Fruit Flies and Fungus Gnats: Get Rid of Them

fruit flies

Do tiny flies in your home drive you crazy? Ever notice that fruit flies seem to come home from the grocery store with you, especially when you buy bananas? Apparently, they love bananas and other ripening fruit. What about fungus gnats? If you have houseplants, you have probably seen these tiny pests. These tips will help you get rid of both of them and learn the difference between them if you care to.

Fruit Flies or Fungus Gnats?

Fruit flies are different than fungus gnats. If you care to differentiate, read this article from Get Busy Gardening. I just assume the tiny flies in my kitchen are fruit flies and the ones around my house plants are fungus gnats. I’ve never taken the time to look that closely or distinguish between the two.

Separate and Wash Your Bananas

As soon as you bring them home, separate your bananas so they are no longer in a bunch, and wash them in soapy water. Yes, I said wash them! This will remove the eggs of fruit flies from the bananas. I have never thought to wash my bananas, even during the pandemic, when everyone was washing everything that came into their home. Apparently, fruit flies like to shelter in the crevices between bananas that are attached to each other in a bunch, so separating them is crucial too.

Who knew?

Vinegar Down Your Drain

Another trick is to pour vinegar down your drain to get rid of both fruit flies and fungus gnats. Fruit flies not only like banana stalks but also the wet, sticky environment in our kitchen drains. So do fungus gnats, AKA drain gnats or drain flies. Rotting fruit in our garbage cans and compost buckets also attracts fruit flies, so spraying those containers with vinegar helps too.

Other Tips to Reduce Fruit Flies

Changing garbage and compost bags often helps keep fruit fly infestations down too. Another tip is to keep your fruit in the fridge instead of on the counter, although I’ve never put bananas in the fridge. Some people use liquid traps made with apple cider vinegar or wine and dish soap to attract and kill the fruit flies respectively.

Hydrogen Peroxide and Sticky Traps for Fungus Gnats

As I do love my houseplants but hate fungus gnats, I have a procedure I am diligent about. Especially as these little buggers can be a quickly escalating issue when purchasing or inheriting new plants:

  • Shake the plant well outside before bringing it into the house
  • some people cover new plants with a plastic bag and leave them in their garage for a few days to isolate any fungus gnats before bringing them into their homes. I’ve never tried this.
  • wipe the leaves of new plants with hydrogen peroxide when they arrive in your home and at least once a month afterward.
  • use sticky traps to catch adult fungus gnats
  • shake plant pots once in a while, spraying any adults or babies that you disturb
  • spray the wet soil in each pot with hydrogen peroxide each time you water your plants
  • Microwave or bake new bags of potting soil. This kills any fungus gnat adults or eggs that might be unwanted guests within the bags, Let the soil cool of course before using it.
  • let the top of the soil in your pots dry out between watering. Some plants tolerate drier soil than others, but most hate overwatering, in fact, the quickest way to kill your houseplants is to overwater them.
fruit flies and fungus gnats
sticky traps

Conclusion

Well, whether or not you care which tiny insect is flying around your home, you are now equipped to battle them and win. If they are in your kitchen and you have no houseplants, they are probably fruit flies. If zipping around your houseplants in other areas of your home, they are most likely fungus gnats.

Bottom Line: Fruit flies don’t like wet soil and fungus gnats don’t like rotting fruit. Also: Don’t use vinegar on your houseplants.

Overwintering Annuals, Take Two

October blooms

A few years ago, I shared my plan to overwinter some frost-tender tropical plants from my outdoor collection. I was not successful with the bougainvillea featured in that post, but I’ve learned a lot since then, mainly from a group of experts on Facebook.

Washing Roots

It is advised (by said experts mentioned above) to shake the outside dirt off of the roots and then to give them a good rinse with a strong jet of water from your hose before bringing the plant inside. This practice loosens the root ball so the roots can stretch out in their new location.

This works especially well on houseplants that need to be repotted to larger pots too. When examining the roots of tender annuals and houseplants, remove any rotted or dead roots.

Prevent Bugs From Overwintering in Your House Too

The last thing you want to welcome into your home for the winter is bugs. Adult bugs and their eggs will come in if you do not treat the plants, soil, and roots that you bring in. I don’t mind the tiny (the size of fruit flies) buggers flying around, but my husband and grandchildren hate them.

There are several ways to eliminate both the adults and eggs. Insecticidal soap or a solution of hydrogen peroxide works well on the plants and soil. Sticky traps will catch adults preventing them from laying any more eggs. These sticky traps also work well on fruit flies.

