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Growing hostas: varieties, ideal conditions & care

Growing hostas: varieties, ideal conditions & care

The best feature of the beautiful leafy ornamental shrub called hosta is its simple elegance. Here you can learn how to grow hostas – from planting to how to care for hostas. Not all places in the garden are spoiled by the sun and it…

Evening primrose: growing, varieties & benefits

Evening primrose: growing, varieties & benefits

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Clothes moths: detection, prevention & control

Clothes moths: detection, prevention & control

How to recognise clothing moths and their larvae and how to combat the clothes-eating moths successfully? Here are all our tips for fighting common clothes moths in the house.

When it comes to clothing, there is nothing quite as infuriating as small holes in your favourite sweater. These are most often caused by annoying clothing moths in your wardrobe. Clothes moths (Tineola Bisselliella) are a type of moth that belongs to the family of fungus or tineid moths (Tineidae). They are one of the most common species of moths in the house. They can be found all over the world, damaging all sorts of fabrics. However, it is not the adult moth that causes moth holes in clothes but their larvae that are responsible for the damage on our favourite wardrobe pieces. In the following, you will learn everything you need to know – from appearance to control – about the infamous moths in the wardrobe.

How to recognise clothing moths

To be able to detect clothes moths in the first place, it is important to know what the pests look like, how they develop and what they prefer to feed on.

Clothes moths: identification

Clothes moths are rather inconspicuous animals and are not particularly noticeable. The adult specimens have a wing span of 10 to 15 millimetres; their wings are lined and shiny. The moth’s colour depends on their food and can therefore vary from a dark brown to a light yellow.

Most clothing moths emerge in the months between May and September. During this time, the female can lay up to 250 eggs, which hatch out into yellowish-white larvae after about two weeks. The development of the moths from larval stage into adult clothes moths takes about 60 days. The best conditions for their development are temperatures around 24 °C and a humidity of 75 %. If the environmental conditions deviate strongly from these numbers, the development of the clothes moths may take longer. The clothes moths are therefore most active in the warmer months of the year, i.e. between May and September. However, in houses or apartments with heating, the pests can occur all year round. The larvae usually live in the nests of mammals or birds, where they feed on that animal’s hair and feathers. Those contain the fibre protein keratin, which the larvae need for their development.

By using animal hair in the production of fabrics, humans became the place to go for clothes moths. Our wardrobes full of garments made of wool or fur make a nice home for these little pests. But synthetic fibres are not spared either – they are merely eaten and then excreted as the larvae cannot digest these man-made materials. Clothes that are covered in hair and skin cells are often being damaged by the moth larvae, too. Furthermore, clothing moths are not restricted to wardrobes, which is why moth treatment might also be necessary for carpets. Materials used for insulation can also be damaged by these moths.

Clothes moths: damage pattern

The damage inflicted by clothes moth larvae can be determined by bald spots and holes on clothes and other textiles. These spots and holes appear as the larvae eat through the fabric. The clothes moths prefer textiles made of wool, fur or feathers. If they come across mixed fabrics, they only attack the woollen part, for example.

clothes moths
A sure sign of a clothes moths infestation are the characteristic holes in natural fabrics [Shutterstock.com/coco312]

Another key feature of a clothes moths’ infestation is webbing – very similar to spider webs – and excrement crumbs from the larvae. These crumbs come in different shapes and are usually the same colour as the infested textile.

Preventing clothes moths

Prevention is always better than treatment. This rings true with regard to a clothes moths’ infestation, too. Here are some tips and tricks to prevent clothes moths from settling down in your house in the first place.

First of all, you can attach insect screens to the windows of your bedroom or wardrobe to prevent the annoying moths from entering your living space so easily. You can also protect your clothes with storage bags. However, this method is more suitable for items that are stored for a longer period of time. Protecting bags are perfect for winter clothes that are stored over the summer in the back of your closet.

