E-mail - Odor control + fungal spore control in one

Hello Dr. Myers,
 Great web page.  I have a 5ft by 4ft closet what is the best way to control odor.
Sent from my iPhone

Hello and thanks for your question.
I personally use a 4" carbon filter which will control any odor.  It is also awesome in that it cuts down on fungal spores which is the primary reason I use it. I have it sit on top of an upside down 5 gallon bucket so there is good air flow into the filter. This may take up a bit of space under you light, but it will be worth it for disease and odor control. Most other products simply mask any smell and do nothing to actually clean the air. In other words, without a carbon filter you are hiding your problem for a time and not solving your problem.  
To save space under the light and if your grow area is high enough you could build a shelf above the light to sit the filter on.  They are heavy so make sure it is a strong shelf that can support the weight.  A carbon filter should control any plant odors you are worried about.  I started to use it because some semesters my plants are hit by a leaf fungus. I noticed a SIGNIFICANT DECREASE in affected leaves on plants in the grow area with the filter while I had dead plants with yellow/necrotic leaves in another grow area that did not have a filter.

I think the 4" will be good for your room. You can just let it run in the room or do what I do, have a flexible dryer hose attached to the fan and blow the clean air over the tops of the plants directly at my HPS. This air flow keeps the plants from being stressed by the heat of the bulb by blowing/circulating the hot air around the room.  If you have a large wattage bulb and heat is a problem you could vent the hot air out of the room, it will be odorless and clean.

Good Growing,

Dr. E.R. Myers


Hi Dr. Myers,

How do I get rid of these persistent pests(root aphids). I have tried
several organic pesticides including neem oil and potassium salts with no
effect on them.

Some of the same things that work for 'normal' aphids will work on root aphids see my post on aphids

There are several options, none are fool proof. First, there is a fungus that kills insects (Beuveria bassiana) This is sold under two brand names that I know of, (any readers please let me know if you know of others) Botinigard and Naturalis. This fungus is mixed with water and sprayed on the plants making direct contact with the aphids is important. This is one reason root aphids are so hard to control; there are so many nooks and crannies in soil and other mediums that almost any treatment is bound to miss a few pregnant females. In fact, one study I read showed that the number one reason for difficulty controlling root aphids is lack of proper application of the chemical or pathogen. I should mention too that the finer the mist the better. Also, since this fungus gets on the skin of aphids, and aphids that are growing rapidly can shed their skin every 3-5 days you should reapply the fungus every 3-5 days. In Europe they use a fungus Verticillium lecanii with much success. I think this is still in the process of being approved by the EPA, but you could do a search for it.

Second, you can apply chemicals like Neem, pyrethrum etc. to the roots and above ground parts of plants. For root aphids it is recommended you soak the root balls in an insecticide for 5 minutes. There are studies that show soaking in any insecticide for less than 5 min. will result in far less than 100% dead (you don’t fix the problem) so soak longer rather than shorter.

You could also try and not use insecticides by soaking plants for several hours in dish soap as I recommended in my post about general insect care

If you see them in clusters (aphids tend to be gregarious) you have a major infestation and maybe a very serious problem. Large clusters mean you have a chance to have winged aphids, which can fly to new plants anywhere in your grow room, green house, home or garden. The bigger and older the grouping, the greater the chance of winged aphids in your area.

Biological control is possible for these aphids as well. Before you buy predatory insects/organisms look at the shipping routes, release rates and timing. Mail is susceptible to very cold, maybe freezing temperatures. Also, some predators are better than others depending on what species of aphid you have. If you can figure out the species you will have more success.

There is a predatory aphid midge (Aphidoletes aphidimyze) that eats over 60% of all aphid species. The midges are shipped as larvae and 2-3 larvae are put on each plant. This midge likes humid conditions so cutting down on the exhaust fan or putting in a humidifier to increase humidity will increase its success, but watch out for mold.

The last result is to start over with seeds after you sterilize everything with hydrogen peroxide or bleach and a good hot soapy wash. If you can't start from seed you could try cuttings, but they may have aphids on them (root aphids are not always on the roots) So, you must soak any cuttings in insecticidal soap or in dish soap for a long time. This will kill many plants but you need to make sure you are not just starting over with the same problem. As with all insect infestations, prevention is better than a cure, so think about how you go them. I know many people have gotten insects by buying top soil. I try to NEVER buy top soil if it is stored outside for long periods. It is easy for soil gnats or root aphids to get into it and into your garden.