Tropicals I’m Attempting to Overwinter this Season

This fall I pulled up three tropical plants that I used as the thrillers in containers.

I find it frustrating (and sad) that these beautiful plants are just achieving that mature, settled-in look when frost ruins them in our zone 4 to 5 gardens. This year I decided to remove the thrillers, rinse their roots with water as advised above, spray them several times with insecticidal soap, then bring them inside.

My biggest challenge was finding sunny spots for them to overwinter. My south and east-facing windows were already houseplant-loaded. It took a bit of shuffling to find spots for three (more) large plants.

Hopefully, they survive until I can reuse them in the spring.

Taking Cuttings

I also took more cuttings from fully mature annuals this fall. Like the tropical “thrillers” in the center of my containers, the fillers and spillers were gorgeous this year too. Especially the coleus, which continues to be my favourite annual for containers in shady spots.

They are all set up in perlite on my basement counter; as soon as roots form I will pot the baby plants up so I have a collection to use in spring. For those of you not familiar with perlite, it is a form of volcanic glass with a high water content, used to propagate plants without soil.

Digging up Dahlia Tubers

Another new thing I am trying this year is digging up the dahlia bulbs I planted in the spring. I have always admired dahlias in everyone else’s gardens, so decided to try them myself this year. My granddaughters loved the various colours and shapes that bloomed right up until this past week when our first frost descended on us..

I followed the same guideline with the dahlia tubers as I did for the roots of the other annuals I am overwintering. Digging up and rinsing well with a hose. The difference here is that I had to leave these lying in a single layer on the floor of my garage to dry before storing them in a box in a cool, dark spot.

Overwintering Annuals, Take Two
dahlia tubers

All of my overwintering preparations are complete, now I just have to wait until spring to see how successful I have been. Have you had any success with overwintering frost tender plants?

Propagating Plants From Seeds: What I have Learned

Propagating Plants from seeds: what I have learned

Anyone who has tried propagating plants from seeds will tell you the process is not as easy as it seems. Each year I give it a try, without much success. The ideal time to start the process is six to eight weeks before the last frost date in your area when they can be planted outdoors.

This year I started way back in the fall with my oldest granddaughter. We have had some success, but not much.

Since then I have researched more and tried different techniques. I can get the seeds sprouted but the sprouts always flop over and shrivel up.

My latest attempts (it has been a long winter) have been more successful, using these techniques:

Humidity

Humidity is a must to coax the seeds to sprout. I have several mini greenhouses and peat pellets that are perfect for for achieving humidity levels the seeds require. This is especially important as most homes have lower humidity levels during the winter months.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Labels

My granddaughter convinced me to use labels to differentiate the seedlings in their rows within the greenhouse. She noticed my memory is not as good as hers, so thought the labels would help me remember what I planted. She was right.

Grow or Heat Lamps

Once the seeds sprout, the seedlings need heat and light. This can be achieved by keeping the seedlings in a warm window, rotating them often so they grow straight up and not tilted towards the sunshine. Or, you can create warmth and artificial light with a grow/heat lamp.

I am using a desk top in a south facing, sunny window as my propagation station.

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned

Hydrogen Peroxide

With the humidity comes the growth of mold and mildew on the soil surface. Both are disastrous to seedlings, causing them to wither away.

Cleaning all your (previously used) containers before use with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide will sterilize them, reducing the chance of mold. You can purchase hydrogen peroxide in your local grocery store or pharmacy and pour it into a spray bottle, or already in a spray bottle here.

Spraying the soil surface daily with a solution of hydrogen peroxide and water (1:4) once the seeds have sprouted will keep mold at bay. This solution will also kill any fungus gnats (the tiny fruit fly-like bugs) hovering around your baby plants.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is not just a tasty and aromatic ingredient in your spice cabinet. Sprinkling it liberally on the top of your seed pellets, before the seeds sprout, will help control mold growth so the seedlings have a fighting chance breaking through the soil.

Transplanting

The use of peat pellets make it simple to transplant the seedlings into larger containers. I just squish them into a pot filled with soil. The size of the new container will dictate how many pellets I transplant into each container.

I like to use a premium potting soil with lots of moisture retaining ingredients to enhance drainage, aeration and add some nutrients.

This is when I use the hydrogen peroxide solution described above to keep the bugs away.

Sticky Bug Catchers

In between the spraying of the peroxide solution, sticky bug catchers work great too to capture the little fungus gnats that like to hang around the plants. They are durable and harmless to kids and pets.

