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Natural tips against thrips

Control thrips naturally

What do a vacuum, aluminum foil, and a hose have in common? They’re great tricks to get rid of thrips – naturally!

Thrips are teeny-tiny bugs that are sometimes dangerous for your plants. When you’ve got a small colony on a houseplant or just the start of an infection in the vegetable patch, these handy easy tips can save the day!

Tips and tricks to naturally get rid of thrips

Thrips on a bright orange yellow flowerIf you’ve a houseplant or a few plants on a balcony, it’s worth trying these few tips and tricks first. They can help stave off an infection.

  • When the colony is quite small and there aren’t many plants around, it’s possible to simply get rid of the colony.
  • There’s not much risk of thrips reappearing from neighboring plants indoors or from a terrace or balcony.
  • Especially for the vacuum and the water-blasting techniques, make sure to try it out on a few leaves first. Wait for a day or two. If the leaf starts wilting, try to reduce the power.
  • These will work on almost every species of thrips.

Vacuuming a plant covered in thrips

thrips vacuumThrips are tiny and very light. They aren’t very good at sticking to the plants they’re on. Indeed, part of their means of spreading is to be whipped away by wind to greener pastures… Use this against them!

Vacuuming thrips

A vacuum creates a powerful air intake and thrips have trouble resisting it.

  • A normal house vacuum will do. The trick outdoors is planning for the extension cord.
  • Remove any nozzles and simply work with the tube. Some tube ends have adjustable vents. Try different openings until you find the one that doesn’t damage leaves and flowers.
  • Modern battery-operated vacuums designed to clean cars and suck up a spilled bowl of chips are also excellent.
  • Run the mouth of the vacuum along the plant. Include the undersides of leaves, topsides, stems and trunks, too.
  • Normally, a hefty portion of the little buggers will be whipped away, usually more than three-fourths at every run.

With this technique, it’s difficult to get flower thrips that usually feast and live inside flower buds. Cut buds and blooms off if this is the case. Better to not have flowers for a month or so than to fight thrips forever.

Repeat this vacuuming every two or three days, for two weeks.

  • Two weeks is the normal time span for any eggs to hatch. Since thrips eggs are well-attached to their host plants, vacuuming won’t dislodge them. Vacuuming for two weeks makes sure you catch any new hatchlings!

Professionals are developing double-action vacuums that are even more effective. An air-nozzle blasts thrips out from their hiding places and a regular vacuum sucks them up before they can get away. It’s twice as effective as simple-action vacuuming.

Aluminum foil to blind thrips away from seedlings

thrips aluminumThrips are attracted as adults to light-colored surfaces. Reflective mulch strewn around young plants will “blind” thrips and create confusion.

Aluminum foil against thrips

Spread aluminum foil around key seedlings you wish to protect. This will keep feeding thrips away during the first stages in the life of the vulnerable sprout.

  • Collect aluminum foil sheets and spread them lightly around the seedlings.
  • Cover a surface that is as large as can be. For example, if you’re growing in a square-foot organic garden or a raised bed, spread the mulch from edge to edge.
  • The tiny seedlings planted through the cover won’t be noticed among all that bright, reflected light.
  • As leafage increases, this trick becomes less effective. Thrips aren’t as disoriented and start appearing when more than half the surface is covered by leafage.

No need to purchase brand-new aluminum foil! Simply collect pouches and bags of chips, snacks, cookies and such, and flip them inside-out. Their aluminum inside does the trick perfectly, and you’ll be giving them a second life before finally throwing these hard-to-recycle items away!

This is based on the observation that light-colored backgrounds confuse pests. Aside from thrips, other pests such as aphids, whiteflies and leafhoppers are tricked, too.

Good to know: you can also use other types of mulch than aluminum, too. For instance, flax mulch is very light-colored, as can be white-colored wood chips and various types of mineral mulch (slate mulch is particularly effective).

Again, professionals use special aluminum-lined plastics to protect important crops, but that is usually overkill in a home garden.

Water, flush those thrips away

thrips hoseAs with air, thrips hate too much water. A good hose is a great tip to get rid of thrips!

  • For some thrips, it’s enough to simply make sure air moisture is high enough. This is because high water content in air interferes with their flying and slows their development. Try to find ways to increase air moisture around your plants.
  • Misting is a great way to increase air moisture.

Blasting thrips away with water

For others, though, a shower is in order:

  • With your thumb on the tip of a hose, a nozzle, or a very low-power pressure washer, spray the entire plant up and down.
  • Insist on the undersides of leaves, along stems, leaf joints, and buds.
  • If treating a potted plant, feel free to move the pot to a place where splashing water won’t be a problem.
  • Bag the pot with a pouch and tie a knot around the stem to keep from washing soil out and prevent overwatering.

Again, repeat often (ideally daily) over a period of two weeks to make sure you’ve washed out any newly hatched thrips larva.

Smart tip about these thrips tips

Combine them all to make sure your plants are truly thrips-free within a fortnight!

Images: CC BY 2.0: Saim, Sheila Sund
CC BY-SA 4.0: Emanuele Santarelli
Public Domain: Amanda Byrne, Jeffrey Lee