Plants and Herbs

4 Ways to Get Rid of Scale Insects Naturally

Scale has kind of been the bane of my existence. It came in on an aloe plant, and was a total bear to battle. We don’t have any outdoor space here, so all of my plants are somewhat in proximity to one another. As you can probably guess, this makes controlling pests a bit of a challenge.

Lately, I feel like the worst plant parent ever. See, my S.O. and I got this little Norfolk pine as a live Yule tree about two years ago. I love it, like I do all of my plants, and try my best to keep it healthy.

Unfortunately, up until recently, “my best” did not include “knowing what pests it’s susceptible to.” It’s got spikes all over, it has really aromatic sap, it never goes outside… what could possibly want to eat it?

As it turns out, in addition to being spiky and smelling piney, it is also irresistibly delicious to scale insects. I’m not going to lie, I cried a little when I found out. I felt like I failed as a caretaker.

Close up of scale insects.
Notice the dust and cat hair? As scale insects feed, they excrete a very sticky, sugary substance called “honeydew.” This can end up attracting other pests, encouraging mold growth, and, if the plant’s indoors, catching a ton of dust.

What are scale insects?

Scale insects are tormentors sent directly from Satan’s fiery butthole.

… Okay, but for real, they’re awful. They’re insects that latch onto plants and pretty much suck them dry. They’re also flattish, usually brown or beige, and the adults don’t move at all, so they blend in very well with their environment. It’s really easy to mistake them for plant tissue, especially if there aren’t many. Trouble is, their populations can grow pretty fast.

Scale insects on a Norfolk pine twig.
To give you an idea of how small and unobtrusive scale can be, even when there’s a ton of them.

Outdoors, scale insects aren’t usually a huge problem. Sure, they move in, but a healthy plant and a thriving population of predatory insects and birds will keep them from causing serious damage. So, in the wild (or the “wilds” of a garden, at least) they’re much more of an easily ignored nuisance than an actual problem.

For indoor plants, it’s more of an issue. Being otherwise healthy isn’t always enough for a potted plant to keep scale at bay, most homes don’t keep predatory lacewings or ladybugs as pets, and natural Bti pest control only works on bugs that are both in soil and susceptible to Bti bacterial toxins.

So, what do you do when one of your plants turns into a scale bug buffet?

To me, part of being a good steward is doing things that don’t have a negative ripple effect. For this reason, I try my hardest to avoid systemic pesticides, or any pesticides that could potentially harm anything other than the pests I’m trying to target. In a perfect world, I could just relocate unwanted bugs instead of killing them. That’s not this world, though, and I have more of a responsibility toward the plants I’ve taken into my care than I do to the pests attacking them. That’s why, when these critters rear their (nonexistent. Seriously, they are so flat) heads, I:

1. Prune, prune, prune.

A lot of plant tissue that’s been seriously damaged by scale won’t recover. If the bugs have heavily infested a certain branch or leaf, or have dried things out too much, it’s best to just cut it. Pruning away the areas where scale insects have latched on the most will immediately and drastically lower their numbers, making it easier for other measures to work.

Once you’ve identified and removed affected limbs, leaves, and other plant parts, then it’s time to start stage 2.

2. Rub them with alcohol.

Scale insects, like mealybugs, are protected by a waterproof waxy coating. This doesn’t just keep water out, it keeps moisture in. One way to get rid of scale insects is to disrupt this natural coating, which causes them to dehydrate.

Rubbing alcohol is a fast, cheap way to do this. Unfortunately, it can also harm plant tissue, so it has to be applied individually by hand. Fill a jar with alcohol, grab some cotton swabs, and start hunting the bugs down. When you see one, dip the swab in the alcohol, and give it a rub. Most times, the scale insect will come right off. Those that remain will dry out and die.

3. Soap them up.

Soap is another way to tackle the young, mobile stage of scale. It doesn’t take much, either — a few tablespoons in a gallon of water will do the trick.