I also use these bug traps in my house plants to keep other insects at bay. They work on the fruit flies and mosquitoes that are more prevalent around here in the summer months…

propagating plants from seeds: what I have learned
warning: bugs appear much bigger here, zoomed in.

Conclusions

A heat source might be a good addition to my experiments as my house does cool off at night. I am considering purchasing heat mats to place below each container to maintain a more consistent temperature for the seedlings. I would love some feedback on these.

There are lots of seeds that can be directly sewn into your gardens and outdoor containers. Of course, they have their own issues. Birds, wandering grandchildren, overgrowing established plants are just a few.

Obviously I could use advice to improve my rate of successful propagation. If any of you have had greater success in propagating plants from seeds, please pass it on!

Oh, and the labels work well outside too to remind me where I planted which seeds.

Spring Gardening, How Early can you Start?

Itching to get gardening?

Photo Credit

Is spring looking promising in your neck of the woods? The warmer, longer, sunny days always make me itch to get into my gardens. Just when can you start spring gardening? Keep reading!

Use Caution when Spring Gardening!

It is still (at least it is here) early to get into the gardens to clean them out as many (most) hardy perennials and shrubs are still dormant. I know it is tempting when you start seeing green shoots, but hold off a bit. At least until the soil is not mushy.

The same cautionary rule applies to your lawn. If the snow is gone, wait until it is no longer squishy to walk on before raking, aerating, top dressing etc. I have been aerating in the fall for the past few years, so I am one step ahead.

You also should beware of overwintering bees and other beneficial insects. Gardening too early will disturb them before they are ready to come out of their cozy spots under the debris in your gardens.

Also be on the lookout for nests belonging to our fine feathered friends. Spring is nest and baby season for birds. If you discover one being used, avoid it for a while, until babies have left.

Rabbits have their babies in burrows or holes in the ground in a protected area. I came across one a few years ago when weeding a client’s garden. I was pulling weeds when I spotted movement. The only way I could distinguish that they were baby rabbits was by their big feet. They had no hair yet. I replaced the weeds to protect them and moved on to another area of the garden.

Include Pruning in Spring Gardening

You can prune trees now, in fact, this is the best time to do so, before the leaves come out. Pruning is done for several reasons, even cosmetic ones.

Cosmetic Pruning

It is much easier to see the “bone structure” of your trees before they leaf out, so pruning shade trees like oak and maples now, while they are still dormant, is perfect timing. Trees and shrubs always look nicer and tidier when shaped properly and not overgrown. Now is the time to do this, before new growth begins blurring the shape. This is especially true if you feel bad cutting out perfectly healthy branches. Pruning to enhance the shape will encourage and stimulate new growth in spring, which is when you want to encourage new growth. Pruning in fall, however, encourages growth when future cold weather could kill it off.

To shape or control size, cut back one-quarter of old stems to where they meet the central branch or right back to the ground if need be.  Then cut all remaining stems back to one-half their length.  If new growth shoots up too quickly and gets out of shape in summer, cut off the tips.

Boxwoods, yews, holly, and other evergreen shrubs should be trimmed now, while dormant, and before new growth appears. Spruce and firs can be trimmed back now, but pruning pines should wait until June or July, after their first growth of what are called candles (new shoots at the tips). No earlier and no later. With pines, prune (delay growth) by cutting back the candles by half or remove dead, diseased, broken (or unwanted lower) branches to their main stem.

If removing the lower branches of evergreens in your landscape is something you have been considering, now is the time to do so. This is a great way to drastically change your landscape and even improve the condition of your lawn that tries to grow under them.

Overgrown Shrubs and Trees

Overgrown shrubs and trees also benefit from drastic rejuvenation this time of year. Again, this is because the new growth that will be stimulated has a better chance of survival heading into spring rather than winter. I have had particular success drastically cutting back overgrown dappled willows and forsythia in my business. Even though forsythia is on the list of shrubs not to trim back early, this one was so overgrown my client just wanted it reduced in size, willing to sacrifice the blooms that year.

Dead or Diseased Branches

Although it may be difficult to determine if branches are dead or diseased yet, you can mark any suspicious ones for pruning later if this is the case. There is no wrong time to remove dead or diseased branches. Dead, broken, diseased, or crossing/rubbing branches can be cut back at any time during the year. This applies to trees and shrubs. Cut right to the next branch, without leaving a stub.

