10 Common Houseplant Pests & How To Safely Control Them
Houseplant pests are nearly impossible to avoid but are not impossible to treat if you know what to look for and catch the infestation early. Whether you are new to owning houseplants or have been building your collection for years, it is good to be aware of common houseplant pests and inspect your plants regularly so that you can avoid damage to and even the death of your plants.
Mealybugs are actually a type of soft-shelled scale insect. They have a waxy coating that works to repel pest control products, sometimes making them difficult to treat. These houseplant pests appear white and fuzzy and usually congregate in the cracks and crevices of your plant. Mealybugs will feed on the sap of your plants, literally sucking the life out of them. They spread easily from plant to plant, especially if you have plants positioned in close proximity to each other.
How To Get Rid of Mealybugs
If you spot mealybugs on any of your houseplants, it is recommended to quarantine that plant right away to stop the spread of the pests. If you had other plants in close proximity to the infested plant, you should keep a close eye on those plants and even treat the plants as a preventative measure. We recommend taking the infested plant to a bathtub or large sink. Spray or wipe down all the leaves until no more mealybugs are visible. Do your best to avoid insects falling into the soil. Then spray down your plant thoroughly with Neem oil, Captain Jack's Deadbug Bew, or an insecticidal soap. It is recommended to repeat this treatment every few days for several weeks and then integrate preventative treatments into your monthly care routine. You can also apply a systemic insect control product to your soil to help prevent future pest infestations and kill off any remaining pests.
While aphids are more commonly seen outside on trees, shrubs, or perennials, they can just as easily infest your indoor plants, especially if you like to keep certain houseplants outdoors during the warm months. Aphids can come in a number of different colors but are most often light green. Some mature aphids have wings, making it easy for them to spread to other plants in your home. Aphids love to congregate on the undersides of leaves or along the stems of your plant where they will suck the sap out of your plant until it is dried up and dead. Aphids leave behind a residue called honeydew that can attract other houseplant pests. Another sign of aphids is that the leaves that they have fed on are often dried up with curled edges.
How To Get Rid of Aphids
As soon as you notice aphids on a plant, it is important to quarantine that plant immediately. Place your plant in a tub or sink and spray or wipe down the leaves of the plant thoroughly to remove as many of the aphids as possible. Thoroughness is key, as missing one insect can easily allow the resurgence of the infestation. After wiping away all visible insects, thoroughly spray the plant with either Neem oil, insecticidal soap, or Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew. It is recommended to spray your plant down every few days for a week or two until no bugs have been spotted for several days in a row. Even after this, it is recommended to continue treatment once every couple of weeks. You can also water your plant with a systemic houseplant pest control product that will poison and kill any stragglers that may have been left behind.
3. Spider Mites
Spider mites are extremely easy to miss and difficult to get rid of due to their nearly microscopic size. They spin tiny networks of webs along the surface and undersides of leaves and between the stems of your plant. They leave behind a white flaky residue that can almost make a plant look dusty. Some signs of spider mites are dry or curling leaves, stippling on the leaves, and the webbing and residue they leave behind. Certain plants do tend to be more susceptible to spider mites such as alocasia, so be particularly aware with such plants.
How To Get Rid of Spider Mites
As we said above, getting rid of spider mites can be difficult due to their size. With heavily infested plants, it may be easier and more effective in the long run to prune off the most heavily infested parts of the plant. You will want to thoroughly wipe every leaf, being sure to get every corner and crevice. Spraying the plant down after wiping the leaves and stems may also help wash away any bugs that were missed. Thoroughly spray down your plant with Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew every other day to every two days. Neem oil can also be used to treat spider mites, but we prefer to use products containing spinosad for these sneaky houseplant pests. Treat your plant consistently for a couple of weeks and then decrease treatment frequency to once a week for a couple more weeks. Keeping your plant quarantined, continue to inspect your plant and only return it to its spot in your home when no spider mites are observed for a month or two. Since spider mites are so small and easy to miss, it is not uncommon for the population to reemerge several weeks after a supposed successful treatment. Watering your plant with a systemic pest control product can also help to kill any leftover houseplant pests that may still attempt to feed on your plant. For a more detailed guide on how to get rid of spider mites, check out our blog!
There are thousands of different types of scale insects, but they can generally be categorized as hard scale or soft scale. Mealybugs, as we talked about above, are a type of soft scale. The type of insect usually referred to as scale is hard scale or armored scale. They have a hard shell exterior that protects them and can even help to camouflage them. They come in many different colors, though green and brown are very common. One thing that sets scale apart from other houseplant pests is that they are mobile when they are young, but when they become adults, they fasten themselves to one spot on a plant and remain in that one spot throughout the rest of their lifecycle. Scale is almost always found in clusters along the stems and leaves of a plant.
