Common Houseplant Pests & How to Get Rid of Them

Unfortunately, if you have indoor plants, at some point they will experience pests.

Since there is no 100% foolproof way to prevent these bugs and insects from coming around, your best alternative is to learn all about common houseplant pests and how to get rid of them.

This way you know how to identify, treat and eradicate them as quickly as possible.

 

Pests

When you have plants, pests are never far away.

Worse, they not only wreak havoc on your garden but also your home.

Often, pests live in the garden. But, they can invade your home when you bring in your plants for the winter.

That’s why it’s very important to debug your plants thoroughly before taking any of them in.

Yes, the entire process is a hassle. And, you’ll need to do it for every plant and container.

But, if you’ve ever had the misfortune of bringing pests in with your plants, you’ll know the extra time and work is well worth it.

That’s something I’ve learned from experiences when I started.

 

Can You Use Pesticides for Indoor Plants?

Pesticides are probably the easiest ways to get rid of these critters. However, they’re not a good idea to use indoors.

That’s because you have kids and pets. Of course, there’s you and other partners as well.

This makes prevention more important.

But, should pests get to your houseplants, you can try some non-chemical methods to get rid of them.

A few that have worked for me are rubbing alcohol, dishwashing liquid and beer.

These work really well.

 

Common Houseplant Pests

Now, it’s time to get familiar with the pests that can potentially ruin your houseplants. And, how you can prevent them from coming as well as get rid of them should they arrive.

Below is a chart that lists out different symptoms and damages you’ll likely see in your houseplants. 

And for each symptom or damage, the right column tells you which pests likely cause it.

chart with list of pest problems, symptoms, damage and identification
chart with list of pest problems, symptoms, damage and identification

 

Aphids

Aphids look like specks on your plant. They come in a variety of colors including yellow, black, white and green. Often, they’re not alone.

So, when you find one, you’ll likely want to search for others.

These pesky insects are harmful to your plants because they suck on their stems and leaves. In doing so, they’ll weaken the integrity of your plant. And, also hurt it in the process.

The good news is, they’re easy to kill.

They’re small, soft insects so you squish them with your fingers. But, depending on how you feel about harming them, you may not want to do this.

That said, because there’s often more than one, it’s a good idea to take them outside and give them a good strong hosing.

The water will wash them out. Although be careful not to hurt your plant in the process.

Do keep checking because it’s not easy to get them all with one hosing. Plus, they’re very persistent.

 

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are more of a nuisance to you and me because they’re very much like flies. They’re pesky but don’t really bite or harm you.

That is, at least for the adults. Nevertheless, you don’t really want them hanging around because it makes your home look and feel unsanitary.

However, the same can’t be said for the larvae. Like many other insects, fungus gnats lay eggs.

These suck on your plant’s feeder roots and the fungi in your potting soil for nutrition.

That’s why they’re called fungus gnats.

As such, you’ll find them in damp areas of the soil, compost and other moist areas. After all, there are the conditions that produce fungi.

Since they’re attracted to wet soil, letting it dry gets rid of them. You can likewise use yellow sticky traps to catch them all.

 

Related

 

Spider Mites

Spider mites are arachnids as opposed to insects, which many of the insects are. As such, they have 8 legs while insects have 6.

In any case, spider mites are problematic because they suck the chlorophyll from your plants. This kills your plant’s leaves or turns them pale. This often gives them away.

But more likely than not, you’ll notice their webs. They spin webs as spiders do. But, they webbing look different. So, you’ll know it wasn’t made by a spider.

One of the biggest problems with spider mites is that they’re very small. As such, it’s very hard to see or notice them until they’ve done their work.

Also, they can move from one plant to another fairly quickly. They can transfer themselves or it can happen when you brush one plant with spider mites against another.

So, it’s always a good idea to check the plants around the one that’s been infected.

With spider mites, you have a few choices, you can spray the plant’s leaf axils with water, use insecticidal soap or wash the leaves with dishwashing liquid.

 

Slugs

Slugs are generally not a problem for most houseplants. But, if you bring plants in from outside, they can tag along.

They do so because your home’s warm, moist environment is perfect for them. Additionally, they’re able to seek refuge from their predators.

Slugs are most active in the night. So, you’re not likely to notice them in action.

When they do so, they’ll eat holes into your plants’ leaves, flowers and stems.

The good news is, it’s fairly easy to get rid of them. All you need to do is leave some beer out in a small saucer or tin.

Slugs are attracted to beer because of the yeast. So, they’ll drink, get drunk and drown in the liquid. You’ll need to do this for a few nights in a row because some will take a sip and then go back to the plant.

 

Mealybug

Mealybugs have a soft white, waxy cotton appearance. They usually hang out around the stem area and suck on your plant.

This causes your plant to look dry even when there’s sufficient water.

The problem with mealybugs is they’re difficult to get rid of. Using cotton with alcohol works. But, you’ll need to find them before being able to do so.

This is why many people just cut off the damaged branches. And, if they’ve done a lot of work, discard the plant completely.

If you don’t like to do that, you can spray the leaves with soapy water.

 

Scale

Scale are very similar to mealybugs. But, they look very different.

Yet, they also suck the sap from your plants and are very hard to get rid of as well.

Scales usually present themselves as bumps in your plants’ stem and leaves. Adult scales have harder shells that protect them from insecticidal soap.

This makes it hard to completely clear your plant of them.

You can scrape them off with your fingers. Or, wipe them off using cotton dabbed in alcohol. Either way, the task of completely getting rid of them takes weeks of meticulously finding them.

 

Whitefly

Whiteflies are dangerous to your plants because in addition to attacking the leaves and stems they also spread disease. This makes one infected plant easily affect the others around it.

Also, these pests reproduce quickly. So, detecting them early and getting rid of them quickly is essential.

They like to stay on the underside of leaves. Thus, they’re not always obvious.

But once you touch the leaves a bunch of them will pop right out forming a cloud.

Because of their number, using sticky traps is a good idea. This lets you catch many without doing a lot of work.

You can likewise spray it with insecticidal soap.

 

Thrips

Thrips are tiny insects, about a fraction of an inch. But, they can do a lot of damage to your plants as they appear in groups and can move around.

They harm your plants sucking the sap of flowers and leaves. Thus, leaving those silver streaks.

You can get rid of them by using insecticidal soap. But, you’ll need to cover both sides of the leaves to do so.

You can likewise try blue sticky traps if you can find them. Adult thrips are attracted to the color so it will be able to draw them in and catch them.

 

Simple Ways to Keep Pests Away from Your Houseplants

  • Check the plant before buying it. If it doesn’t look healthy or has insects, take a pass. Just like any other product you buy from the store, you want to inspect it to avoid any defects or problems.
  • Re-check any new plant you buy thoroughly when you get home. I like to “quarantine” it for 7-10 days to monitor it. If everything looks good after that period, only then do I include it with the others. This ensures that you’ll catch any pests or problems before allowing it to contaminate the others.
  • Keep the areas where you grown plants neat and clean. By nature, gardening is messy. There are soil, dirt, water, excess leaves and all other debris that is left on the table when you’re done. Always clean them before leaving because they can become a breeding ground for pests.
  • Regularly examine each of your plants on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. This lets you keep track of how they look and grow. Doing so lets you quickly spot any deficiencies or potential problems before they become an issue.
  • Make sure to debug your plants if you’re bringing them in from outside. There are no exceptions here. Take the time to clean each one thoroughly.
  • Like us, strong healthy plants are better able to withstand infestation. As such, make sure they get proper sunlight, water and fertilizer. And, if they look like they’re struggling, adjust one of the factors to fix this.