As with rubbing alcohol, this has to come into contact with the scale to be effective, and will most likely need a couple of reapplications. Too much soap can also harm sensitive plants, so it’s best to start will a relatively low concentration and test it on a small area before going whole-hog.

To start with, I mix:

  • 2.5 T Castile soap
  • 1 gal water
  • 2 T cooking oil (usually grapeseed) — optional

If that doesn’t seem to harm the plant, I might go up to:

  • 5 T Castile soap
  • 1 gal water
  • 2 T cooking oil — optional

Once it’s mixed up, add it to a sprayer or spray bottle and thoroughly spray any areas showing signs of scale. This soap solution also has to come into contact with the insects in order to kill them, so be as thorough as you can without harming your plants. The cooking oil helps smother the bugs, but can easily be left out.

Using actual soap is important here — detergents and some surfactants aren’t great for plants, and their potential for harm may outweigh their scale-killing benefits. I like to use Dr. Bronner’s soap for this, because it’s inexpensive and readily available everywhere from the fancy organic market to the Giant down the block. If that doesn’t work for you, try your regular dish liquid, just test it on a small area to make sure your plants won’t be damaged.

As with anything else of this nature, use the lowest effective concentration of soap. If 2.5 tablespoons seems to be working alright for you, 5 tablespoons won’t necessarily be any more effective.

4. Dust them.

Diatomaceous earth is amazing stuff. I dust it under all of my appliances because, while my particular domicile doesn’t have an ongoing bug problem, we invariably get one or two trying to take refuge when pest control shows up to treat the basement or one of the other units. Such is apartment life.

Diatomaceous earth looks like a white powder. On a microscopic level, though, it is actually made up of needle-sharp splinters of the shells of tiny creatures called diatoms. These splinters are so tiny that they’re incapable of piercing skin, so diatomaceous earth is safe around people and pets. (Just don’t inhale it!) However, while they can’t injure us, they wreak absolute havoc on insects. The tiny splinters pierce and abrade their shells, which causes them to dehydrate.

To use diatomaceous earth, either dust plants with an applicator (the dust is very fine and so tends to clump together a bit, using an applicator gives a nice, light, even coating) after watering, or mix into a solution like the soap mixture given above. Shake it vigorously as you work, because the powder will settle pretty quickly.

As a warning, diatomaceous earth is not selective. Think of it like microscopic barbed wire — it’s going to injure anything that tries to cross it, not just the things you want it to get. So, if your plants spend time outdoors, drape them with a sheet while you’re letting the powder take effect. This will protect bees, ladybugs, lacewings, and other beneficial insects from injury.

 

Scale insects are an enormous pain. They can hide in tiny spaces and suck your plants dry, and getting rid of them involves vigilance and thoroughness. With these measures, you should be able to control scale on your plants without having to resort to pesticides.

Oh, and… Don’t do what I did. Read up on what pests your plants are susceptible to!

 

Plants and Herbs

Rooting Spider Plant Pups

Let me preface this by saying that I love my cat.

He’s a huge, sweet, orange doofus, albeit a surprisingly bright doofus. He’s learned a number of verbal commands, like “sit,” “up,” and “off” (even if he thinks “off” means “stop what you’re doing and run over to flop your gigantic butt on me”). There is one thing he hasn’t learned, and, at this point, I’m not sure he’s ever going to.

Don’t eat plants.

I don’t have poisonous plants. The only toxic ones I have are those that contain calcium oxalate crystals, and are more accurately described as “really irritating.” I also keep my plants well out of his way.

… Or so I thought, until I walked into the bathroom and spotted one of my lovely spider plant pups laying in the bathtub. Fortunately, they’re neither toxic nor irritating, because this pup was also very chewed.

This spider plant has a ton of offsets, so one isn’t really a great loss. Still, I managed to find it soon enough, and the roots were more or less unscathed, so I figured I’d see if I could save it. Luckily, spider plants are like goldfish plants, ghost plants, and pothos in that they’ll root with a snap of your fingers.