How To Get Rid of Scale
Treating scale is very similar to treating other houseplant pests. Once you notice the infestation, depending on the extent of the infestation, it may be easier to prune off the more heavily affected parts of the plant. Due to their hard exterior, pest control sprays do not easily penetrate the shell and kill the insect. Because of this, it is recommended to wipe down the plant to remove all the mature scale insects. Then you will want to treat your plant with Neem oil, a horticultural oil, or even some rose-specific pesticides are effective at killing scale. Scale can spread from plant to plant by the mobile, adolescent insects that are in the crawling stage of their lifecycle. They can easily make their way from one plant to another, so be sure to inspect and treat any nearby plants. Always quarantine any affected plants until you are sure the infestation has been handled. Click here for a more detailed guide on how to get rid of scale on houseplants.
The appearance of whiteflies is very self-explanatory. They are very similar in size to fungus gnats, have a heart shape due to their wings, and are white in color. They are more commonly seen outside in your vegetable garden, however, they are just as capable as other houseplant pests of making their way indoors to feed on your houseplants. Whiteflies in every stage of their lifecycle feed on the sap of your plants and spread very easily due to their ability to fly. This makes it very important to begin treating your plants for whiteflies as soon as you notice them. Similar to aphids, whiteflies excrete a sticky substance called honeydew, which can then attract other pests. Sometimes this honeydew will also begin to grow a black, sooty-looking mold.
How To Get Rid of Whiteflies
Since these insects can fly, it can be much more difficult to prevent them from spreading to your other houseplants. This makes it so important to treat your plants for whiteflies as soon as you notice their presence. The most effective way to trap adult whiteflies is to use sticky traps. If there is a large enough population of whiteflies, you can also try to vacuum them up, being careful not to suck up the leaves of your plants too. Giving any infested plants a thorough rinse in the sink or bathtub is highly recommended as well, as this will dislodge the eggs and larvae from your plant. Next, use Neem oil or insecticidal soap to spray down the entirety of the plant. Being very thorough is important, as any insects that are missed will simply start reproducing and reinfest your plant all over again. Continue treatment of your plant every couple of days for a week or two or until the entire population of whiteflies has died off.
6. Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnats in small populations are more of an annoyance than they are a danger to your plants. Sometimes fungus gnats can be confused with fruit flies due to their similar appearance, however, you will know the difference if you notice the flies congregating in your kitchen or around your plants. Fruit flies will stay in your kitchen around any exposed food or trash, while fungus gnats don't care much for your kitchen scraps and love the moist soil of your houseplants. They are small and black flying insects that breed in the soil. In extreme cases, a very large population of fungus gnats could pose a threat to your plant as the gnat larvae in the soil like to feed on the tender roots of your plants. This is why it is important to treat your plants for fungus gnats before the population becomes so large that it overwhelms and harms your plant.
How To Get Rid of Fungus Gnats
Since fungus gnats are winged insects, they very easily infest any plant in your home. This is why it is important to treat plants with fungus gnats as soon as a few are observed because they can multiply quickly and become a much bigger issue before you even know it. They gravitate towards moist soil, as this is the perfect environment for them to lay their eggs. To treat fungus gnats, you should aim to trap adults using yellow sticky traps. You should also target the larvae by either letting the soil of your plants dry out significantly to create an inhospitable environment for the larvae, or you can water your plants with a "tea" made from Mosquito Bits. This product is effective at killing the larvae in the soil. In extreme situations where the infestation is out of control and cannot seem to be managed, it may be necessary to repot your plant entirely, discarding all the larvae-infested soil.
Thrips are very small, slender, and oftentimes black (though they can vary in color) insects that will feed on your plants causing irreversible damage. They are small enough that you will usually notice the damage they cause before you will notice the insect itself. Thrips do have very small wings which, while not suitable for flying far, can aid in their spread to other plants. The evidence of thrips on your plant is usually silvery-white to yellow spots forming on your leaves where the thrips have fed. These spots can fade to a dead brown color and some leaves may even be skeletonized due to the feeding habits of this insect.
How To Get Rid of Thrips
Like with any houseplant pest, you want to be sure to quarantine your plant as soon as you find signs of thrips. Spraying off your plant in a sink or bathtub can help to dislodge any thrips from your plant. We then recommend treating your plant with Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew or Safer Brand EndALL Insect Killer. Neem oil and insecticidal soaps have also been proven effective. It is best to treat your plant every couple of days for a week or two, then cut back to one treatment per week, then incorporate a once-per-month treatment to ensure the infestation does not reappear. You can also use a systemic houseplant pest control product to help kill any potentially remaining insects and prevent future pest infestations.
8. Leaf Miners
Leaf miners, while most commonly seen on outdoor plants or garden vegetables, can affect your houseplants too. Leaf miners are actually just the larvae of small black flies that lay their eggs on the surface of a leaf. When the larvae feed on the leaf, they leave squiggly, discolored lines across the surface of the foliage. Leaf miners are very small and hard to spot, but the damage they leave behind is very distinct, making them easy to identify.
