Q • My houseplants weren’t looking very good, so I sprayed them with a mix of soapy water and cinnamon I made. Now it looks worse. What might have happened?
A • The first step in managing any plant problem is identifying the cause and then employing appropriate management strategies. Some issues stem from living things (insects, fungi, etc.), while others are due to abiotic factors like water, light or temperature.
If you’ve determined a living organism such as an insect is causing the problem, first employ cultural management strategies like ensuring plants are receiving sufficient light and moisture or reducing fertilizer application if applicable. This can be combined with hand picking or removing certain pests like scale and mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Both persistence and patience are important, as it may take time for pests to be eliminated and plants to recover.
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If these strategies have not helped, a commercial product designed to control the specific insect pest on your particular plant may be an option. Pesticides sold in stores have undergone scientific testing and must, by federal law, include a label detailing pest they control, what they can be used on, when and how to apply them, as well as information regarding safe handling, storage, disposal and environmental impact.
If using a pesticide, always read the label and follow the instructions. With some home remedies, it is difficult to know which pests are effectively controlled, how and when to apply, and what plants they may be safely applied to because this information has not been determined through scientific testing.
It’s possible soap and cinnamon weren’t effective in addressing the problem or that the mixture harmed your plants. If you need help with a sick plant, the Horticulture Answer Service and the Plant Doctor Desk at the Kemper Center for Home Gardening can help.
Write to the Missouri Botanical Garden's Center for Home Gardening at email@example.com or the Horticulture Answer Service, 4344 Shaw Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63110.