Houseplant Pests: How to Prevent, Identify, and Treat them.
Whether you are a seasoned plant parent with shelves full of plants, or a beginner getting your first, pests can be a bothersome part of any plant parenthood journey. First things first, they are natural and more common than you think! Don’t feel like a bad plant owner if you spot some creepy crawlies in or on your plants. It happens to the best of us. This guide will show you how to identify them, how to know you have them, and how to prevent and treat them.
It all starts while plant shopping!
It all starts at the nursery or plant store while you’re shopping. Be sure to look for the plants with the healthiest leaves and soil. This can present as consistently colored leaves, strong stems, and well draining soil. Remember that plants are a part of nature and therefore not perfect, sometimes they may be a little bent or bruised, but as long as it is healthy overall, you are good to go!
When you find your perfect plant, inspect it thoroughly; scanning the tops and undersides of the leaves. Look for any discoloration caused by pests or disease, or weak/dying new growth. Another thing to eye out is the soil. If you see any unusual critters (mainly small, flying bugs) then you may want to proceed with caution. These pests can be present in any soil, but usually found in dense or overwatered soil
When you bring your new plant baby home...
Now that you are bringing your new plant home, quarantine them from your existing plant collection, as best as you can. Place them in another room, or at least a separate shelf if you're running out of plant real estate. Check on the health of your new plant every few days or so. After at least 2 weeks (some recommend 40 days), feel free to let them mingle with your existing plants!
Check in on your plants regularly!
Another important part of pest prevention is to not neglect your plant upkeep! This is the number one way to prevent pest infestations. All good plant parents check in on their plants every so often, this is the perfect time to check on the overall health of your plant. This can be in the form of wiping leaves, trimming dying leaves, and even showering your plants.
Types of Pests:
Photo link: https://www.planetnatural.com/pest-problem-solver/houseplant-pests/spider-mite-control/
Tiny little reddish brown mites that spin fine webbing on the leaves of your plant. They also leave patches of silver-white colored damage as they eat off of your plant.
- Physically remove as many of the spider mites as you can, by wiping the leaves down with a plant safe wipe, or shooting the leaves down with room temperature water outside or in the shower. You may also want to check in on the rest of your collection, especially the plants surrounding the infected plant. Spider Mites do not fly, but can crawl across touching leaves, or be carried over by the wind.
- Treat the leaves of your plant with an insecticidal spray, such as neem oil, or any spray that is meant for treating spider mites. Follow the directions on the bottle of the treatment. This may need to be repeated every other day or on a weekly basis.
- Keep the infected plant away from your other plants until you are sure the spider mites are completely gone.
Spider Mites like dry and dusty environments. Raising the humidity around your plants, or by periodically wiping down your plants leaves is a good preventative measure.
Photo link: https://www.aces.edu/blog/topics/lawn-garden/controlling-scale-insects-and-mealybugs/
Fuzzy, oval shaped insects that can leave a cotton-like, sticky residue on the surface of your plant. They like to hide in the plant’s crevices, under the leaves, and in new unfurling leaves.
- Treatment may vary on the level of infestation.
- If you only see a few mealybugs, you can use rubbing alcohol and a Q-tip to dab them and immediately kill any that you see. Repeat everyday until they are completely gone.
- If the plant is completely infested, you can try:
- Wiping down the leaves with a plant safe wipe or cloth or washing outside or in the shower with room temperature water.
- Spraying the plant down with a spay such as neem oil or any spray that targets mealybugs.
The best way to prevent mealybugs is by periodically wiping down the leaves of the plant or giving it a shower on watering day.
Photo link: https://www.houseplantjournal.com/thrips/
- Thrips are tiny thin pests that can fly in their adult form. They range from yellow to brown to black and can be extremely hard to see unless looking at your plant up close. Most of the time, you’ll notice the damage they leave behind before you actually see one. Damage looks like silvery streaks that can dry to brown around the edges. New growth can also be stunted.
- Like with all other pests, you want to wipe down all the stems and leaves of the plant with a plant safe wipe or cloth, or shower the plant.
- If the leaves are heavily infested or damaged, it may be best to cut those leaves off, as thrips lay their eggs in the leaf tissue.
- Removing dead or fallen leaves in the soil of your plant which can be hiding places for thrips
- Wiping down or showering your plant
Photo link: https://www.gardenersworld.com/how-to/grow-plants/get-rid-of-aphids-on-house-plants/
- Aphids are soft bodied pests that come in a variety of colors. They are usually found in groups on the stems of plants.
- Wash the aphids off of the plant. Usually, this will be enough to get rid of them, but you can also treat with a preventative spray, such as neem oil.
Wiping down the stems and leaves of your plants periodically.
Photo link: https://greeneryunlimited.co/blogs/plant-care/how-to-treat-scale-on-indoor-houseplants
- There are a variety of species of scale, and they can range from bumpy and white to a smooth, brown finish. Scale is usually found on the stems and leaves of plants and barely move around.
Because they are stuck to the plant and have a protective coating, it may be best to try and physically remove them with your nail or an object such as a toothpick, or an old soft toothbrush.
The most effective tool to beat scale is prevention! As mentioned previously, routinely check in on your plants, wipe down their leaves, and give them an occasional shower to promote healthy, pest-free foliage.
Pest Treatments: A few different methods
Homemade Pest spray
- Warm water
- Dish soap or castile soap
- Rubbing alcohol (any percentage)
- Optional: Concentrated neem oil
- Combine 3 parts warm water to 1 part rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle
- Add 1-2 pumps of dish or castile soap to the mix (you can use peppermint castile soap for added pest preventative benefits)
- Optional: Add the recommended amount of concentrated neem oil to the mix, depending on how much water you use (usually around 1 Tbsp to gallon on water)
- Close the spray bottle and shake well to mix.
This mix can be applied to any plant as part of pest treatment or as a preventative. I personally like to apply the spray on every part of the plant (not soaking the soil) and then use my hands or an old makeup brush to distribute the mix and remove pests at the same time. I then wash off the spray with room temp water and set the plant away from my others. I repeat this with every watering and wipe down leaves in between.
Neem oil is a natural insecticide derived from the seeds of the neem tree. Neem has been used for thousands of years to control pests and diseases, and can also be found in products such as toothpaste, cosmetics, and soaps. Azadirachtin, the chemical compound found in neem oil, works to repel and kill insects, and targets the hormones of pests to prevent them from growing, reproducing and laying eggs.
- Mix 1-2 tsp of mild dish detergent (or another emulsifying agent) to 1 gallon of water. Then, add 1-2 tbsp of neem oil concentrate and mix thoroughly. Or, use a ready to use neem oil spray.
- Spray the solution on all of the plant surfaces (tops and undersides of leaves, and the stem) until the plant is completely covered.
- After spraying your plant, avoid direct sunlight, as it may cause the leaves to burn. Apply once a week as needed.
Sticky traps are a great method to trap and kill pests without the use of pesticides, and are specifically great for treating fungus gnats and other flying pests. The bright yellow color of the sticky traps attracts and draws in these pests and traps them.
It's not anyone's fault that your plants may have pests. Pests are living creatures that need food to live. Although it is unfortunate that their food source just happens to be our houseplants. It's very common to have plant pests, especially if you are adding to your plant collection frequently.