I hope this helps, Let me know if anything works, I’d like to help other readers in the future with specific results.

Good Growing
Dr. E. R. Myers


PESTS -- soil gnats + recommended organic insecticide

Hi Dr. Myers

Thanks for taking my question as always. This time its about some pests I have observed in my indoor garden. I have noticed lots of small flying insects that I suppose are either gnats or fruit flies. I think the culprit must be the soil mix I used as the gnats seem to congregate on the soil.
Second, I noticed some of the leaves on my plants are being eaten up, like by a
leaf cutter. I did find a caterpillar in the dirt but he was so big I didn't think he could be the culprit. ( I took him outside)..
I used good soil ( Miracle grow Organic + perlite). Any suggestions on
soil mix ?
For insecticide, I currently am using Vinegar in a glass with a funnel. This is working but not completely. I was thinking about "Safer Soap" or getting some LadyBugs. What is your opinion? Do you have any other suggestions for a "safe" insecticide?

Hello, thanks for your question.
It sounds like you have soil/fungal gnats. I have bought dirt from the big box stores that had gnats more than a few times. They eat organic matter out of the soil, and should not bother your plants too much. However, if you see small yellow dots on the leaves, you have some other leaf sucking insect.

The gnats can be a real pain, even if they don’t directly feed on your plants. For me they get stuck all over my HPS bulb, and they can get stuck in plant parts too. If they get stuck to your plants they can be a place for mold/fungus to grow which can harm/kill your plants.

If you are growing plants that live years, you may have to use some chemical insecticides. HOWEVER, I would NEVER use a sythetic insecticide in a plant I was going to eat, drink, or otherwise consume. If it is in the plant, it will then be in you. There are a few products under pests at HTGSUpply.com you could use and I have read that soil gnats are susceptible to pyrethrum.

If you want my recomendation on an organic insecticide, try nicotine. Yep, that’s right nicotine is made by tobacco as an insecticide (think of that if you use tobacco products). Nicotine is organic and will break down into non-insecticide molecules in time. Soak the contents from a couple cheap cigars in a gallon of water, I use a five pack of Philly Blunts but any kind will do. I add a couple drops of dish soap to the gallon of water as this will help the tobacco-water coat all soil particles when you water the plants with it. After letting the cigars soak for a day or two I water the plants trying to get the entire surface wet. The gnats live and eat in the top layer so you are not trying to do more than saturate the top few inches/cm of your soil.  Let the soil dry out completly before watering again and water from the bottom if you can.

Another non- insecticidal way to get rid of them, is to let the top layer of your containers dry out. It would also help to water the containers from the bottom if you can. If you water from the top, let the top REALLY dry out to where the plants almost wilt. While doing this, I have also taken perlite and put a 1-3 inch layer of perlite on top of my soil, so that the gnats can't get to their food source (the soil) easily. The perlite also dries out quickly which makes it harder for the gnats to feed and breed. If you are growing an annual, where you can start completely over maybe you can just keep the vinegar/funnel going and keep your soil dry and get through this cycle. You then need to clean everything with hot soapy water and start over with new soil. You could put the soil in an oven set over 400 F for an hour if you want to sterilize it, but if you are using a lot of soil this might be too much of a hassle.

Last, how did that caterpillar get in? If you don't have screens, get them. Caterpillars start out as tiny little eggs layed by moths or butterflies. They can grow at a tremendous rate so there is a chance a butter fly laid an egg on your plants and you just missed seeing the caterpillar until it was large and you happened to be looking around for the gnats…

I hope this helps, let me know if you find any other bugs and what they look like and I may be able to help more.

Good Growing,

Dr. E.R.Myers

Hi Dr. Myers

I had been wanting to let you know that your suggestions completely
eliminated my (gnat/fruit fly?) problems.
I took perlite and covered the top dirt in all my indoor pots. After about 3 to 4 weeks, the little guys just disappeared. No Food !!
Thanks again...... you're the best !!!


