Full Scale Attack

Scale insects. First you see one, then two, and then the picnic's ruined. Yes, these bitches are the Knights of Byzantium of a Nature Slayer's world. I've tried washing, scrubbing, picking, and poisoning scale insects, but in the end they always win. The have a guerrilla strategy wherein they breed in mass numbers and hide in plain sight, tiny and unnoticeable. Then overnight they develop into terrifying, fully armored monstrosities.

hemiptera diaspididae: a common household pest*

Just this morning, I surrendered two precious territories to the scale invasion. Both will be missed, as both of these were ferns that moved here with me from St. Louis. This leaves only six of the old plant crew, which used to roll about thirty deep. First the scale took my last Asplenium Nidus "Osaka," which was the oldest and loveliest of all. Then they took my Nephrolepis Exaltata "Tiger," which really pissed me off.

This is your fern:

This is your fern with scale:

Any questions?

*image in the public domain

Night Colors

According to my friend Carly Fisher, food authority and author of the delightful Chicago Brunch Blog, there are more places to get brunch in Rogers Park than you might imagine. In addition, should you ever find yourself hankering for breakfast foods at around 3am in good old RoPa, rest assured that there are plenty of greasy spoons to be found. Simply follow the trickle of drunk people down Devon street, and take in the sights on your way.


The Peperomias Taste Like Snozzberries!

Peperomia Argyreia "Watermelon"

Can you believe this plant? The leaves are succulent, metallic, and visually confectionary. Obtained from Gethsemane Garden Center in Chicago, Illinois. Don't spread it around, but they also carry pothos "n'joy" from time to time.


Products Endorsed by Nature Assassin...

...whether they like it or not.

First things first, I'm a fern nerd. Hardcore. From the strange and metallic microsorium thailandicum to the hairy desert chelianthes tomentosa, from the ground-up blechnums to the epiphytic platyceriums, I love and grow them all. With this in mind, here are a few products I could not do without.*

1. Seaweed fertilizer. Though it is not universally so, the majority of ferns that can be cultivated indoors are acid-loving plants. They have a great deal less use for phosphorus and potassium than the average houseplant, and thus your run-of-the-mill fertilizer can often be damaging to ferns. Furthermore, they are particularly susceptible to fertilizer burn even in normal concentrations, and so you'll never find me pouring MiracleGro on those babies. Seaweed fertilizers will provide just about all the fertilizing your ferns will need, provided they are given yearly soil upgrades. I use Maxicrop USA's Organic Liquid Seaweed plus Iron, with great results. Though they claim their methods are non-polluting and renewable, I'm not sure if this company's harvesting techniques are completely sustainable; unfortunately their website contains no such information. A quart of this stinky elixir should run you about $11 at your greenhouse. Next time I think I might go for the standard-iron variety, but all in all I'm incredibly pleased with this product. As a sidenote, I always use filtered water and dilute this product to half-strength, even though it is already mild. What can I say, I'm not an aggressive fertilizer.

2. Fafard's potting mix. I mix my soils according to each plant's needs using perlite, pumice, peat, pine bark fines, sharp sand, and charcoal, but I often like to use potting mix as a base to save time. Fafard's mix is neither too dry nor too wet, the latter being the more common problem with potting mixes. As compared to big-name varieties, Fafard has four things I prefer 1) a shorter and simpler ingredients list 2) no awful time-release fertilizers 3) less odor (indicates health and sterility) and 4) a much greater proportion of partially-composted bark fines. The more bark fines, the slower the soil will degrade into compacted and nutritionally-scant soup. You can always keep watering your ferns if your medium is quick to drain; you can't un-water a soggy medium.

3. Ferns for American Gardens, by John T. Mickel. This book is great. I love spotting a fern on a hike or in a garden shop and looking it up in this book. The focus is less on fern care and more on the history and native lives of these plants. Probably available at your local garden store or botanical garden, and certainly available online. John T. Mickel, be my valentine.

*Photographs not mine. Furthermore, I am not getting paid to endorse these items. That'll be the day!

Aced, You Cottony Fuck!

In recent weeks I have successfully killed TWO specimens of brake fern (RIP, pteris ensiformis), a fittonia "White Anne," and a pilea "Moon Valley." These achievements are trifles, however, in comparison to the assassination I am featuring today.

I hereby declare victory over a notorious foe: the mealybug.

In 2007 I acquired a superb-looking strelitzia, a.k.a. Bird of Paradise plant. I had no understanding at the time, but I was also acquiring a small army of legless, wingless, headless rogues. The mealybugs had colonized the rootball of the plant very discreetly, and it was weeks before the first brave soldier migrated north. Upon discovering the first mealy, I assumed it was a piece of fuzz. However, a piece of fuzz does not pop and turn into a small puddle of blood and goo when it is picked up. Thus occurred the first casualty of a long battle between two nature assassins: the mealybug and myself. I come before you now with hard-won knowledge, to help you treat your own mealy problems.

Step One: Identifying the Enemy

Mealies are small, white, furry insects that look like bits of cotton. The females move, but very slowly and only amongst plants, so don't worry about getting mealybugs in your hair or anything. The males are rarely seen and eat nothing because they have no mouth. Like, literally, no mouth-parts at all. For this reason they don't live very long. Gross, right? I know. Mealies love to nestle in the crevices between a stem/rachis and a leaf/pinnule, where they can suck the life force from your plants in quiet seclusion. For this reason, it is always a good idea to do a monthly check of the undersides of plant leaves, and the bottoms of your pots. Monthly or weekly cleaning of your houseplants with a gentle stream of water or a moist cloth will often provide all of the prevention you need. Furthermore, mealies are attracted to weakened plants the way vultures are attracted to lost and thirsty travelers, so keep an eye on your pot-bound, over-fertilized, poorly-lit, or generally sickly specimens. Once mealies are identified on a plant, keep the plant isolated. If you can see more than ten or twenty mealies on a house specimen, seriously consider throwing the plant away. If you have a special attachment to the plant or have an aversion to plant murder, move on to step two.

Step Two: Give them the proverbial "What-For"
Warning: Graphic Imagery of a Nature Assassination Ahead

Take a cotton swab soaked in alcohol, and remove as many of the mealies as you can. Smash them, rejoicing in the gory riptide of battle as you do so (optional), and throw them away. Repeat this step once a week or more until their numbers are diminished and finally extinguished. Do not resort to scary sprays or systemic insecticides, I beg you. You will probably end up killing your plant, I don't care what the nice man at Home Depot tells you.

Step Three: If all else fails, try this. Take your plant to the garbage, and gently remove it from its pot. Throw the pot away. Gently tease the roots out and try to remove as much of the soil as possible. Wash the whole plant in gently running water, removing the rest of the soil from the rootball with the stream. It will look naked and pathetic, if you do it thoroughly. Finally, repot the plant in fresh sterilized potting soil and place it somewhere that it will receive bright but NOT direct sunlight. Continue to check for remaining mealies. After one pest-free month, your happy plant can be reintroduced to the collective. It worked for me: my strelitzia is looking better than ever.

And that, friend, is how you ace a mealybug.