Houseplants are becoming quite the decorative norm in households today. They look the part, can help improve indoor air quality and have many other health benefits. But unfortunately, even though they’re indoors, this doesn’t mean they aren’t prone to plant pests. In fact, indoor plant pests are more likely to take residence on your houseplants because they’re not in danger of any outside predators.
Below we’ve outlined 9 of the most common houseplant pests, how you can spot them, get rid of them and protect your plants from future pest infestations.
Mealybugs are soft-bodied, white insects that are usually found in warmer climates. These sap-sucking pests most commonly feed on greenhouse plants and indoor plants. If not treated quickly, high levels of mealybugs can cause plants to weaken, making them harder to save.
How to Spot Mealybugs
When mealybugs feed on the sap from your houseplants, they produce honeydew — a sticky, sugary substance that they leave behind on plant leaves. If you notice sticky spots on the leaves of your houseplants, this could be a clear sign that you have mealybugs.
Because of their white, cotton-like appearance, you may be able to notice them right away. Once they’re ready to feed, they usually stay in the same place and nestle in the stem joints or sometimes along the stem itself.
Since mealybugs slowly feed and suck the sap from indoor plants, this can cause the plant to look dry, even if you’ve been persistent about watering. If the leaves of your plant begin to curl and turn yellow, this could mean you have a large infestation.
How To Get Rid of Mealybugs
If you catch them early, mealybugs can be fairly easy to get rid of. If there are no signs of a heavy population, you can simply cut off any affected branches. You can also get rid of light infestations by dabbing the mealybug with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Avoid overwatering and overfertilizing even if your plant appears to be drying out, as mealybugs are attracted to soft growth.
Make sure you’re keeping ants under control when taking care of these infestations. Ants are attracted to honeydew and will protect these houseplant pests to ensure their food supply doesn’t run out.
2. Fungus Gnat
Often confused with fruit flies or mosquitoes at first glance, fungus gnats can cause great damage to your plants in the larvae stage if not taken care of. These houseplant pests thrive in moist and humid environments and begin their life cycle in the soil. They’re most often a result of overwatering or can be a problem in plants with potting soil rich in organic materials such as peat moss.
How to Spot Fungus Gnats
As mentioned, fungus gnats look like tiny flies or small mosquitoes, so you’ll likely be able to spot them flying around your plant. Don’t worry — they don’t bite, but they can become rather annoying. Since fungus gnats breed and begin feeding at a plant’s root, this can lead to poor plant growth.
If you’ve noticed signs of poor growth — wilting, yellowing or dropping leaves — carefully examine the soil and check for any glossy, clear larvae or adult gnats flying out of the soil.
How To Get Rid of Fungus Gnats
Since fungus gnats thrive in rich, moist environments, you’ll want to dry out the soil. Not only will this help kill larvae, but it will also keep adult gnats away since they’re attracted to damp soil. Once the soil is dried out, the fungus gnats should go away. You can also use sticky fly traps to get rid of the adult gnats and prevent them from laying more eggs.
If you don’t want to dry out your plants’ soil or your plants can’t tolerate it, you can treat the soil with a neem oil or peroxide drench, or use a product with Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a safe bacteria that will kill off the insects.
Aphids are tiny soft-bodied insects that are usually green or yellow in color, most commonly found in clusters on any new growth. Similar to mealybugs, aphids suck plant sap and secrete honeydew. Though they can reproduce fairly quickly, these plant pests are fairly easy to get rid of and won’t usually cause too much harm to your indoor plants if taken care of early.
How to Spot Aphids
Aphids appear large in clusters, so you’re usually able to spot them right away. You can usually see them along the stem of your plants or under leaves. Since they produce honeydew, you may also notice sticky drops on the leaves. If you have a heavy aphid infestation, this can slow plant growth, cause the leaves to turn yellow and even lead to viruses or diseases if the infestation persists for too long.
How To Get Rid of Aphids
Unlike some plant bugs, aphids are fairly easy to control. For minor to moderate infestations, you can simply squish or remove the aphids yourself, spray them with water using a hose with a strong stream or spray insecticidal soap along the infested area. You’ll want to repeat this process multiple times until you see no trace of aphids.
