Houseplants can add life and some eye-catching greenery to your home. And we’re always fans of bringing the outdoors in wherever we can. But there is a potential downside to houseplants: creepy crawly bugs.
Often very small — some houseplant bugs can’t even be seen with the naked eye — these little pests can wreak havoc on your plants and are, of course, gross. So it goes without saying that you’ll need a battle plan when bringing plant life indoors.
The first step in battling the bugs is inspection. Check your plants for insects before buying and bringing them into your home, according to Burlington, Vt.-based Gardener’s Supply Co. Once you determine that they’re pest-free, isolate them for a few weeks; an infested houseplant can quickly spread the pests to other plants. And each time you water them, check both sides of the leaves for signs of bugs.
You should also wash the leaves with lukewarm water several times a year, says Gardener’s Supply. Not only are dust and grime bad for your plants’ health, but they can attract and harbor pests as well. Do not use a feather duster, which can transfer insects and eggs to other plants.
Here are some quick bullet points from North Dakota State University for controlling and preventing infestations:
Potting soil should be pasteurized to prevent insects.
Use clean pots and materials.
If infestation is light, some pests like aphids, mealybugs and scale insects can be removed with a toothpick or tweezer.
If the infestation is severe, injured parts of the plant can be removed. This works best when followed by repeated washing or chemical control.
If the plant is heavily infested, dispose of it.
When dipping plants, make sure container is large enough for insecticide water mix and the whole plant to be submerged for a few seconds. Use a cardboard disk to fit around the plant stem to prevent the soil and plant from spilling when turning the plant over.
Chemical control is a last resort.
Use the right pesticide; not all work on every bug.
Dispose of excess insecticide mixture on ground where runoff or contamination unlikely.
Unfortunately, there are a number of different pests that like to make themselves at home on your houseplants. If you arm yourself with some basic knowledge, courtesy of North Dakota State University, you can identify and eradicate these tiny trespassers.
Also known as “plant lice,” aphids are about 1/8 inch in size. Most are green, but you may find some that are brown, reddish or black. They cluster on the underside of leaves and buds.
Damage: They feed on plant sap and can transmit viruses while feeding. Aphids reduce plant vigor, and can cause curled and distorted leaves and flowers.
Management: Dip or spray your plant with insecticides. Wash with warm, soapy water can reduce infestations; use 1 to 2 teaspoons of mild dishwashing liquid soap per gallon of water.
These gnats are 1/8 inch in size. The larvae are white with a shiny, black-headed capsule.
Where: They can be found running over the soil or flying around the pot, especially after watering; they are also attracted to light and swarm around windows.
Damage: Some species feed on root hairs or roots of seedlings, which causes reduced plant growth and vigor.
Management: Use a foliar spray for adults. Drench the soil with insecticide for larvae.
These 3/16-inch pests are soft-bodied, scale-like and covered by white, waxy filaments.
Damage: Mealybugs suck plant sap and inject toxins, which cause yellowing, stunting and plant death.
Management: Dip or spray the plant. Add a mild detergent — a ½ teaspoon per gallon of water. Washing with warm soapy water can reduce infestations.
One-eighth to 1/3 inch in length, scale insects are black, gray, white or brown, with soft or armored covering. They can be found on leaves, stems, leaf axils or roots.
Damage: Scale insects suck plant sap, reducing growth and vigor and causing leaf drop.
Management: Similar to mealybugs, dip or spray plants. Repeat at two- to three-week intervals as necessary. Target dip or spray at crawler stage before the protective covering is formed. Washing with warm, soapy water can help reduce infestations.
These whitish, elongated or globular bugs are wingless and reach 1/16 to 3/16 inch in size. They can jump, and are seen after watering because they are attracted to moist, high-organic soul.
Damage: Springtails feed on decaying organic matter. Some feed on the root system, which causes wilting.
Management: Drench soil with an insecticide. On sensitive plants, water the soil to bring springtails to the surface, then use a foliar spray.
Thrips are 1/16 to 1/8 inch in size, are cream to dark brown with narrow, long-fringed wings. Immature thrips are wingless. These pests can fly and jump if disturbed.
Damage: Thrips feed on plant sap, leaving the leaf surface whitened or silvery and speckled. Leaf tips can wither, curl up and die; buds don’t open normally.
Management: Similar to aphids; dip or spray with insecticides. Wash with warm, soapy water to reduce infestations. Several Phytoseiid mites are predators of thrips and are commercially available.
The 1/16-inch whiteflies are snow white with four wedge-shaped wings; they look like small moths. Hard-to-detect immature whiteflies are pale green, flat and oval-shaped. They swarm plants when disturbed.
Damage: Whiteflies suck sap. Plants are left stunted, and leaves turn yellow and can fall off.
Management: Similar to aphids; dip or spray with insecticides. Use warm, soapy water to reduce infestations. Several Phytoseiid mites are predators of whiteflies and are commercially available.
These pests can barely be seen with the naked eye. The common variety is two-spotted with two dark spots on the back. They like warm and dry conditions.
Damage: Spider mites create silky webbing on the undersides of leaves. They remove plant sap, usually on the underside of leaves, creating pale, yellowish blotches on leaves and speckled foliage.
Management: Similar to aphids; dip or spray with insecticides. Use warm, soapy water to reduce infestations. Several Phytoseiid mites are predators of spider mites and are commercially available.
These are primarily found on cyclamen but can damage other plants, such as African violets and ivy. They are too small to see with the naked eye, but adults are amber or tan and semitransparent. Immature mites are white. They are found on protected places on young leaves, buds or flowers.
Damage: Cyclamen mites remove plant sap, which causes leaves to twist, curl and become brittle. Buds can become deformed and fail to open. Leaves, buds and flower can blacken.
Management: Trim off injured leaves, steams and buds. If lightly infested, immerse pot and all for 15 minutes in water at 110 degrees Fahrenheit. Similar to spider mites; dip or spray with insecticide. Several Phytoseiid mites are predators of Cyclamen mites and are commercially available.
For specific insecticides to use for each pest, check out this chart from North Dakota State University.