How to Get Rid of Bugs in Houseplants
Houseplants are so, so cool—houseplant bugs so aren’t. Whether you currently have houseplants or planning to beautify your home with some soon, you’re going to face bugs at some point or another. It’s just part of being a plant parent. In fact, there’s a good chance bugs are slowly killing one or more of your plants at this very moment, and you just simply haven’t noticed yet.
Because there are no natural predators indoors, houseplant pests multiply very quickly. One day your plant’s thriving, the next it’s wilting under the weight of a dozen hungry insects. Before you lose a loved one—like the stunning Monstera lighting up your living room, or that new Alocasia your friends can’t stop talking about—school yourself on the common houseplant bugs below. Here is How to Get Rid of Bugs in Houseplants:
Usually green but sometimes white, yellow or even black, aphids are soft bodied insects that reproduce at an alarming rate. A few individuals can become a colony that overwhelms your plant seemingly overnight. As they feed on your houseplant’s sap, robbing it of vital nutrients, aphids weaken both stems and leaves, causing stunted growth and eventually the death of your plant.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Aphids can often be spotted in clusters on stems and the underside of leaves. If you’re dealing with green aphids, they’re not always the easiest to see, so take notice if your plant’s leaves suddenly become sticky with an unknown residue. This substance, called honeydew, is essentially just aphid poo. Gross, right!?WHAT TO DO:
A few strong blasts of water is usually enough to remove aphids from your houseplant, though it can take several rounds to get rid of them all. Repeat as needed if you notice they've returned. And of course, exercise caution to not damage your precious plant in the process. Non-toxic, plant-safe pesticides and insecticidal soap also work great against aphids.
Fungus gnats are tiny black flies that can inhabit houseplants. While annoying, the adults aren’t much to worry about, but the larvae can do serious damage as they feed on root systems in addition to other organic matter in plant soil. Fungus gnats are mostly a threat to younger plants, but if a population gets large enough, they can certainly harm your mature houseplants, too.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Fungus gnats aren’t hard to identify: if you see small black flying bugs surrounding your houseplant, you almost certainly have fungus gnats.WHAT TO DO:
First thing: avoid overwatering. Overly moist soil is a huge attractant for fungus gnats. Placing dryer sheets around affected plants, can also help considerably. Similarly, installing flypaper around the plant can do wonders for shrinking a fungus gnat population. To kill eggs and larvae in your soil, lightly spray it weekly with a non-toxic, plant-safe insecticide.
These white, fluffy insects are among the most difficult houseplant pests to get rid of. As they suck the sap from your plant’s stems, they slowly but inevitably cause fatal dehydration to your plant baby.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Mealybug infestations are quite easy to spot. These durable bugs are usually found bunched up on stem joints and look almost exactly like tiny cotton balls. Plants infested with mealybugs will appear somewhat dehydrated, no matter how often you water them.WHAT TO DO:
If you catch them early, mealybugs can often be controlled with plant-safe insecticides, by removing infested stems, or by rubbing individuals with cotton swabs soaked in rubbing alcohol. They can also sometimes be removed by a strong jet of water in the shower. However, more developed mealybug problems are, sadly, usually terminal, requiring you to toss infested plants in order to save your other plant babies from infestation.
Like mealybugs, scales are small insects that suck sap from your plant’s stems, slowly killing them via dehydration. Also like mealybugs, they can be extremely difficult to treat, in large part due to their hard shell which effectively shields them against predators and traditional pesticides.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Small oval-shaped insects, ranging from tan to brown, typically found on the underside of leaves and around stem joints.WHAT TO DO:
While they can be prevented by regularly applying non-toxic, plant-safe insecticides to your houseplant, once a scale issue has taken hold, it’s usually too late for pesticides to do much good. At that point, your best bet is to try removing them with a soft brush or something with a fine edge like a credit card.
Bordering on microscopic, spider mites are red arachnids that get their name from the telltale webbing they leave on the plants they inhabit.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Apart from their webbing and the damage they cause, spider mites can be all but impossible to notice. If your houseplant has spider mites, you’ll probably notice a loss of leaf color, as well as yellow or brown markings throughout.WHAT TO DO:
Especially early on, spider mites can be somewhat easily controlled simply by keeping your plant’s leaves and stems moist. A daily spritz with a spray bottle filled with water should be sufficient. For larger problems, spraying more often and applying a non-toxic, plant-safe miticide will do the trick. It’s also a good idea to isolate plants suspected of mite infestation from your other houseplants.
Small, white and almost always seen in clouds as opposed to individually, whiteflies occupy houseplants and gradually leach them of their moisture, resulting in sickly, distorted-looking leaves. They usually won’t outright kill your houseplant, but they’ll definitely make it look far less attractive.WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Are there dozens of small, white flies on or around your houseplant? If so, it looks like you picked up a whitefly problem. Plants infested with whiteflies often have leaves covered in waxy or sticky residues, and sometimes even darkish mold.WHAT TO DO:
Getting rid of whiteflies is similar to getting rid of fungus gnats. Placing dryer sheets and flypaper immediately adjacent to infested plants will significantly reduce your whitefly population. To kill the rest, we suggest reaching for a non-toxic, plant-safe insecticide. Because adult whiteflies can leave a plant once it’s sprayed, it’s important to keep spraying the plant every few days or so until the issue is completely resolved.