Thrips, also known as thunder flies, are small, slender insects that range in color from translucent white or yellow to dark brown or black. Because they are so small and often blend into the color of plants, they can be harder to spot. Thrips are one houseplant pest that can even infest furniture and bedding in your home. If left untreated, thrips can be extremely damaging to your houseplants, spreading diseases that can ultimately kill your plant.
How to Spot Thrips
Thrips will become easier to spot when they’re disrupted as they’ll likely start to jump around or fly away. Blowing lightly on the leaves or giving them a gentle shake can help disturb these pests so they’re more visible. Since they’re hard to spot, you’ll want to keep an eye on any signs of damage.
Check the leaves of your indoor plants for small black dots where the thrips have clustered and left droppings behind. You’ll also want to check for any slits in the leaves or stems — this is a sign that they’ve cut into the plant to lay eggs. Your plant may start to show signs of thrip infestation if the leaves become faded, blotchy or develop silvery streaks.
How To Get Rid of Thrips
You can get rid of thrips on plants by rinsing them with water to knock off the larvae and eggs or spray your plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil. You can also use sticky traps to capture the adult thrips. Make sure you’re spraying all of the leaves thoroughly to keep any unwanted larvae from lingering.
5. Spider Mites
Spider mites are another tiny pest that are extremely hard to spot. They’re most common in hot, dry climates and are often found in houseplants that are indoors year-round. They form thin, silky webs on the leaves where they feed. When feeding, spider mites suck the plant’s juices out which can result in your plant dying off if not found and treated.
How to Spot Spider Mites
One major sign of these pests is their webs. Spider mite webs are not to be confused with spider webs, though. Spider mites only web when there is a large infestation. Their webs are very fine and sticky and you’ll likely be able to spot them easily. Other spiders only tend to web on the tops of plants to catch prey, while spider mites form their webs around the leaves, stems and branches of houseplants.
If you notice any sort of webs on your plant, you’ll want to inspect your plant for signs of spider mites. During feeding, these pests leave behind pale dots due to the loss of the plant cells, which can result in yellowing and fallen leaves. Spider mites can also travel to other plants, so be sure to inspect any surrounding plants right away.
How To Get Rid of Spider Mites
Start by pruning any leaves or stems where the webs are visible or you see signs of spider mites. Throw the clippings in the trash and avoid throwing them in compost as they can quickly spread to other plants in the area. You can also spray the infested area forcefully with a strong stream of water to break up the webs, followed by heavy douses of insecticidal soap or neem oil. Since spider mites like dry conditions, they’ll be disrupted by a heavy stream of water. Spray at least once a week to ensure you kill off these pests.
Scales are small insects with a hard, oval-shaped, brown exterior. They feed on stems or stem joints, weakening the plant as they suck out the sap. Scales are hard to spot because they can sometimes appear very flat and don’t move around much.
How to Spot Scales
Scales can most often be identified as raised, scab-like bumps. They can also secrete honeydew and leave behind a sticky mold-like substance on infested areas. Examine the underside of the leaves for any signs of these pests — round brown or black spots. Leaves often turn yellow and may begin to drop.
How To Get Rid of Scales
Because of their tough exterior, scales are immune to most pesticides and chemical solutions, so it’s best to use organic methods. If the infestation is small, you can pick or scrape the scales off by hand. Dabbing each scale with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol can also do the trick.
Pruning the infested leaves and stems is also an option. Once you’ve removed these houseplant pests, follow up by spraying with neem oil, insecticidal soap or a castile soap and water solution.
7. Leaf Miners
Leaf miners are small black flies that leave behind larvae on plants. The flies don’t directly cause damage — it’s the larvae that are the main culprits.
The leaf miner larvae mine their way into the leaves, feeding on the plant’s nutrients — which is where they get their name. Though they most often affect outdoor plants, leaf miners can find their way into your houseplants as well. Not only do they cause damage to your plant’s appearance, but they can also cause harm to the life of your plant if left untreated.