It is also advisable to vacuum clean your house regularly to prevent the small pests from settling there. But be warned: the moth’s nest can also be in the vacuum cleaner bag, as the larvae prefer quiet, dark places. Therefore, do not forget to change the bag in the vacuum regularly, too.

A proven classic in the prevention of clothes moths are the so-called mothballs. These keep the insects away due to the deterrent substances they contain, such as naphthalene. However, most of us will be familiar with the strong smell of grandmothers’ closets for winter clothing and this is certainly not something you want to go for. And even if today’s mothballs contain the less intense smelling paradichlorobenzene, both substances are potentially dangerous to the environment and our health.

A more natural and much more pleasant alternative are essential oils and woods such as those of the Swiss stone pine, cedar and neem tree. Another plant, which is effective against clothes moths, is lavender. Lavender can be used dried and stored in scent bags, which can be placed in closets and chests of drawers.

Summary of how to prevent clothes moths:

  • Attach insect screens to your windows
  • Use garment bags for storing clothes
  • Vacuum clean your house and change the vacuum bag regularly
  • Use mothballs to deter clothes moths
  • Use essential oils or scented bags with dried lavender or woods, such as Swiss stone pine, cedar or neem tree

If clothes moths have already spread in your wardrobe, you are probably looking for ways of getting rid of clothes moths. There are a few options for clothes moths’ treatment. Do you prefer to use home remedies, beneficial insects or chemical control methods? Below you will find various approaches that you can use separately or in combination to get rid of clothes moths and their larvae.

Getting rid of clothes moths with chemical methods

Chemical treatments include primarily various moth sprays or ordinary insect sprays, which often contain active ingredients from the pyrethrin group. However, we advise to use such agents cautiously, as they often contain toxic and harmful ingredients that you do not want to have in the house, in the wardrobe and in the presence of children and animals.

How to get rid of clothes moths naturally

Sustainable alternatives to questionable conventional products are beneficial insects, such as ichneumon flies, or the use of household remedies. Pheromone traps are another way to help with the infestation. The traps catch the male moths, that are drawn to the pheromones contained in them. However, such attractant traps are only really useful for identifying an infestation. They can be attached to the closet at the first suspicion to confirm that you are really dealing with clothes moths. However, these traps are not sufficient for complete control, as they do not eliminate the female moths, eggs or larvae. In the following sections, you can learn which methods you can actually use to win the battle against the fabric-eating moths.

Ichneumon wasps against clothes moths

It may sound strange to bring more insects into the wardrobe to fight clothes moths, but ichneumon wasps are immensely useful little animals that have been used to control pests since the 19th century. Many species of the genus Trichogramma are specially bred to control various moths, as they are highly specialised and therefore very effective. The ichneumon wasps parasitise the eggs of the clothes moths, which prevents them from developing further and kills them.

Home remedies against clothes moths

Since large temperature fluctuations are not ideal for clothes moths and their offspring, you can use it to treat textiles that are not so easy to wash – such as upholstery. A heat treatment in the oven at 50 to 60 °C for about one hour can kill the moths, larvae and eggs. However, be extremely careful with this method and do not leave the kitchen, as a piece of fabric in the oven is always a fire hazard. Alternatively, you can also place the textiles in the blazing sun and cover them with black foil. This method also works for larger pieces, such as carpets. For this method to work fully, we only recommend doing it on very warm days, when sufficiently high temperatures are guaranteed. Leave the infested pieces outside for several hours.

clothes moths
One of the ways to get rid of clothes moths is with cold or hot treatment; both of which have to be repeated several times, though [Shutterstock.com/PHOTO FUN]

Another, safer method is cold treatment, but this is often not as effective as heat treatment. However, hot washing is not an option for wool garments, as they will become very matted. Instead, you can put the affected garments into the freezer for at least a week to eliminate the hidden clothes moth larvae. This method is also suitable for other textiles. This process needs to be repeated over several weeks to ensure that all larvae and eggs are gone.

