By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Indigo (Indigofera spp.) is one of the all-time favorite plants for dye making. It has been cultivated worldwide for centuries for the blue colored dyes and inks that can be made from it. Indigo is believed to have originated in India, though it escaped cultivation ages ago and has naturalized in most tropical to sub-tropical regions. One reason indigo plants have so easily spread globally is because there are very few bugs that eat indigo. Continue reading to learn more about pests of indigo plants and when controlling indigo pests is necessary.
Indigo not only produces vivid dyes, it is also a nitrogen fixing member of the legume family. In many tropical regions, it is not only valued as “the king of dyes” but is also grown as a green manure or cover crop.
In addition to being pretty resistant to insect pests, indigo is rarely grazed on by livestock or other wildlife. In tropical regions where indigo can grow into a woody perennial, it can actually become a pest itself by choking or shading out native flora. However, there are a few indigo insect pests that keep it from becoming invasive or can damage indigo crops.
One of the most damaging pests of indigo plants is root-knot nematodes. Infestations will appear as patches of sickly looking plants in crop fields. Infected plants may be stunted, wilted and chlorotic. The indigo roots will have swollen galls. When attacked by root-knot nematodes, indigo plants are weakened and become highly susceptible to fungal or bacterial diseases. Crop rotation is the best method of root-knot nematodes indigo pest control.
The psyllid Arytaina punctipennis is another insect pest of indigo plants. These psyllids do not cause significant damage just by eating the indigo foliage but their piercing mouth parts oftentimes carry disease from plant to plant, which can result in significant indigo crop loss.
In some tropical or subtropical locations, chrysomeliad leaf beetles can significantly reduce crop yields of indigo plants. As with almost any plant, indigo plants can also become infested by aphids, scale, mealybugs, and spider mites.
Crop rotation, trap crops and chemical controls may all be integrated to ensure high crop yields of indigo plants.
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Aphids are tiny white bugs (about 1/4 inch in size) with pear-shaped bodies and long antennae. They are found in almost every garden, as they can survive in almost any weather condition. They can be troublesome because they multiply quickly. Therefore, it is essential to get rid of them before they reach the reproductive phase of their lives.
Aphids feed on bean, cabbage, potato, green peach, and melon plants most often, but will graze indiscriminately through your garden. There are several different species of aphids, each with a different affection when it comes to the areas of plants they prefer. Some prefer leaves, while others have affinities for stems. Others prefer buds or flowers. This can make it difficult to catch, stop, and prevent aphids from destroying your garden.
How to Know If a Plant Is Attacked By Aphids
If the leaves of your plants begin to discolor or dull, there’s a strong possibility that they are under siege by aphids. Check the underside of the leaves if you are unsure, as aphids like to hide there.
Aphids can also devour tree sap, so if you notice sticky substances on the stem, it might be the residue left behind from aphids. While they are feeding, they drop their honeydew on the ground, attracting other insects. This honeydew is also dangerous because it can promote fungal growth in the plant, turning the stems and leaves a solid black. Other aphids will feed on the flower of the plant and entirely deflower them, while some types of aphids target roots.
How to Get Rid Of Aphids
Since aphids have a lightweight body, they can be removed by spraying cold water on the leaves or on the part of plant where they are hiding. Pouring flour on the plants can also ward off many pests, including aphids, as it reduces their footing. Homemade garlic can also help to get rid of them, as it has a strong aroma and repels most pests.
You can even make your own aphid repelling mixture. Combine a quart of water, a teaspoon of dish soap, and a bit of cayenne pepper. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle, and sprinkle it on leaves. This will effectively kill and prevent the aphids from returning.
Here’s a video that highlights the steps on how to get rid of aphids and secure your plants from the damage aphids can do:
The first step toward pest control in a container garden is learning how to identify the pests. By learning what the common garden pests are, what their damage to plants look like and how to manage them, you can protect your container plants from plagues of pests!
Here are five common garden pests and how to deal with them in your balcony container garden. Click on each insect for more information.
1. Aphids. Aphids are small bugs that blend in well with your plants. They’re usually green, but they can be any color. You will be able to spot these pests on new plant growth and by their movement. When you see them, spray them off with soapy water or cut off infected plant growth and throw them away. You may want to release beneficial predator insects to help control their numbers.
2. Ants. Ants can eat plant foliage, but they can also encourage aphid numbers. Ants actually "farm" aphids so that they can eat the sticky sap (called honeydew) that the aphids produce after eating your plants. You can spray them off with soapy water or attract them with ant traps.
3. Tomato hornworm caterpillars. Tomato hornworm caterpillars are fat caterpillars that will blend in with your tomato and potato plants. They hang upside-down on a plant stem and munch on leaves until they’re fatter than your fingers. Allow hornets to frequent your garden, as hornet young parasitize these destructive caterpillar pests. If you spot one, find someone who isn’t squeamish, pluck it off the stem and cut it in half. If you drop it on the floor and you have ants anywhere in your garden, they will find the body within minutes.
4. Cabbage looper caterpillars. Cabbage looper caterpillars are like tomato hornworm caterpillars in that they will cause severe damage to plants quickly. These attack lettucelike crops rather than tomato and potato plants. They are small and green and are hard to find. You will find them by following the plant leaf damage. Also cut these caterpillars in half.
5. Snails and slugs. Snails and slugs will eat plant leaves. Leave out beer traps to trap and kill them, or find them and step on them.
Not all insects are bad. Remember that butterflies, grass skippers and bees will pollinate your flowers and increase fruit production. Lady bugs and praying mantises are predators that will feed on pest insects. Before getting out the bug spray and trying to kill every insect in your container garden, consider letting natural methods for dealing with pests. Bug sprays can be harmful to you if you don’t use them correctly (like eat something that has been sprayed!) and they can likely harm other creatures that visit your balcony garden paradise. Hummingbirds, for example, are sensitive to pesticides when they drink nectar from flowers.
Perennials tend to grow in spreading clumps. If untended, the large clumps may soak up the available nutrients and moisture from the soil. Additionally, the center portions of the plants can often start to die out and look unsightly. Dividing (or propagating) the perennials will not only keep your plant healthy, but it will allow you to spruce up your garden for free. Plan to divide your perennials every three to four years to keep plants looking healthy.
Divide perennials at a mild point in the day, when the temperature is not too high and the sun is not too bright. The point is to avoid stressing the plant any more than is necessary.