Close-up of spider plant pup root nodes.
These little nubs at the base of the offset will develop into roots.

Continue reading “Rooting Spider Plant Pups”

Plants and Herbs

Twice-Blooming Christmas Cacti?

I have a lovely pair of Schlumbergera. They used to live on the windowsill in my bathroom, where they gave me pretty, bright white blooms with hot pink pistils every winter. I looked forward to seeing them every year — individually, the flowers themselves don’t last very long (only about a week per bloom), so it was a little window of beauty in the middle of the cold, gray winter season.

Schlumbergera bridgesii are better known as Christmas cacti, and for good reason — they flower in December. It’s always exciting, watching the little buds pop out of the end of the flat, spiky-edged leaves, growing and lengthening until the flowers finally burst forth. December rolls around, everything else is in the midst of dormancy, but these cacti happily put out flowers anyhow.

Yep.

Every December.

You know, when Christmas happens.

cactusflur
If you notice the leaves don’t really resemble the smooth, round leaves of other Christmas cacti, that’s because holiday cacti nomenclature and labeling makes no sense. This one was labeled as S. bridgesii, which is actually S. buckleyi, and doesn’t look anything like most other S. buckleyi cultivars I’ve seen. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So, someone tell me what’s up with this nerd. 

See, not long ago, I moved both of my plants into a warmer, brighter window, on the top shelf of my new plant shelves. Now, I’m not sure what triggers S. bridgesii to flower, exactly — shortening daylight hours? Cooler weather? I don’t know. There are ways to force it into dormancy and trigger flowering, but I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary before moving it. I didn’t even restrict light or water.

I’m not complaining, of course — this little plant’s putting out more flowers now than it did two months ago. It looks healthy and vibrant. The cactus right next to it doesn’t have a single bud on it, but it’s also not really supposed to.

Is it possible for S. bridgesii to flower late, if it didn’t flower during Christmas? I’d say so. Is it possible for one to flower more than once a year? Apparently! Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what triggered this one to start putting out blooms now, but I’m going to keep an eye on both of them and see if the other decides to put out more buds. Maybe take a few cuttings and try some experiments.

 

 

 

Plants and Herbs

Fixing Etiolated Succulents

It’s almost spring, and the unseasonably warm weather has my plants all confused. I’ve got a new basal shoot on my nepenthes, my cacti are putting out new growth, my pothos and aloe are threatening to take over my apartment… So, even though it’s a bit early still, I figured now was a good time to take inventory and see who’s going to need some pruning and re-potting. Unfortunately, it looks like the lack of winter sunlight has left some of my younger plants in a bit of a state, and they’re going to need some “fixing.”

Why is fixing in scare quotes? Well, unfortunately, once a plant is etiolated, there’s really no going back. A stretched-out echeveria is not going to become a neat, compact rosette again, no matter what you do for it.

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, though.

Let me start from the beginning.

Continue reading “Fixing Etiolated Succulents”

life, Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

DIY Bath Bomb Magic

Remember when I mentioned taking some magic bath bombs on the road?

Seeing as how they worked extremely well for my purposes, I figured I’d drop how I made ’em. Though they’re not exactly something I’d display in a fancy basket next to my Lush Perles de Sel, they smell fantastic and leave my skin soft (and, more importantly, magic af).

Bath bombs, the easy way

A basic recipe for bath bombs calls for three ingredients:

  1. 1 part acid
  2. 2 parts base
  3. Enough binder to get it to stick together

For most purposes, these are answered by vitamin C, baking soda, and water or oil. Put those together, and you’ll get a basic bomb that will fizz when it gets wet (and help remove the chlorine from your tap water at the same time). From there, you can play with additives, colorants, glitter, and any other ingredients that suit your purpose. You can also add one part of your choice of dry ingredients — dried herbs, epsom salt, arrowroot powder, or what have you — and enough skin-safe essential oil to fragrance the lot.

herb

So, for example, a sample love bomb recipe might look like this:

Continue reading “DIY Bath Bomb Magic”

life, Plants and Herbs

You Can’t Erase People.