How To Get Rid of Leaf Miners
Since the original culprits are flying insects, it can be difficult to stop the spread of leaf miners once they get inside your home. It is best to place sticky traps near your plant or in the soil of any plants that you notice flies lingering around. You can also spray down the leaves of your plant with Neem oil. The damage on any affected leaves is permanent, so the discolored lines will never heal or go away. For this reason, many people trim off the affected areas.
Springtails are very small, wingless insects that are usually dark in color, often appearing either black, brown, or grey in color. Some can be light in color also. These little insects jump like fleas and may launch themselves several inches into the air when disturbed. Large infestations of springtails, though they are less common to see on houseplants, can pose a threat to your plants and should be dealt with promptly. Similar to fungus gnats, springtails like moist soil and feed on the roots of your plants.
How To Get Rid of Springtail
Since springtails like moist soil, one of the best ways to handle them is by making their living environment inhospitable. If you notice springtails around your plant or crawling through the soil, avoid watering your plant and let the soil dry out as much as possible. This will kill many of the springtails or force them to leave. You can also sprinkle diatomaceous earth over the surface of your soil. This powdery substance is actually full of sharp particles that injure any crawling insects that attempt to crawl through the powder, causing them to die. If you are dealing with an extreme infestation, it may be quicker and easier to repot your plant entirely, being sure to rinse the roots of your plant and discard all the old soil before repotting into new, uninfested soil.
10. Broad Mites
Broad mites are so small they are nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. They like certain plants in particular, a few of which are African violets, begonias, and cyclamen. Since these houseplant pests are so difficult to see, it is common to notice the damage before you notice the insect itself. Houseplants that are being affected by broad mites may appear to have stunted growth, disfigured leaves, or leaves that begin to curl at the tips. Damage caused by broad mites can easily be mistaken for a virus instead of a houseplant pest due to the microscopic nature of these insects.
How To Get Rid of Broad Mites
Broad mites can be difficult to get rid of since it is hard to actually see the pests. They can also spread easily, posing a real threat to the rest of your indoor houseplants. In cases of heavily infested plants, it may be best to discard the entire plant to prevent the broad mite population from spreading. If you catch the infestation early enough, be sure to quarantine the plant. Prune off parts of the plant that show the most signs of damage. Wipe down the other parts of the plant and thoroughly spray it with Neem oil. It will be important to repeat treatment for several weeks until you can be sure that the population of broad mites has been exterminated entirely.
Common Houseplant Pests FAQ
How Do You Identify Indoor Plant Pests?
The main way you identify pests indoors on your houseplants or outdoors in your flower gardens and landscaping is by being observative and aware of your plants. Obviously, you need to have some idea of what to look for in order to correctly identify and treat an infested plant. Regardless, the first and most important step to identifying pests is simply being able to notice when a plant is not happy, which in most cases, is not all that difficult if you simply are aware.
How Long Does It Take to Get Rid of Houseplant Pests?
Houseplant pests generally should only take a couple of weeks to get rid of, however, since most pests are so small, it is very easy for a few to survive the treatment and repopulate your plant as soon as your treatment regimen ends. This is why we recommend continuing treatment for a month, if not two months, to make sure that you kill every insect in every stage of its life cycle no matter where it is hiding in your plant.
What Causes Houseplant Pests?
Houseplant pests are simply a part of nature and the world we live in. Certain environments can encourage or attract houseplant pests, you can accidentally bring pests into your home on other plants, or they can find their way into your home from outside. There is not necessarily one thing that causes houseplant pests, they imply exist in our world and sometimes find their way into our personal spaces.
How Do You Prevent Houseplant Pests?
Preventative treatments are something we highly recommend, especially for plants that are more susceptible to houseplant pests. You can prevent houseplant pests by incorporating monthly preventative treatments into your houseplant care schedule, by quarantining and pre-treating newly purchased plants before you put them in close proximity with the rest of your plants, and by not putting your plants outdoors for the summer (or by quarantining and treating plants when you bring them back inside). Even if you do all of these things, it is still possible to get houseplant pests, but it will greatly decrease the likelihood of you having to deal with any heavy or prolonged infestations. Consistently treating your plants will also force you to become more aware of your plants and the potential presence of pests, which will lead to you catching them early and treating them effectively.
Can Bugs Kill Houseplants?
Large, uncontrolled populations of houseplant pests can definitely kill your houseplants. This is why it is important to notice any infestations early and begin treatment promptly. Some pests pose a bigger threat than others, but any pests allowed to live on your plants or in the soil of your indoor plants will eventually start to take a toll on the plant and can easily lead to the death of your plant if not dealt with.
Learn More About Common Houseplant Pests
If you would like to learn more about common houseplant pests, check out our other blogs on pests, visit our YouTube channel to watch tutorial videos on houseplant pests, or come into Bath Garden Center and learn all about pests from our team of houseplant professionals.