Summary of how to get rid of clothes moths:

  • Chemical control with moth sprays (beware of toxic ingredients!)
  • Effective natural elimination with Trichogramma ichneumon wasps
  • Heat or cold treatment of the garments concerned

Another pest that likes to appear uninvited in our homes and is very similar to the clothes moth is the pantry moth. You can find out how to get rid of pantry moths and use ichneumon wasps to eliminate them in our special matching article.

What do butterflies eat?

What do butterflies eat?

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Pruning roses: expert tips on how and when is best

Pruning roses: expert tips on how and when is best

When and how to cut roses? In this article, we will show you how to prune roses correctly and what you should pay attention to when cutting back roses. Cutting various types of roses (Rosa) is not as difficult as is often assumed. Even hobby…

Spider mites: how to identify, prevent & get rid of them

Spider mites: how to identify, prevent & get rid of them

Infestation with spider mites is a nightmare for every gardener. We will show how to recognise the damage and how to fight the annoying spider mites naturally and with household remedies.

Every hobby gardener who has ever received unwelcome visits from spider mites knows how persistent the little spider mites can be. Whether roses (Rosa), fruit trees, the oleander (Nerium oleander) in the garden, or orchids (Orchidaceae), ficus (Ficus benjamina) or the citrus tree (Citrus) on the windowsill – spider mites are not picky and can infest a variety of plants. Especially tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum), cucumbers (Cucumis sativus) and other vegetables cultivated in greenhouses are a popular target for the little mites. If the infestation is on the smaller side, it can go completely unnoticed. In dry and warm or hot weather, however, the number of spider mites increases rapidly, and the tiny pests can quickly become a big problem.

Identifying spider mites

Spider mites (Tetranychidae) are arachnids. Accordingly, they have eight legs. The rear two pairs of legs are rather inconspicuous, whereas the front ones are used more and are clearly visible. Externally, the mites can differ greatly, depending on the species. The colour spectrum of the adult animals ranges from yellow to green and red, which is why some people think these insects are some type of a tiny red spider.

In Europe, the red spider mite (Tetrnychus urticae; known also as the two-spotted spider mite) and the European red mite (Panonychus ulmi) are the most common spider mites that damage plants. These miniscule animals are so small, at well under a millimetre, that they are difficult to recognise with the naked eye. This is why, usually, a spider mite infestation becomes apparent only if severe. In severe infestations, you might be able to find small webs on leaf stalks and branches, that the mites create. The insects themselves can be detected on these webs with the aid of a magnifying glass. To summarise, you can tell a spider mite infestation apart by the webs and the damage caused by the tiny pests.

Tip: By spraying the plant with water using an atomiser, the small droplets of water will stick to them and the webs become more visible.

Spider mites: damage & signs of infestation

In contrast to aphids, which pierce the conductive pathways of leaves, spider mites only suck out individual leaf cells, resulting in characteristic dot-shaped brightening. The brightening on leaves or flowers spreads more and more as the infestation progresses. This can lead to deformed shoot tips or to drying out of infested plant parts. In addition, webs with a large number of the small spider mites can be seen.

spider mites
A sure sign of a spider mite infestation is a presence of webbing, in which the pests live [Shutterstock.com/Tunatura]

How to get rid of spider mites

Do not be fooled by the size and seeming lack of resistance of the spider mites: they are tiny but mighty and are, in fact, extremely persistent! The spider mites not only weaken the plant and make it look extremely unattractive, they can also transmit plant viruses. It is also possible that they infect a large number of different plants, which allows them to spread quickly. It is therefore particularly important with this pest to detect an infestation early on and take immediate control measures to prevent it from spreading.

The first step in an identified infestation should be to isolate the plant if possible. In this way, you can avoid an attack on neighbouring plants.

How to get rid of spider mites naturally

In our opinion, the best way to get rid of spider mites with natural means. We advise against the use of synthetic pesticides, especially in the home garden or in living spaces. Such products can be harmful to various beneficial organisms in the garden. In addition, spider mites are resistant to some synthetic agents and, generally, the use of such agents is not recommended in order not to promote resistance.