Every fall, I drag my S.O. out for what has become a small, but important, tradition for us: Persimmon Quest.

I’d never had a persimmon before, until I moved to California to live with my then-boyfriend on his family’s pomegranate orchard. His mother brought a dozen Fuyu persimmons — squat, sweet, golden bundles of deliciousness. Ever since returning to the east coast, I’ve had a much harder time finding them. Most grocery stores in my area don’t even know what I’m asking for when I call to see if they have any, and there’s only one that carries them with any kind of reliability this time of year.

(All of this, despite the east coast to the midwest having its own, wild type of persimmon. However, like paw paw fruit, they’re not exactly easy to find for sale.)

Wild persimmons on a branch.

Persimmons have their magic properties, like any other thing. The tree is used for healing magic, and good luck, too. The fruit, however, has a very intriguing use in folk magic…

Changing sex.

Folklore holds that, if a girl wanted to be a boy, “all” she had to do was eat nine unripe persimmons. (“All” is in scare quotes because, if you’ve ever accidentally tasted an unripe astringent persimmon, you probably know how horrifying the idea of having to eat nine of them would be!)

This isn’t new magic. It’s old-school Alabama folklore. So, why do legislators seem to think that transgender people are a new idea? That the days they have such misplaced nostalgia for weren’t also populated by transgender people? Or do they not care, so long as they never have to confront the idea and can remain comfortably ignorant while others live in fear and pain?

(I think I know the answer.)

I am considered to be under the trans “umbrella,” though I don’t consider myself trans — I have no desire to transition, and I would not talk about myself in the same breath as those who suffer from dysphoria. I have no real concept of gender, which, at times, can also make it more difficult to empathize with those for whom gender is a real and vital aspect of their identities. (Pink pens for women, black rubber loofahs for men, I don’t get it.) I also don’t care which pronouns are applied to me, because all of them are equally valueless. In truth, I’d rather people not apply any, because I dislike being talked about behind my back.

When I was younger, I used to care more about putting on a gender performance. Like a high school kid preoccupied with wearing the right labels on their clothes, I cared about how my gender was perceived. People still saw through it, though… I will never forget sitting in a living room with a group of friends, getting ready to watch T.V., only to have my room mate (annoyed that we didn’t want to watch what she wanted to watch instead) huffily declare,

“Well, [J]’s not even a real girl!”

Shit, I thought, am I that obvious?

As I matured, I learned better than to sacrifice my energy to keeping up a performance that, frankly, I couldn’t care less about. I’m a witch, I do as I please, and gender is a game I’ve no interest in playing. I live as I please, I dress as I please, I wear my hair (or not at all) as I please, I paint my face as I please, and I perform gender-expected functions of society as I please. I’m not the only one. This is going to continue, regardless of who thinks they can attempt to legislate my, or anyone else’s, existence away piece by piece.

It’s not going to work. Not on me, and not on anyone else.

You don’t get to erase people that easily.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Herb Haul! (Kind of.)

Well, less “haul” than “restock.”

I like restocking this time of year. Like I kind of got into in my post about cleansing your energy for fall, this is a really renewing time of year for me. It also has several other things going for it, like:

  • Being right after NoVA Pagan Pride, so I can buy my herbs there and actually see/smell what I’m getting. A lot of places don’t stock hard-to-find herbs (or particularly pungent ones, like asafoetida), so I have to get them online. While I’ve found a really good online supplier, I do still like to see my herbs in person.
  • Being right after summer. A lot of great herbs are ready to harvest in fall, but it’s also nice to get all of those summer herbs that’ve had a few weeks to dry.
  • Being right before winter, when I’m going to need herbs for teas and cough syrups.

