Just a warning to readers this is a fairly long entry. But if you love container plants, especially succulents, as much as I do you’ll want to read on and maybe learn from my pitiful karmic lesson:
At the end of the summer I went on a spider eradication campaign with my beloved succulent containers. Everything that had been displayed proudly on the back deck had to be de-spidered…
Now before you go accusing me of being some sort of prissy irrational novice gardener, please take a moment to think about where I’m coming from. I am all for using natural repellents on harmful pests. And I understand that spiders are more helpful than harmful to the tiny habitat known as my back deck.
But this summer I was an avid watcher of the Showtime program Nurse Jackie and in one of the last episodes of the season a patient came into the ER with what he thought was a cockroach in his ear.
A nurse shined a light in the ear to draw the roach out. I knew this was why he used the light because I actually know someone who once got a beetle stuck in his ear and the thing was drawn out by light. But on Nurse Jackie the little critter didn’t come out. That’s because it wasn’t a roach, it was a spider, so they had to flush it out with a syringe of water. And of course the damn spider bit the guy a couple of times as they tried to get it out. That night I slept with wads of toilet paper jammed in my ears.
Thoughts of that episode resurfaced later in the summer when I realized that I’d have to bring all the succulents from outside inside for the winter and the best place to keep them would be in the upstairs loft, right outside my bedroom.
I’ll admit my plans were a bit frantic but I thought they were well thought out considering the scale of my task. Spider webs were woven over almost every fleshy leaf (and they actually looked kind of pretty when shining in the sun outside.)
I talked to my co-workers at Mainline Gardens about my dilemma. I told them I didn’t want to let the plants die outside in the cold, I didn’t want to kill the spiders if I didn’t have to, and if I had to I wanted to use something that would be harmless to the plants. My best bet turned out to involve making the spiders supremely uncomfortable so they’d eventually leave. But some spiders would have to die in the process. This option involved using Diatomaceous Earth and letting the containers sit in the garage for about a week before bringing them inside.
Right away some spiders came out when I swept out the webs. Others emerged as I sprinkled the powdery Diat. Earth around. Apparently the flour-like substance is made of minute diatoms, eggshells and ground up crustaceans that are jagged and cut the legs of insects as well as their poor insides when they breathe it in. I felt like a horrible kid throwing salt on slugs, but the Diat. Earth is supposed to be good for plants by serving as a kind of fertilizer. Well the Diat. Earth did the trick, along with the transition week inside the garage. By the time I moved the pots up to the loft I’d seen about six spiders crawl away from their ruined homes. My process worked very very well. Too well.
I realize now that I was so clouded by my arachnophobia that I didn’t look at all the angles. I failed to consider the other critters that lurk in and around plants, especially the tiny harmful ones. The ones spiders help keep at bay. Critters like aphids.
About 3 weeks after bringing the plants inside I noticed the little white casings and black dots collecting in the beautiful florets of my desert rose. There were too many to scrape off so I instinctively reached for the stuff I use for aphids on regular houseplants, horticultural oil.
It worked on the aphids but no one ever told me that the skins of most succulents take differently to certain substances than other leafy plants. So I actually made the situation worse by trying to fix it. The oil essentially burned the leaves, so they slowly turned brown and started to fall away.
Now I have to replant, move things around and pray that most of the damage is salvageable.
This is where irrational fear and naiveté will get you in life, stripped bare and burned. If only I had just toughened up and invested in some earplugs for bedtime…