How to Spot Leaf Miners
There are many different types of leaf miners, but they all leave behind the same kind of plant damage, so it’s easy to spot. The damage most commonly looks like yellow squiggly lines, but can also appear as pale yellow blotches on leaves. This damage is a result of the path the pests created as they tunneled their way through the leaves.
How To Get Rid of Leaf Miners
Luckily for houseplants, most of the damage caused by leaf miners is cosmetic, so simply removing any damaged leaves may do the trick. This will keep adult flies from emerging and can hopefully take care of your problem. You’ll also want to hang fly traps around the area to catch any adult flies and prevent them from laying more eggs.
Whiteflies are small white insects that resemble a moth and, like many other houseplant pests, weaken plants by feeding on their leaves and stems. These sap-sucking bugs are most common in houseplants, tomatoes and greenhouses. Whiteflies are most often found in warmer climates and can be an issue for both indoor and outdoor plants year-round.
How to Spot Whiteflies
The small, powdery-white bodies of whiteflies make them easy to spot. They can be found on the tops of plants as well as the underside of leaves. Whiteflies’ damage is similar to aphids and mealybugs, and you may notice discolorations and distortions in your plant’s leaves. They also produce honeydew, so shiny, sticky areas may appear on the leaves of your houseplant.
How To Get Rid of Whiteflies
Spray down the plant with strong bursts of water to disrupt the whiteflies and reduce their population. They’re also attracted to the color yellow, so using yellow sticky traps to catch the adult flies can do the trick. If there are still some pests straggling behind, spray the leaves down with neem oil or insecticidal soap.
Springtails are small white or grey bugs that live within a plant’s soil. They resemble a flea and can be seen jumping around when you water the soil. Even though they can feed on plant roots, they don’t actually cause much damage. But, since they love moist environments, if the soil ever becomes too dry, they may seek out areas in your home that are damp — like floorboards or underneath sinks.
How to Spot Springtails
When the water hits your plant’s soil, you’ll likely see springtails jumping or moving around. If there’s not a large infestation, they might be more difficult to spot.
How To Get Rid of Springtails
Since springtails don’t cause much damage to indoor houseplants, treatment is not always necessary. If there’s a large number of them and they become a rather annoying pest, the best thing to do to get rid of them is to put your plant outside and let the soil dry out.
How To Prevent Houseplant Pests in Indoor Plants
Houseplant pests can become a nuisance if not detected early. Although they’re sometimes inevitable, we’ve included a few tips on how you can keep your indoor plants healthy and free of pests:
- Examine plants before you bring them into your home
Make sure to do a thorough examination of a plant before buying it and bringing it into your home. Early detection will help avoid the possibility of these pests affecting other plants and causing further damage.
- Always use clean pots and potting soil
Always clean new or reused pots or plant trays with soap and water before using them. You’ll also want to be sure you’re using fresh potting soil when potting new plants. Always remember to dry out the houseplant soil to get rid of any pests. You don’t want to risk there being leftover pests living in the soil that can harm your new plant.
- Check your plants often for any signs of pests or damage
Whenever you water your plants, make it a habit to examine them for any signs of pests and pest damage. Knowing what signs to look out for can help you determine what kind of bug is on your houseplant, helping you detect pests early so they don’t cause major damage to your plants.
- Debug any plants that have been outside
If you’ve kept some of your plants outside for any reason, make sure you debug them before bringing them back into your home. To do this, you can soak your plants in soapy water for about 15 to 20 minutes to kill off any bugs. Make sure to scrub the pot and give the plant a good rinse before bringing it back inside.
- Sterilize your gardening tools after each use
Whenever you use pruning shears or other tools, make sure to wash them after each use. If pests are present, this will help ensure they don’t move from one plant to another. Clean tools with soap and water or sterilize them with rubbing alcohol before using them on the next plant.
- Keep new plants away from others for a few days
Even if you’ve inspected your new plant for bugs and didn’t find anything, it may be best to isolate it for a few days to be on the safe side. Inspect it daily until you feel comfortable putting it in a designated area of your home.
Houseplant pests are a common problem that can, unfortunately, lead to damaging and weakening beloved houseplants. Use the tips mentioned above to identify signs of damage and pests so you can protect your indoor houseplants from future infestations.