prosper. However, in climates where there is little or no frost, in houses and greenhouses, and occasionally outdoors where there are no natural beneficial predators, the absence of those predators may lead to some uninvited guests on your coleus.
Soap spray works very well for most common soft-bodied coleus pests such as mealy-bugs, spider mites, aphids, thrips, and white flies. It can be applied directly to the area of concern, so you don't have to spray plants that don't need treatment. Pure soap sprays are safe for use inside the home, in the yard and garden, and in the greenhouse. There is no residual effect, so once the spray dries it poses no danger to birds, bees, pets, etc. Of course, the trade-off is that the spray may need to be reapplied in a week or so, especially if there is a new hatch of eggs.
Soap sprays can be easily made at home or purchased ready to use. A simple recipe of one teaspoon soap to one quart of water can be put in a sprayer bottle and used as needed. An optional drop of cooking oil can be added to help the spray stick to the leaves. We use Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Almond Soap, but I have seen recipes that call for Ivory, Fels Naptha, and Murphy's Oil Soap. Some people even use dish detergent, but we prefer to stick with the purest soap possible without all of the additives in most commercial soaps and detergents. Dr. Bronner's is so safe you can brush your teeth with it! We just don't know how safe those other soaps and detergents, with their chemicals and additives, are with coleus and the environment. Ready-to-use commercial insecticidal soaps can also be purchased at your garden centers. Read the ingredient labels since some of these "natural" products contain actual insecticides in addition to the soap.
Coleus plants handle soap spray very well when it is mixed and used as directed, but even the safest products have to be used carefully. The spray needs to come in contact with the pest to be effective, so make sure to wet the undersides of leaves and the leaf axils (where the stem meets the leaf). Do not use any sprays in full sun or when temperatures are high (early morning is best so they can dry before that day gets hot and sunny.) Do not use on stressed or thirsty coleus. Be careful if the plants are very young and tender - you should test a few leaves first and wait for 48hours to see if they hold up well.
For people, pets, and wildlife: Avoid getting soap in your eyes, and do not take it internally. Wash your hands after applying any product to your coleus.
For just few pests you can dip a cotton swap in rubbing alcohol and just wipe the bugs away. Avoid prolonged or excessive contact with alcohol and plants, and use the same common-sense safety precautions as with the soap.
By far, the best way to prevent damage from pests is a healthy, well-grown coleus. If all the basic needs are met a coleus, or any plant for that matter, is less likely to succumb to an infestation. Good quality soil, regular feedings, and adequate water and light are the best defense of all!
Monday, March 7, 2011
Now that Spring is more than just a wistful thought, gardeners who overwinter their tender perennials indoors will be taking stock of their plants and planning their summer containers. A Coleus that has wintered inside a house may not look like it did when it came in last fall. If it was under bright grow lights and not too far from the light source it may not be the worse for wear, with fairly bright color and stocky growth. After a repotting and a trim it will, with some hardening off, be ready for its summer home. If your coleus plant has spent the winter in a window, too far from the light source, or had to compete with other plants for space under lights, it may be pale, spindly, blooming, or all three. Can this coleus be saved, or should you start over with a new one?
If you make the choice to try and rehabilitate your coleus, you first have to assess the condition of the plant. Look at the roots. White, healthy roots should be netted throughout the root ball. Signs of trouble are brown and/or scarce roots, slime or moss, and a musty or rotten smell. If any of these problems exist, try to remove as much of the spoiled soil as possible and repot the coleus in fresh soil, making sure not to over water the coleus.
Next, check the plant for pests. Look on the undersides of the leaves and in the leaf axils (where the leaves join the stem) for tufts of cotton, tiny webs, sooty and/or sticky substance, or the insects themselves. If you find pests you can remove them with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. If it is not too large, you can give the whole coleus plant a gentle bath in tepid water with a few drops of dish detergent added. Cover the roots or pot with plastic wrap and only submerge the foliage.
The next step, if neccessary, is to give the coleus a trim, especially if it is blooming or has developed a lanky appearance stretching for light.
Finally, if you haven't already, repot your coleus. Fresh soil, a larger container, and some time-release fertilizer will get your coleus off to a great start.
Now that your coleus has been inspected, cleaned, groomed, repotted, and fertilized it is ready to begin getting gradually accustomed to the outside world again!