Pride was the 29th of September this year. I debated vlogging it, but couldn’t really make myself do it. There’s just a feeling there, you know? I like talking to vendors and meeting people, I love the atmosphere. It’s too much fun for me to have to focus on getting video. My extroversion doesn’t do that great when I keep it behind a camera, it sucks the joy out of socializing.

But! I did use the opportunity to visit Phoenix Rising Apothecary‘s booth to stock up on a lot of the magical herbs I use most often, and a fair amount I need for a specific project. (If you’re up on your herb lore, you can prooobably take a guess of exactly what that is.)  So, while the idea is still somewhat fresh in my mind, I figured I’d make a post about what I decided to stock up on, and the magical properties of each herb.

Agrimony. I use it for banishing and uncrossing. It’s very efficient at returning evil to its source, it’s pretty much a mirror for other people’s bull. Some consider that “baneful” magic, but that’s in the eye of the beholder — in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with returning something you didn’t want, need, or ask for!

Asafoetida. This is another excellent banishing herb — possibly the strongest of them. I’ve had a tough time finding it, because many sellers don’t want to keep it in stock. It’s pretty pungent, with a smell that falls somewhere between garlic and skunky cannabis. It’s a very earthy smell, and not necessarily bad, but it is very strong. It disperses negative energy, banishes, protects, and exorcises.

Dittany of Crete. Dittany of Crete is a relative of oregano, and can be tough to find because it isn’t widely grown. I use it for divination, spirit work, and divination, and it is the primary ingredient in one of my most-used oils.

Feverfew. A nice protective herb. Also used to bring good fortune, and for spiritual healing. I don’t use it often, but it’s one herb I’d like to get to know better.

Fumitory. This is burned to exorcise, and sometimes used for prosperity magic. It’s one that came recommended by the seller, and I decided to give it a try. It’s likely to make its way into a banishing incense.

Lavender. If I could only have one herb for the rest of my life, lavender might be it. It’s cleansing, peaceful, draws love, protects, and is virtually indispensable in dream magic.

Lemon Verbena. This herb adds a boost to whatever herbal mixture it’s included in. It purifies, cleanses, draws love, and ignites passion. It’s also very good at flipping bad luck!

Mugwort. I use mugwort primarily for divination and dream magic. It’s also used for protection and healing. Before scrying, I wash my mirror or crystals in an infusion of mugwort in distilled water. (If that’s not practical, you can also use it as a spray and give them a little mist.)

Mullein. The hag’s taper. It frequently grew along the edges of properties, giving it a strong association with borders — for this reason, it’s frequently used by hedge witches. I use it for spirit work and psychic pursuits, but it’s also used for strength, protection, and healing. It is also sometimes used as a substitute for graveyard dust.

Star Anise. I use these fragrant, star-shaped seed pods as power herbs. Keeping four at the corners of your altar is said to boost the power of your spellwork. They’re also used for good luck, and keeping one on you can ward off the evil eye and prevent misfortune.

Vetiver. I love vetiver. The warm, earthy spiciness is my favorite fragrance, and most of my favorite perfumes use it. It’s useful for hex-breaking, protection, prosperity, and luck. It’s also a very efficient power herb. Some use it for hexing, but, from my experience, it is better at breaking them than laying them.

Wild Cherry Bark. I have an idiosyncratic relationship with wild cherry bark. I never really used it until a few years ago, when I used dream magic to divine the ingredients for an oil I wanted to make. I didn’t know anything about wild cherry bark when it came to me in a dream, but I looked it up… and it was perfect. Most sources I’ve seen list it as a love herb. I’ve used it in an offertory capacity, for healing, and for animal magic.

There are still some others I need to get. (Cinquefoil, for one, and centaury!) For now, this is enough to get me through the next couple of ideas I have kicking around in my head, plus some extra for any magical emergencies.