Natural preparations are available on the market, but many of them do not have a systemic effect. Several applications are therefore required, which can be harmful to both the environment and the plant. Some plant protection products contain active ingredients from the pyrethrin group, which are of plant origin but can harm beneficial organisms in your garden. We therefore recommend that you do not use these products either. Natural products based on pure rapeseed oil are well tolerated by the environment but require thorough and repeated treatment. Preparations based on potassium soap are also environmentally friendly, but they also need to be used several times to work well.

Natural control of spider mites in summary:

  • If possible: isolate the infested plant to prevent the spread of the outbreak
  • Synthetic agents have a limited effect due to resistance and are harmful to the environment
  • Natural preparations based on rapeseed oil or potassium soap are effective but require repeated application

Household remedies against spider mites

Home remedies against spider mites can only be used to a very limited extent. If it is an outdoor plant, you should remove particularly severely infested shoot tips or parts of the plant if the plant is tolerant to pruning. Since spider mites do not like moisture, a slight infestation can be treated by watering the entire plant daily with a garden hose or in the shower.

Another household remedy against spider mites is the method of putting a plastic bag over affected house plants to increase the humidity. However, the air underneath can heat up so much that the affected plant can also be seriously damaged. We therefore advise to leave the plastic bag over the plant for only four days. After a two-day break, to put the bag over the plant again for four days. You can also place an infested house plant outside in the summer when it rains.

Finally, the use of a water-oil emulsion with rapeseed oil is another good way to combat spider mites. To do this, 70 millilitres of water are mixed with 30 millilitres of oil and should be shaken well to form a white emulsion. This is then applied to the whole plant, including the underside of the leaves. But beware: during the process, keep shaking the spray bottle so that the components of the mixture do not separate.

Unfortunately, many plants do not tolerate treatment with rapeseed oil very well, as it dissolves the protective cuticle of the leaves. It is therefore better to use rapeseed oil as a remedy against spider mites only in the evening, when the sun does not shine as strongly. Repeat the application a maximum of three times in order not to weaken the plant too much. If this measure does not take effect within a week, you should resort to using a natural plant protection product.

Homemade remedies to treat spider mites in summary:

  • Isolate infested plants if possible
  • Remove infested parts of the plant
  • Spray infested plant with water daily
  • Put a plastic bag over the infested plant to increase the air humidity underneath
  • Put indoor plants out in the rain in summer
  • Make a spray mixture from 70 % water and 30 % rapeseed oil; treat plants a maximum of three times

Spider mite control with beneficial insects

Some might be surprised to hear that, but you can use beneficial insects to reduce an infestation of spider mites. Predatory mites such as Phytoseiulus persimilis or gall midges such as Feltiella acarisuga can help you keep the pests under control. It makes sense to use predatory mites mainly in the greenhouse and in the house, where spider mites ultimately cause the most damage. In such conditions, the beneficial insects have a clearer target area and they cannot migrate quickly. And even though their name includes “predatory”, these animals are not dangerous to humans.

Out in the garden or in the field it makes more sense to encourage naturally occurring predatory mites by means of a near-natural garden design. We hope it goes without saying, that while you are treating a spider mite infestation with beneficial insects, you should not use pesticides as these could harm the useful organisms.

spider mite infestation
It can be hard to detect spider mites with a naked eye, but under a magnifying glass you might be able to detect the tiny red spiders easier [Shutterstock.com/Catherine Eckert]

Preventing spider mites

Spider mites can be resistant to some pesticides, which is why focusing on preventative measures is practical. In the garden, the risk of a spider mite infestation is particularly high in dry weather and at hot temperatures. These are the conditions under which spider mites thrive. You can prevent spider mites in the following ways:

  1. Beneficial insects such as gall midges can now help you keep spider mites at bay. You can attract gall midges and other beneficial insects by using natural flower beds. For that, you can use flowering herbs such as chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla). In addition, we recommend that you take care to use plant protection measures that are gentle on beneficial insects. In this way, you won’t harm your little helpers.
  2. If you apply too much nitrogen fertiliser, your plants can become susceptible to spider mites. We therefore recommend keeping an eye out for how much you fertilise and using mainly organic fertilisers.
  3. In greenhouses, you can avoid heavy infestation by regulating the temperature and humidity. Make sure that the air humidity is not too low, and the temperature is not too high. Spider mites thrive in dry conditions with temperatures at around 30°C.
  4. Spider mites can also become indoor pests, especially in winter. Be particularly careful when bringing potted plants into the house for the winter. Carefully examine the plants, that you are moving for winter, for spider mites and other pests. Spider mites can become an issue even in winter, particularly if the air in the house is dry and warm.
Growing climbing hydrangeas: tips on varieties, care & propagation

Growing climbing hydrangeas: tips on varieties, care & propagation

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Oxheart tomato: tips for cultivating the beef tomato

Oxheart tomato: tips for cultivating the beef tomato

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Agapanthus: growth, care & varieties

Agapanthus: growth, care & varieties

African lilies have magnificent flowers. We will tell you what is important when planting lilies of the Nile and what you have to consider when caring for the agapanthus in terms of fertilising and watering.

The African lily (Agapanthus), also referred to as lily of the Nile or simply agapanthus, is a perfect fit for every garden that has room for a large flower pot. This plant forms enormous and impressive flowers, and yet is easy to care for. If this gorgeous plant is watered, fertilised and overwintered properly, it can live for many years and its gigantic flowers will decorate your terrace, balcony and garden for a long time. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to properly care for agapanthus. We discuss the origin of this plant, recommend varieties to plant and explain how to propagate the lily of the Nile.

Agapanthus: origin & characteristics

Agapanthus belongs to the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). They occur naturally only in southern Africa, where their range extends from the coastal area to the mountains. Since the southern African climate differs in many respects from that of Europe and North America, the African lily is usually cultivated as a potted plant in milder climate zones.

The African lily grows as a perennial, which is either evergreen or deciduous, depending on the original species. This plant forms rhizomes as its organs of survival. The simple, parallel-veined leaves are basal, unstalked and grow in clusters. The rounded flower umbels are composed of mostly blue, purple or white coloured individual flowers. Depending on the variety, the blossom of the agapanthus can differ not only in colour but also in shape. Some African lilies bear flowers that are bell-shaped.

Agapanthus varieties

In total there are several hundred different varieties cultivated from different species of agapanthus, such as Agapanthus africanus or Agapanthus campanulatus (bell-shaped African lily). Depending on the species of origin, the flowers are differently shaped and coloured.

Here is a small selection of the most beautiful agapanthus varieties:

  • ‘Albus’: funnel-shaped, white flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Angela’: violet-blue, funnel-shaped flower; evergreen
  • ‘Black Buddhist’: large, purple-blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Blue Giant’: vibrant blue flowers; evergreen
  • ‘Northern Star’: intense, midnight-blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Silver Baby’: white flowers with light blue petal tips, small variety only 60 cm tall
  • ‘Sunfield’: small growth, funnel-shaped, light blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Twister’: white flowers with blue base; deciduous

Where & how to plant agapanthus

The best location for the African lily is as sunny as possible. As mentioned before, this plant has its origins in southern Africa and, therefore, it thrives best in light and warmth. Bright, semi-shady places can also do, but there should be at least a few hours of sunshine a day. We recommend choosing a spot that is sheltered from the wind.

