By Jennifer Poindexter
Do you enjoy placing plants around your home as natural décor? It’s one of my favorite ways to keep my home feeling fresh and welcoming. The problem starts when pests decide my houseplants make a welcoming home for them too.
If you’re new to raising houseplants you may be wondering which pests should be on your radar and how to treat them if you find them. Here are the most common pests for houseplants, their solutions, and a few general guidelines to avoid pests from the start:
General Guidelines for Keeping Your Houseplants Pest Free
1. Check Before You Buy
If you want to stay ahead of pests, check your houseplants before bringing them home. Think like a bug. Where there are many plants you know you have a warm place to sleep and plenty to eat.
Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that pests like to hang out in the gardening section of local stores as much as you do. Check your plants for pests before purchasing them.
2. New Plants Get a Time Out
Once you’ve selected a plant and bring it home, don’t plop it in its place. Instead, keep the plant in a separate room of the house away from your other houseplants.
You hope you’ve been thorough in your pest inspection, but in case you overlooked something, you don’t want your new plant to bring pests to your already established houseplants.
3. Cleanliness Counts
Before putting your new plant in its forever home, place it in a fresh pot with fresh soil. The pot should be washed and don’t reuse soil.
Pests like to hide in soil. If you start fresh, your new plant should have the best shot at avoiding any unwelcome guests.
4. Inspect the Roots
While you’re transplanting your new houseplant into a clean pot with fresh soil, be sure to inspect the roots.
At times, pests will hang out around the root ball of a plant. If you find pests at the root of your plant, you can kill them before you finish transplanting your houseplant.
5. Social Distancing for Plants
Social distancing isn’t only for people. In fact, houseplants should be social distancing all the time. You don’t ever want your plants to be touching.
The reason being, if leaves of two plants are touching, it creates a bridge for pests to move from plant to plant. Avoid this whole situation by creating safe space between your plants.
Common Houseplant Pests and Their Solutions
Aphids are one of the most common pests for indoor and outdoor plants. They’re small bugs with a soft body.
They’re versatile insects as they can be green, pink, brown, black, or even yellow in color. At times they appear hairy or as though they’ve been coated in powdered sugar.
This is because of a waxy outer layer they sometimes produce, and it can change their appearance from sleek to powdery.
Another difference in appearance with aphids is some will have wings while some will not.
What all aphids do have in common is they like to hide on the bottom of leaves while sucking sap from your plant or feeding on their root systems.
If you have leaves which are misshapen, discolored, or coated in a sticky substance, you might have an aphid infestation.
The sticky substance they leave behind is known as honeydew. The honeydew is another problem within itself because it will encourage the growth of fungus on your plant’s leaves.
Aphids are determined pests. If you catch them early, you can hand pick them off your houseplant. However, if they’ve taken off, your best bet is to thoroughly wash your plant.
Take it to the kitchen sink where you can spray the leaves with soapy water and knock the bugs off the leaves. You may need to repeat the treatment on an as-needed basis. Learn more about dealing with aphids.
Scales are an interesting pest for houseplants because they appear as though your plant has developed scales on its stems or the underside of the leaves.
This pest comes in two forms: armored and soft. The soft scales will produce honeydew while the armored version won’t.
However, both types of scales will produce a wax coating to live in. If you notice scales on your plants what you’ll see is their coating. You must dig beneath the coating to get to the pest itself.
The mature version of scales is immobile where the immature version (known as crawlers) can move around. Scales, in both forms, will suck sap from your plant’s leaves and stem, causing poor health for your plant.
When scales take over your plant, you’ll see them attached to the stem. You can hand pick the scales from your plant or rub it with neem or canola oil. The oil will cause the scales to suffocate.
3. White Flies
If you have tiny insects buzzing around your houseplants which look like white moths, you may have white flies.
The adult form of this insect has wings, but the immature version is immobile and may make you wonder if you have a scale infestation instead.
Both forms of this pest suck sap causing your plant to become yellow. They can hinder your plant’s growth and even cause it to die.
White flies produce honeydew as well which leads to fungus growth. One of the best ways to know if you have a white fly problem is to pick up your plant.
This will startle them, and they’ll begin to buzz around the plant.
You can cure a white fly infestation by spraying your plant with insecticidal soap, placing bug control spikes in the pot with your plant, or by applying neem oil. Learn more about whiteflies.
4. Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnats are tiny creatures. They’re only about 1/8 of an inch in size and are commonly spotted at the soil level of your plant.
This pest likes light and may be drawn to your houseplant placed in full sun. The good news is adult fungus gnats won’t harm your plant.
