Cool Nights Invite Pesky Black Gnats Indoors

11/06/2014 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Bugs & Disease, Fall, Houseplants, Insects, Plant of the Week

All Purpose Plant Food 7-4-4A couple of weeks ago we dispersed the final applications of plant food to keep our landscapes health through winter. At the same time “Crabgrass and Weed Preventer” was applied to keep winter-growing weeds away until spring. This week the same question kept coming to me over and over and over, “Do I have to work these additives into my rock lawn and garden soil?” The answer is no. Let nature do this work for you. The winter moisture in the weeks and months ahead will take care of moving these additives into the ground, saving us gardeners from many work-filled hours in our yards. This is a difficult principle for some gardeners to accept. But it is true: simply chuck-and-go and the work is done!

If you haven’t fed your landscape this autumn, it’s not too late to do it. Everything in the yard should be fed with an all-natural ‘All Purpose Plant Food’ 7-4-4, before the next storm arrives. Think of it as laying out a Thanksgiving feast for your plants. Then, in spring you will enjoy a richer-looking landscape, deeper colored evergreens, and more fragrant early spring blooms such as lilacs, forsythias, and camellias.

Moisture meter in soilWatch your houseplants – As our weather cools we power up heaters to keep us warm indoors. All indoor heat sources not only warm our living quarters but also dramatically lower indoor humidity. Our skin is drier than usual and so is our plants’. You will find that the more our heaters run the faster our houseplants’ soil dries. Make sure to check the soil of indoor plants frequently until you get into the rhythm of winter watering. This is the time of year to invest in a good moisture meter. A moisture meter is a useful tool to have on hand, a good one usually going for under $15. This handy gizmo is useful year-round for houseplants and in early spring for outdoor garden containers.

Garden Alert! The first of winter’s storms will find many of us scrambling to bring plants indoors to protect them from the cold. Unfortunately, at the same time pesky black gnats come in seeking refuge. Fungus gnats love to live in houseplant soil, and since they are drawn to the lights of computer screens, I-Pads, bright windows, and any other light sources, they become nuisances to our indoor living. If left unchecked they can spread and kill all indoor plants. S’pose there’s any solution to this gnat-ty problem?

systemic granuals (1)There are two solutions for eliminating these pests. One is to keep the pests from flying around the house and spreading from plant to plant, and the other is to prevent them from living in a houseplant’s soil. The first solution is a glorified version of traditional flypaper. A ‘Sticky Whitefly Trap’ is an organic solution that attracts flying adult gnats to its brightly colored strip of paper where they get stuck and die. Some folks stick a trap in the soil of each houseplant in every room. This prevents mature adults from 1) laying and spreading more eggs, and 2) from “bugging” you while you’re trying to check emails.

’Systemic Insect Granules’ are a long-term solution to this gnat-ty problem. Just sprinkle the granules at the base of houseplants and water ‘em in by hand. As the water penetrates the soil it pulls the deterrent along with it, killing the maggot stage of these pests. By eliminating the maggots in a plant’s soil the plant is allowed to thrive. If ignored, the pests eventually will take over and kill every plant in that room, moving on to other rooms in search of new plants to infect. Visit me for more exacting details, but with these bits of advice gnats will consider you to be “armed and dangerous”.

camellia ice angelPlant of the Week is the Ice Angel Camellia, another large-leafed evergreen that has just come into bloom. Yes, you read that right. Only a few plants bloom as the weather cools and this hardy camellia is a real show off as temps begin to dip. Hardier than all other camellias you may have seen growing in California, this new introduction loves the cold and is capable of surviving winters well below the subzero mark. The plant is easily trained as an espalier to soften walls and fence lines. Its vividly white flowers are baseball size and so impressive that I don’t put this specimen directly into my garden. I keep a four-foot tall specimen right in the grower’s pot and enjoy the winter blooms at our front door. After her winter bloom cycles are finished I will plant this beauty in my garden. With the blink of an eye you can change the look of your home with this gorgeous new bloomer by moving it from the front door, deck, or patio and into the garden.

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through his web site at or Facebook page