Although healthy plants are easy to maintain in suitable soil and climate, they occasionally need protection against pests.  Like people, if feeling poorly, a plant has a way of letting you know what is wrong.  Leaves may droop, holes may appear, or growth may stop. A quick, accurate diagnosis is half the battle in controlling the problem before it gets out of hand.

Please continue to read to discover the most common pest in our gardens and easy remedies for beautiful plants.

Mealy Bugs

White woolly spots appear on stems, at junctions of stems and leaves, generally in any area hidden from bright light. Mealy bugs are insects covered with white powdery wax and suck plant juices from the plants. They excrete honeydew on which a sooty black fungus may form.

Easy remedy: when there are only a few, dip a cotton wool earbud in alcohol or methylated spirits and rub them off. For heavier infestation, spray the plants with soapy (Sunlight Liquid) water.

Red Spider Mite and your plants

Leaves show pale yellow speckles, then slowly turning yellow, and in time the plants become stunted and die. These eight-legged pests are a particular nuisance during dry, hot periods. They are small and red, hardly visible, and live under the leaves spinning delicate white webs. They feed by sucking the sap from the plants.

Control by a direct spray with water from a garden hose pipe.


These tiny plant lice are about 3 mm long and can be green, brown or black, and assemble on soft young tips or leaves’ underside. They are usually wingless and suck the plant’s sap. They cause leaves and buds to wither and stunt the growth of the plants. Leaves and stems become shiny and sticky to the touch. Aphids are generally active when days are hot and nights are cool. 

Control aphids by picking them off or knocking them off with a strong water stream of a garden hose pipe.


When your plant becomes stunted and stems and leaves are often sticky to the touch, look on leaves’ underside and plant stems. Your plants are probably infested with scale. Their yellowish (when young) or brown colour makes them hard to see until the infestation is severe. They look like small oval shells and assemble in dense colonies where they sap the plant’s strength by sucking its juices. Scale also excretes a mould forming honeydew.

Control by gently scrub the scale off the leaves and stems using a cotton wool earbud dipped in alcohol or methylated spirits.


Caterpillars are the larvae of butterflies and moths and often show up in our gardens in late summer and early autumn. They can ravage plant leaves but they’ll usually stick to one kind of plant. They are a very hungry and mostly unwelcome guest in the garden, especially on plants like arum lilies, Clivias and Agapanthus. They will eat holes in your leaves, typically overnight. They do have plenty of natural predators like wasps and birds.

Control caterpillars by picking them off your plants and looking for their eggs on the leaves’ underside, and removing them with a strong flush of water.

If all else fails

If flushing with water or swapping pest with a cotton wool earbud does not help, contact your nursery for an organic spray. Heavy infestations sometimes need harsher intervention but always avoid insecticides that might kill beneficial insects and pollinators like bees. We need them for a healthy earth.

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