Pests -- Aphids

Aphids are usually found on the underside of leaves and stems of plants. They are small usually green insects that are oval, pear or egg shaped. However, aphids can be many colors from light green, yellow, brown to red. They may or may not have wings and are often found in clusters.  All aphids have little tubes that stick out their back end called cornicles. If you have a magnifying lens you may notice that each time they molt, they leave a white case behind. Aphids secrete a waste product called honey dew. This will make leaves shiny or sticky and is a great place for molds to grow that will damage or kill your plants. Older leaves start to curl and young leaves may grow deformed with an infestation. Aphids reproduce at a tremendous rate. They can kill a plant in weeks. They also can help transmit viruses and mold which also can kill your plant. Some aphids reproduce parthenogenetically. This means there are no boys. The girls give birth to other girls that are pregnant with girls etc. This means a single female left behind after you clean the plants can result in thousands of aphids in a few weeks.

Aphids are not too difficult to control if you catch them early. If you see a section of the plant containing aphids galore, snip it off and dispose of it. It doesn’t cure the problem but it will slow the advance. This is true for spider mites and white flies too. Washing the plant with a mixture of one teaspoon dish soap or laundry soap per gallon should wash off the aphids or at least wash off their outer cuticle so that they will then dehydrate. I have read that you can spray your plants with an oil mixture (vegetable oil) this will clog the aphids breathing tubes and kill many of them. I should mention that if you have ants growing in the garden you need to get rid of them because they are “farming’ the aphids and will move them around and help them to survive in your garden. Ants follow a trail of chemicals so you should be able to find their colony and treat it. If they are in your soil you should not use chemical ant sprays since if the chemical is in the growth medium it is in the plants too. If you are not going to eat your plants soon, you could try pyrethrum which is effective on most aphids.

There is of course a non chemical biological solution. Lady bugs and green lacewings are bugs that eat aphids. I have never used the green lace wings but lady bugs are easy to buy and use online. As with the white fly predator wasps the lady bugs will keep the aphids in check but might not control the problem forever. If you can start over after you harvest, you need to sterilize the grow area, sterilize or get new growth medium and start over without aphids.

I have some good informaion that might help under my root aphids post

Good Growing,
Dr. E.R. Myers


Pests -- Spider Mites

See my other posts on spider mites after reading this one

 Mites are not true insects. As adults the have 8 legs and are actually related to spiders and daddy longlegs. They may be one of the most damaging agricultural pests. One reason is that they're nearly impossible to see so you don’t know you have spider mites until it is a serious problem. In fact, they usually appear as no more than specks of dust the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Spider mites are not only hard to see, they're nearly impossible to get rid of. If you have spider mites you will notice yellow dots on leaves, curled or distorted plant leaves, which is caused by the mites' piercing mouth parts. Sadly, most growers notice the webbing between leaves and other plants. This signals you have a serious infestation.

Like white flies, spider mitess life cycle is temperature dependent. A female lays about 100 eggs, but under 60 F she will do it over two months. At 70F there will be over 10,000 mites after a month, and over 80 F there will be over 10,000,000 mites in your grow area.

How to deal with mites – First, If you lower the temperature even just during the night cycle it will help. You can submerge plants under water as I mentioned in a the general pests post or spray the plant with insecticidal soap. Misting your plants often with just water also helps, since mites thrive in a warm and dry atmosphere. The higher the humidity the slower their metabolism and life cycle. The good thing is mites can’t fly. Look and see if some plants are not infested, or if you can see some that are only lightly infested vs. heavy infestation. (webbing is a heavy infestation). Since mites walk everywhere, you can put double sided tape around the plants to prevent mite migration. You may need to trim your plants so that the mites can’t walk from leaf to leaf, or leaf to wall to leaf etc. Mites can blow in the wind so keep that in mind if you have air flow (Which you should for optimal plant growth).

As with white flies there are predators of spider mites, there are predator mites. Unlike predatory wasps of white flies predator mites are not so efficient, since being mites they can’t fly. It is a non-chemical option, and I know many of you have asked for suggestions for that type of control. The type of mite that infests greenhouses is called the red mite or the two spotted mite Tetranychus urticae . The predator mite Phytoseiulus persimilis feeds on all stages of the two-spotted mites and is the most commonly used predatory mite in greenhouses. It does well under humid conditions so if your plants can tolerate high humidity this may be the choice for you. There are other species of predator mites, each has its own environmental preferences. You want to try and match up your grow environment with the best predator mite

If you are using a chemical you should know many miticides work by coming in direct physical contact with the mite.  This means you need thorough coverage to the underside of the leaves where some spider mites are feeding and most lay their eggs. Often eggs are more tolerant to many miticides so repeated applications are often needed.

