If you’re like me, you probably enjoy having plants in your home. Not only do they add a splash of color and life to a room, but they can also improve your air quality.
However, if you’re not careful, those plants can also attract pests. So today we’re going to take a look at some of the most common indoor plant pests and how to control them.
Read on to learn more!
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Common houseplant pests
There are a number of common pests that can infest your houseplants, some causing more issues than others.
One of the most common pests you’ll find on houseplants is spider mites. Spider mites are extremely small but can cause a great deal of harm to your plants if left unchecked.
They feed by puncturing plant cells and feeding on the sap, causing yellow or brown spots to appear on the leaf. If left alone this will eventually lead to the plant drooping and eventually will kill the plant.
The easiest way to identify spider mites is by the webbing they leave. This webbing can look like spider webs but is in fact from spider mites. Heavy spider mite infestations will have small dots moving along the webbing.
How to control spider mites
I personally like to use a combination of showering the plants and spraying with neem oil. It can be a labor-intensive process if you have a large number of plants, but it works. It also takes multiple treatments to ensure it gets all of the mites.
I have lost very few plants to spider mites with this process. Those that I lost were the ones that had the initial infestation and a few that were too stressed by the constantly wet soil.
To use this method, you start by spraying your plants with water to knock as many spider mites off the leaves as possible. Make sure to get the undersides of the leaves. You can do this in the shower, with a sink sprayer, or if it’s nice outside, with the hose.
I usually just set my plants in the shower and turn it on, using warmish water and turn the plants and leaves to try to get all surfaces. This way does soak the dirt, but it’s too hard for me to try to hold every one of my plants under the water, especially some of the large ones.
After spraying the plants, let the leaves dry before applying the neem oil.
Once the leaves are dry, spray with neem oil. Make sure to spray both the top and bottom of all the leaves.
Repeat this process every 5 to 7 days for at least 3 or 4 applications. I usually go 7 days but that is mostly because I just don’t have time to get to all of my plants on the same day during the week.
Check out this post for more information on spider mites and how to get rid of them.
These little black bugs are another common houseplant pest. You’ll often see them flying around the plant or soil and they’re attracted to damp conditions.
Adult fungus gnats don’t damage plants themselves, but the larvae can. Most fungus gnat infestations don’t actually harm the plant.
While the larvae can eat the roots of your plants, they prefer the organic material in the soil that is already breaking down. They only go after the roots once this is gone, which takes a very large infestation to get to that point.
How to control fungus gnats
Since fungus gnats are not likely to cause much if any damage to my plants, I use the easiest method to get rid of them. This method is a little slower, but there is little work with it.
I put yellow sticky traps in each pot and wait. These traps attract the adult fungus gnats and they get stuck to the trap. Once they are stuck on the trap, they can’t lay any more eggs in the potting soil. No eggs, no more gnats.
This takes a while to fully work because it only works on the adults, so you have to wait for all generations to reach adulthood. Once all generations have aged to the adult fly stage, you should be done.
If you want faster methods, check out my post on how to get rid of fungus gnats.
Aphids are small insects that come in a variety of colors, including yellow and green. You’ll find them on the stems and underside of leaves where they feed on plant sap.
This feeding can cause the plant to deform, stunt its growth, and even kill it if left unchecked. Aphids also secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. This can attract other pests and promote the growth of sooty mold.
How to control aphids
The most effective way to get rid of aphids, for small infestations, is to just wipe them off with a damp paper towel. Make sure to squish them as you remove them.
If you have more than you want to wipe away by hand, neem oil also works on aphids. Just spray it on, making sure to get the undersides of the leaves, and repeat weekly for 3 to 4 weeks.
For aphids, I don’t bother spraying them off. I recently tried hosing them off some milkweed in my flower garden and it didn’t do anything to the aphids.
It knocked the milkweed down (it was a young plant) but the aphids stayed put. I feel I would do more damage to the plant by spraying it hard enough to dislodge the aphids.
If you want to combine methods, wipe them off then use the neem oil. Wiping them off is effective in getting rid of the visible ones and neem oil will help with any that are missed.