The best agapanthus growing conditions in summary:

  • As sunny and warm as possible
  • Sheltered from the wind
  • Substrate: normal potting soil
  • Nutrient rich and permeable soil
  • Slightly alkaline pH value

Since agapanthus cannot overwinter outdoors in moderate climate zones, it should be planted in a pot or a container. As a planting substrate you can use normal potting soil available in your local gardening centre, mixed with some clay or sand if necessary. The substrate should also be permeable and rich in nutrients. Before planting, add some organic fertiliser with a long-term effect to the substrate to ensure a sustainable supply of nutrients to your African lily.

potted lily of the nile
Lilies of the Nile can be grown just as well in pots [Shutterstock.com/ingehogenbijl]

The pH value should be in the slightly alkaline range. It is important to always choose a plant container where excess water can run off. In addition, a drainage layer, for example a layer of gravel, can prevent waterlogging of the roots. Waterlogging can become a serious concern to the well-being of the agapanthus and can severely damage (if not kill) your plant.

How to plant agapanthus: a step-by-step guide:

  • Create a drainage layer with some gravel or similar
  • Enrich the substrate with a slow-release fertiliser
  • Fill the flower pot with substrate (up to one third of the pot)
  • Place the agapanthus plant in the middle of the pot
  • Fill the planter with more substrate
  • Water the plant well

Agapanthus care

All in all, the African lily is a very low-maintenance plant that grows quickly and vigorously without much effort. During flowering, however, it reacts sensitively to changes and should not be moved – especially not to a location with less light. Otherwise, a change of location is no problem. The plant should also be repotted as rarely as possible and only when the roots have no more room in the pot. Pests are usually no problem with African lilies in the home garden, as snails and caterpillars are not interested in the leaves of this exotic beauty. Luckily, fungal and bacterial infestation occur just as rarely as pests.

Depending on whether you have an evergreen or a deciduous agapanthus variety at home, there are some things you should be mindful of, especially over winter.

Fertilising agapanthus

Here again, agapanthus proves to be a perfectly low-maintenance plant, that does not have any unique demands on its fertilisation. The best fertilisers for agapanthus are those with a balanced NPK ratio and a sufficient mineral supply. For a strong and abundant flowering, the African lily should be fertilised from April until it begins to bloom.

Watering agapanthus

Agapanthus reacts much more sensitively to too much water than to too little. From April onwards, it should be watered regularly and sufficiently. The substrate in the pot should be moist, but never wet. It is only necessary to water the agapanthus again when the upper third in the pot feels completely dry. However, since the lily of the Nile can store water in its fleshy rhizome, it can survive several weeks without water. During the winter months from November to March it needs little or no watering.

Agapanthus care in summary:

  • Do not change location during flowering
  • Pests and diseases are rare with the agapanthus
  • Fertilise the agapanthus properly (best with a fertiliser with long-term organic effect during planting)
  • First fertilisation in April
  • Second fertilisation in summer before flowering
  • Better to water too little than too much
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Water agapanthus very moderately in winter

Propagating agapanthus

The ornamental lily can be propagated relatively easily via offshoots. This is useful, for example, if the plant has become too large for its previous pot and needs to be repotted. The root ball can then be cut into several pieces with a sharp garden tool (depending on the size, a spade may also be necessary). The individual root pieces are then each planted in their own new pot. Another way to propagate agapanthus is to let the fruits ripen and harvest the seeds. In both cases, however, it takes some time before the African lily grows fully and flowers.

lily of the nile
Lilies of the Nile can also be propagated but it will take some time before the new plant blooms [Shutterstock.com/katacarix]

Is agapanthus poisonous?

In short, agapanthus is not poisonous. But: intensive contact with the plant sap can cause irritation of the skin. Moreover, the rhizome of the plant is poisonous to humans and animals if consumed. Therefore, gloves should be worn when propagating the agapanthus plant.

Pruning & pinching out tomato plants

Pruning & pinching out tomato plants

The pinching out of tomato shoots is a controversial topic among gardeners. We reveal when it makes sense to prune tomatoes and how to prune a tomato plant properly. Rarely does a topic divide tomato lovers as much as the removing of tomato side shoots.…