Ultimately how you deal with mites depends on your growing situation. If you have prized plants like bonsai you may want to try chemicals several times. If you are growing plants to harvest you may want to keep the humidity as high as possible and the temperature as low as possible until your plants are done, then sterilize everything with alcohol, bleach or peroxide. If you've tried everything and you can’t get rid of the mites, you may have to kill most plants and clean out the grow area and start new. Odds are the older plants are a source of mites spreading to younger plants so you may have to get rid of the oldest plants.   Two years ago when I had a spider mite infestation I finally got rid of them at the end of the semester when I killed most of the plants and only kept a couple plants which I cleaned thoroughly two times with a 10% isopropyl alcohol mixture. Each time I carefully cleaned the plants I moved them to a room that did not have plants in it previously. Two years mite free!

If you or someone you know has mites, keep in mind mites can be spread easily on your hands and clothing (they even blow around with puffs of air). When it comes to spider mites, prevention is far easier than the cure!

Good Growing,

Dr. E.R. Myers


Pests -- White Flies

White flies may be one of the most common greenhouse and indoor pests. This tiny little white insect sucks plant juices for meals and can be seen flying off the plants when they are disturbed. They lay their white eggs on the underside of leaves, and their larva are green and almost invisible to the naked eye. White flies under go several stages of development each called an instar. (Similar to how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly). The larva do damage as they eat the plant too. If white flies are left unchecked indoors they can KILL your plants. I’ve read that some people say white flies can’ kill your plants, don’t believe it. Example, they secrete a substance like aphids which is often called honey dew. (See picture at bottom of post) This shiny sticky substance can be seen and felt on the leaves and is a great environment for molds to grow which also harm your plants. So, if the whiteflies don’t suck your plant to death, they make an environment where mold can harm/kill your plants.
A very important thing to know about white flies is that their life cycle is regulated by temperature.  In general, as the average temperature increases from under 60F to over 85F the number of days in a white flies life (egg to adult) decrease from 100 to 20 days. Below 60 degrees Fahrenheit an adult white fly can live for two months, but over 80F the adult fly will live just over a week. Egg production is also regulated by temperature, at lower temperatures females can lay over 300 eggs in its lifetime. With high temps the number of eggs drops and the average eggs per life cycle is around 30.
If you are into non-chemical cures the interesting thing about white flies is that there are predator wasps which eat the white fly larva. (No, they won’t sting you they are too small). You can find many suppliers if you do a web search for Encarsia formosa, the scientific name of a solitary wasp that preys upon white flies exclusively. Adult wasps eat the eggs and first instars and lay their own eggs in the third instar of whiteflies. This causes the green larva to turn black. In fact whey you buy these predatory wasps they are sold in larval form inside white fly larva that are glued to paper. Encarsia Formosa is also regulated by temperature, perhaps a good example of coevolution. Below 60F degrees it takes almost a month for an egg to reach adulthood. Above 80F it takes 10 days. Below 60F adults live a month above 80 they live just over a week. The number of eggs laid by a female remains at about 30 regardless of temperature, she just lays them faster the hotter it is. Most companies that sell the white flies say you should release them three or more times over a time period. This would allow several generations of white flies to be parasitized. I did not do this, I released them all at once and cleaned out the grow room when the plants were done flowering.

From my experience when I used Encarsia formosa it works to keep the white flies in check, but did not completely get rid of them. For a month, there were almost no white flies. Then they came back, I think because the wasps died of starvation before they found the last few eggs and white fly instars. I could have ordered more wasps but it was the end of the semester so I just harvest/killed all the plants and cleaned out the greenhouse. The ultimate solution to any infestation is you end up killing many plants and hand washing every inch of the plants you keep... A lot of work and not much fun.

Pyrethrum which is sold by HTGSupply.com  works well on white flies, but I am hesitant to use any chemical on plants I consume. If you are growing flowers/plants for show or decoration pyrethrum would be a good choice. You should know the predator wasps are more susceptible to chemical insecticides than white flies so you can’t use them if you have already tried a chemical insecticide. White flies are also attracted to yellow so HTGSupply.com sells yellow sticky tabs that white flies stick to and die. This may help keep down the number of flies but I think is better used for early detection of white flies or to see if they are reoccurring after a treatment.