For other methods of controlling aphids, check out the post How to Get Rid of Aphids on Houseplants.
Mealybugs are white, fuzzy-looking bugs that like to congregate on the stems and undersides of leaves. Like aphids, they suck the sap out of plants and tend to cause a lot of damage.
They also excrete honeydew which can attract other pests and promote the growth of sooty mold.
Unlike aphids and spider mites, mealybugs can attack the whole plant, including the roots. This makes them much more difficult to get rid of than either of those.
How to control mealybugs
The first step in getting rid of mealybugs is to isolate the infested plant from your other plants. This will help prevent the spread of mealybugs.
Once you have isolated the plant, you can start working on getting rid of the mealybugs. The best way to do this is with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Swipe the cotton swab over the mealybugs and they will die. You may need to do this a few times to get all of them. This is a great method for a small mealybug infestation.
For larger infestations, How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Houseplants has other methods of controlling mealybugs.
Whiteflies are small, white insects that fly around when disturbed. These tiny flies tend to congregate on the undersides of leaves where they feed on the plant’s sap.
Whiteflies can cause a lot of damage to plants, especially if there is a large infestation. The damage includes stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and leaf drop.
Whiteflies also excrete honeydew which can attract other pests and promote the growth of sooty mold.
How to control whiteflies
The best way to get rid of whiteflies is with a yellow sticky trap. These traps are coated with a sticky substance that adult whiteflies are attracted to. They will fly to the trap and get stuck.
You can make your own sticky traps or buy them at your local garden center. Place the traps near the infested plant and check them regularly. When they are full, dispose of them and replace them with new ones.
Brown scale is the most common type of soft scale you will find on houseplants. These pests are small, brown insects that attach themselves to the stems and leaves of plants.
Scale insects excrete sticky honeydew on the leaf surfaces which can attract other pests and promote the growth of sooty mold.
Severe infestations can cause premature leaf drop.
How to control brown scale
The best way to get rid of brown scale is to use a systemic insecticide applied to the soil. This will be taken up by the plant and kill the scale.
Systemics for houseplants can only be used on ornamental plants, not those intended for eating.
If you have brown scales on any food plants, insecticidal soap or horticultural oil are better choices.
Thrips are small, slender insects that can be black, brown, or yellow. They feed on the sap of plants and can cause a lot of damage.
Thrips can leave marks on the leaves of your plants as they feed on them. They can also cause any new growth to be distorted.
How to control thrips
The best way to get rid of thrips is with a systemic insecticide. This will be taken up by the plant and kill all life stages of the thrips.
Yellow sticky traps can be used in addition to systemic insecticide. This will help reduce the adults while the systemic is working on the rest of the stages of thrips.
Sooty mold is a black fungus that grows on the honeydew excreted by aphids, whiteflies, and brown scales. It does not damage the plant directly but can prevent sunlight from reaching the leaves. This can stunt the growth of the plant.
How to control sooty mold
The best way to get rid of sooty mold is to control the insects that are excreting the honeydew. Once the honeydew is gone, the sooty mold can be washed away.
Neem oil is a good option for washing off sooty mold. It also does double duty by treating the insects that are producing the honeydew.
Best ways to prevent houseplant pest infestation
The best way to prevent houseplant pest infestation is to inspect all new plants before bringing them into the home. Look for any insects or signs of damage while still at the store. Don’t buy any plants with visible pest damage.
Even if your new plant has no signs of pests, it’s best to quarantine it from your other plants. Monitor it for a week or so, checking daily for pests. This way you catch any pests that weren’t noticeable at the store.
Check all your plants for signs of pests on a regular basis. The sooner you can catch an infestation, the easier it will be to control.
Another good way to prevent pests is to keep your plants healthy. Pests are more likely to attack weak or stressed plants. Give your plants the care they need and they will be less likely to be attacked by pests.
Thanks for sticking with us through this post on common houseplant pests.
Hopefully, you feel better equipped to identify and deal with any problems that may arise in your indoor garden.
Remember, prevention is always the best course of action, so be sure to keep a close eye on your plants and take action as soon as you see any signs of trouble.
Stay vigilant and happy gardening!