The larvae are where the issues come into play. They feed on fungus and decaying matter in the soil of houseplants and may feed on their root systems too.
Fungus gnats are drawn to water. Allow your soil to dry fully between watering sessions. Many people water their plants by leaving water in a saucer beneath the plant. Avoid doing this if you have a fungus gnat infestation.
Also, avoid using potting soil with vast amounts of organic matter. This is a food supply for the larvae. Learn more about fungus gnats.
5. Leaf Miners
Leaf miners appear to be more of a threat than they are. They create tunnels in the middle section of the leaves of plants.
Their preference is decorative flowers, shrubs, and even vegetable plants. They look like small black flies with a hump in their backs.
Though leaf miners don’t normally kill a plant, they can reduce its overall hardiness.
If you begin to see the designs of a leaf miner in the leaves of your houseplant, follow the pattern with your thumb and index finger to crush the pest inside the tunnel.
You can also use sticky bug traps or insecticidal soap to kill any remaining leaf miners making a home of your houseplant.
Mealybugs are slow-moving pests that are so white they almost look transparent. They’re less than a ½ inch in size and have approximately two dozen legs.
The female mealybug will coat herself and her eggs in a white wax which makes them easier to spot.
Mealybugs feast on the lower leaves and root system of a plant. They’ll drink sap which will cause an abnormal appearance in your houseplant, can slow plant growth, and even cause death.
They also produce honeydew which can encourage fungus to grow on your plant.
You can hand pick mealy bugs from your houseplant if you’ve caught them early. If not, use a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol to gently rub the leaves.
Another option is to spray the plant with soapy water or apply neem oil.
You may notice your houseplant has a silver tint to it. This could be a sign that thrips have moved in on your plant.
Thrips feed in groups which can mean major problems for your houseplants. Their feeding can hinder growth, decrease your plant’s overall health, and even spread diseases from plant to plant.
Thrips can be cured by applying insecticidal soap, neem oil, or pruning any damaged areas of your houseplant.
Another neat trick is placing the color blue around your plant. Thrips are attracted to this color. By placing blue post-it notes, fabric, or blue cellophane around the pot of your plant, you may be able to draw them away from your plant and onto the material.
8. Spider Mites
Spider mites are an extremely small pest which may take over your houseplant without you even noticing until you begin to see damage.
If you have large quantities of spider mites, you may see a web.
Spider mites will drink sap from your plant causing the leaves to develop discolored spots, and if the infestation is large enough, your plant may even begin to fade in color. This can lead to the death of your plant.
If you have spider mites, give your houseplant a bath. Spray it heavily with water to break any webs apart and dislodge the spider mites from your plant. Be sure to spray under the leaves as well.
You can use soapy water if regular water doesn’t solve the problem. Neem oil can be applied to the plant too as another solution.
Springtails do exactly as their name suggests. These tiny bugs are pale but can come in a variety of colors such as black, white, brown, or gray.
They’re covered in tiny sprigs of hair and can jump quite high for their size. Springtails love damp conditions and will travel in swarms.
As a group, they’ll chew on the root systems of your plants. If you startle them, they’ll jump upwards making a small cloud of pests coming from your plant.
You can place diatomaceous earth around the base of your houseplant and any entry points into your home to kill springtails before they kill your plant.
Move your plants every now and then to see if any swarms of springtails leap from the soil.
The best way to rid your plants of springtails is to avoid damp conditions. Try to avoid moss in your soil, if possible. If not, be sure to allow your soil to dry completely between watering sessions.
10. Slugs and/or Snails
If your houseplant stays indoors all year long, you most likely won’t have a problem with slugs or snails. However, some people put their indoor plants outdoors when the temperatures are right.
Be mindful of your plants and watch for signs of slugs or snails. You’ll begin to see holes in the leaves of the plants or entire leaves which have withered because they’ve been depleted.
When you see leaves in bad condition, look for slime on your plants. This is a substance snails and slugs leave behind which shows the paths they travel around your plants.
If you have a slug or snail problem, hang around your plant when the sun goes down. This is when slugs and snails come out. You can hand pick them.
Does the idea of handling slugs and snails make you a little squeamish? You can apply slug pellets or diatomaceous earth to the soil to kill them without ever having to touch them.
Deter the snails and slugs all together by placing your used coffee grounds in the soil as a natural repellent. Slugs and snails are not fans of caffeinated beverages, and the caffeine in your coffee grounds will deter them. Learn more about dealing with slugs and snails.
These are the 10 most common houseplant pests and how you can cure your plants from them. Hopefully this will help you to know what to look for when caring for your houseplants.