Crossing or Rubbing Branches

In the case of crossing or rubbing branches, decide which of the crossing branches lends best to the overall shape of the tree or shrub and remove the other. Keep in mind branches should grow upwards and outwards for optimal shape. Heavy snowfalls and winter winds can snap even the healthiest of branches. These broken branches should be removed for aesthetic purposes as well as for the continued health of the tree or shrub.

What Not to Prune in Early Spring

The general rule of thumb is “if it blooms before June, prune after flowering. If it blooms after June, prune in spring.” That is because spring bloomers do so on older (last year’s) wood, while later flowers come from new (spring-generated) wood.

That means do not prune anything that blooms early, like lilacs or forsythia, as you will cut off the spring blossoms.

Pruning Technique

Use a good quality, sharp set of loppers to prune branches. This is one of those times it pays to purchase quality. Choose a set you can handle, as some are quite heavy, and create a workout for your arms. If cut branches are diseased, wipe the lopper blades with disinfectant (rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide) between cuts.

Cut Back Ornamental Grasses and Perennial Stalks

You can and should cut back ornamental grasses that were left tall for the winter. By now they look weather-beaten anyway. Cut them back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground before new growth appears. This will ensure the tender new green shoots (when they appear) won’t have to compete with the dead and crispy brown ones. Cut them back as soon as you can get to them, even if you have to wade through some lingering snow.

Use a sharp pair of garden shears to make the job of cutting back the ornamental grasses much easier.

This pruning also applies to other perennials you left over the winter. Bird lovers often leave seed heads and pods for their fine feathered friends to snack on. Some leave perennial stalks for their beauty when covered in snow or some variation in an otherwise bleak-looking winter garden. For whatever reason you have left yours intact, now is the time to cut (snap off) the brown and crispy stalks down to ground level.

Other Perennials

Give tufted grasses (blue fescue, sedges, blue oat grass etc) a haircut, shearing back to approximately 3 inches from the ground, removing any loose and dry foliage.

Remove only the old large leaves and stems from semi-evergreen perennials such as heuchera and hellebores,  leaving small leaves at the plant center intact.

Cut back woody perennials such as artemsia, salvia, russian sage, and lavender to 6 inches from their base.

Trim most roses (except for shrub type that bloom only once; wait until after they have bloomed), as well as sand cherries,  spirea, dogwoods, smokebushes, burning bushes,  euonymus, and some hydrangeas (PG type only, the rest should wait until summer) 

Get Ahead of Crabgrass

If crabgrass is making an appearance on your lawn, treat it quickly! As soon as the snow is gone crabgrass germinates, so the earlier you get to it the better. The snow is always gone from my south-facing lawn first, so I have to get on the crabgrass now. You can recognize the sprouts as they are bright green in an otherwise drab lawn, and whorled like spokes on a wheel.

I have tried corn gluten, a preemergent, with varying results; the biggest problem is finding it in the stores so early. Scotts has a product out with good reviews for treating crabgrass. I have yet to try it.

This year I poured boiling water on the germinating sprouts, will let you know how that works.

Disinfect Tools and Pots with Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide is an environmentally friendly alternative to bleach for cleaning and disinfecting in the garden.

If you use containers on your patio, deck or in your gardens, a warm sunny day is a great time to clean them out. Empty them by dumping the soil into a large garbage can or bucket.   Add some peat moss and compost to the bucket, and stir it up.  This soil can now be used for your containers this summer.  Rinse out the containers and spray with undiluted 3% hydrogen peroxide to disinfect them. Let the pots sit in the hydrogen peroxide for at least ten minutes. Rinse again, then fill them with new soil so they are ready to fill with annuals when your last frost date arrives.

If you intend to fill any containers with perennials (I have some with ornamental grasses in them) you can do that now. Contact your local nurseries to see what they have available, my favourite here is Ritchie Feed & Seed.

Hydrogen peroxide is also an effective way to clean your tools. Spray or soak them, let them sit for a minimum of ten minutes, then rinse and dry.

Change up Your Outdoor Decor

Remove your winter arrangements (the evergreens that are not so green anymore) and replace them with harbingers of spring. Nothing says spring like pussy willows (I saw some at Farm Boy yesterday) or forsythia branches!

Start Some Seeds

Non-hardy seeds should be started at least six weeks before your last frost date, so this is a great time to get them going. I have learned a few tips over the winter regarding seedlings. Stay tuned for a future post on that subject, coming soon.

Plan and Dream

This is also a great time of year to plan. Make a list of things you want to do, even if they seem far-fetched. Sometimes dreams become reality!

While it is still too early to really get started, there are a few things you can do to scratch that gardening itch.