Q: There were tiny little bugs flying around my house plants, and now they are all over the house. How do I get rid of them? I don't want to spray poisons in the house.
A: I wouldn't spray poisons either, but that works out fine because there is an easier way to get rid of your little bugs. They are called fungus gnats. They hatch in the soil of one or more of your house plant pots. Fungus gnats are most common in winter but can appear at any time. They are a big nuisance, even if they do not bite or sting.
Fortunately it is easy to end a fungus gnat invasion. The adult flies lay eggs in potting soil. The eggs hatch into juveniles, maggots that feed on soil particles and occasionally on plant roots if there are countless numbers in the invasion force. When mature, the maggots crawl to the soil surface and fly away. They look for a house plant pot in which to lay more eggs and repeat the cycle.
Although the maggots can crawl up through potting soil, they cannot make their way through sand. Look at your house plants to see which ones have flies crawling around on the soil surface. Those pots are fungus gnat nurseries. Add a quarter inch of sand to the top of the soil. Presto! Your problem is solved.
Water the plants as usual, and wait a few days. The adult flies have very short lives and will soon die. There will be no replacements, and within a week the invasion will be over. When you see no more fungus gnats, you can remove the sand or leave it in place, whichever you prefer. Wouldn't it be nice if all insect problems had such a benign solution?
Q: We just moved into a house in a new subdivision. We love the house, but I feel as if our lives are on view. Everyone in the other homes can see us all the time. We can also see out in all directions, and some of the views are pretty ugly — like utility poles and garbage cans. We could put up a six-foot fence around the yard, but I am afraid that it would look like a stockade. Could we plant a hedge? What have other people done in our situation?
A: Plants for privacy are certainly preferable to fences, but first sit down and look around. Begin with the view outward from the house. Make a list of the ugly things that you do not want to see, and where you are when you see them. You need not screen the nice views in order to get rid of one or two homely ones. With utility poles, for example, a single plant often will hide a pole. If a pole dominates your view from several windows, a group of three or five plants will draw attention to themselves. An ugly object does not have to be completely hidden to be invisible; it only needs to be behind something nice which is closer. The ugly one will disappear into the background.
To achieve privacy without planting a forest, two tricks are good to know. One is that a low hedge, easy to see over, will get rid of the feeling that you are on display. The other is that screening an area like a patio with a semicircle of plants will achieve as much privacy as a hedge all around the property boundary.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.