In my greenhouse the white flies seem to get in every summer since I started working here 6 years ago. I am not sure if some get through the air exchanger/UV filter or if they catch a ride in on cloths. I have seen them flying around my back yard some years so anything is possible. This year I had a new plant and they went for this hibiscus plant almost exclusively. I had to snip off all the leaves and carefully threw them away to get rid of the eggs and larval instars. The bad thing is that a white fly female can fly around and land on any other plant in the room. The other plants I do not eat and are perennial and they will be in the greenhouse every summer. So, I resorted to a systemic chemical insecticide that you water the plants with so it gets into the leaves and keeps insects from completing their life cycle. This is not something you can do with plants you consume. I will never ever reuse the soil in these plants and I will have to wear gloves when I pot up the plants. But, I won’t have to worry about white flies getting into my experimental plants -- I am testing out a LED and 600 W HPS from htgsupply.com.  Also, I am betting next summer will be my first with out a NEW infestation. I’ll let you know.
Good growing,

Dr. E.R. Myers.

If you are interestind in learning more, I have some more information about biological control of insects under my root aphid post


Pests -- Control in General

There is nothing more frustrating than getting a favorite plant from a friend or nursery and later finding out that it’s infested with insect pests or mold. Insects are pretty much everywhere outside, and when there is a lot of one kind of insect, something comes along and starts to eat them. But when you grow indoors, if they get into your grow area they can thrive in a nice controlled environment with no predators. Before bringing in new plants or cuttings into your grow room make sure to quarantine them for a week before mixing them in with other plants.  Most insects can be washed off plants with soapy water or swabbed with alcohol. I have even read that some people use a vacuum to get the pests off their plants.  I’d not try this if you are growing a delicate plant. If your plants are small enough you could try to submerge the plant under water for several hours or even over night if you are dealing with a recurring infestation. This will NOT be good for the plant, but most plants will survive this while the insects and their eggs will suffocate. Simply dip the entire small plant, container and all under water in a bucket or larger container. You may need to weigh the container down a bit with stones or other heavy small objects. I’d also suggest mixing a small amount of a mild diluted soap in the water before submerging the plants. Soap gets in insects breathing parts and suffocates them; it also will encase and kill eggs. When you take the plant out, you need to rinse it with fresh water to get the soap off and maybe any insect eggs that survived. Then you need to put a fan on the plants and try to get all the water out of the soil. If you gently press on the soil a few times much of the water should drain out the bottom.

In my opinion, chemicals should be a last resort and many are unsuitable if you consume what you grow. Pyrethrum is an organic derived pesticide that is made from Chrysanthemums. It is safe to use on agricultural plants i.e. those you consume. Always follow the manufactures instructions with care and caution. Soaps have long been used for control of insects and mites. Several "insecticidal" soaps are sold at nurseries and of course HTGsupply.com. These soaps control a variety of garden pests. In addition, some soft hand soaps and liquid dishwashing detergents can kill insects. In general, soaps tend to kill small, soft-bodied insects and mites, such as aphids, white flies and mealy bugs.

Agricultural  Insecticides Have Their Limitations:

• Plants must be covered thoroughly because insecticides are effective only if they make contact with the insect. This is why it is more effective to dip small plants into soapy water then to wash plants. If you miss cleaning a few eggs off just one leaf, your problems will reoccur

• If there are insects in the room, maybe hanging out on the walls or flying around that aren't killed soon after application, they'll lay eggs and your problem will reoccur.

Some kinds of plants are injured by insecticides. If you're using insecticidal soap, check the label for a list of plants that may be harmed by use. If you are not sure, try putting it on just one leaf the first time you use it and see if the leaf suffers.

• Soaps work best when applied in soft (or softened) water, preferably during cooler periods when drying is slow.

More on specific pests to come, white flies are next. Please send me an E-mail if you want me to write about a specific pest you have.

In closing I will say that the ultimate solution to any bug infestation is you end up killing many plants and hand washing every inch of the plants you keep... A lot of work and not much fun.
Good Growing,
Dr E.R. Myers

Read my post on Root Aphids
Read my post on Aphids

Read my post on spider mites