Pests of succulent plants

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General comments about pest control

Many common pests can be controlled by use of systemic insecticides, contact insecticides, insecticidal soaps and, in some cases, natural predators. Systemic insecticides are very effective as they are absorbed by the plant, making its sap poisonous to the pests. However, they may be toxic to people and absorbed through the skin in the same way.
Dimethoate was an effective ingredient of systemic insecticides, but unfortunately it has generally been withdrawn from the non-professional market in EC countries.

The best systemic insecticides currently available are based on Imidacloprid. In the UK this is marketed as "Provado Vine Weevil Killer," but is effective against a wide range of insects including mealy bugs. In the USA Bayer market a formulation containing Imidacloprid. Plants should be watered with this insecticide during the growing season. The substance is taken up into the plant which then becomes toxic to insects. A single treatment lasts for several months. Imidacloprid is not very effective against red spider. It is relatively low in toxicicity to most animals other than insects and application without spraying minimises contact. Neonicotinoid (similar to Nicotine) insecticides are getting a bad press lately, as harmful to beneficial insects such as bees and butterflies, but it's unlikely that bees would be harmed by indoor use of Imidacloprid on a collection of succulent plants.

Contact insecticides such as Malathion can also be effective, but only at the time of application and all parts of the plant must be covered. Unfortunately, Malathion and its derivastives are toxic to Crassulaceae and some other succulents.
A range of insecticidal soaps are also available, and some people swear by spraying with diluted washing-up liquid (a few drops in a litre), which at least is fairly harmless.

It is worth noting that repeated use of insecticides can select for resistant insects among any survivors (evolution in action !). It is not yet clear whether resistance will develop to Imidacloprid or to the new insecticidal soaps. This can be avoided by ensuring that treatments are as thorough as possible, so there are no survivors and by using more than one insecticide in rotation.

Biological controls are available for some pests but are incompatible with insecticides. Use one or the other. It is difficult to obtain a predator/prey balance that allows long-term protection in a small collection. I'd question the efficacy of biological controls in a small glasshouse, but it may be worth experimenting with these if you dislike using insecticides.
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So rather than spraying with Imidacloprid, should I water my plants with it??
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