Whether you’re a new plant parent or already have an impressive collection of houseplants, then you might already be aware of houseplant pests. Plant pests can be troublesome and destructive, but fortunately, you can get rid of them with just a little bit of knowledge and the right tools.
It is important to know about some of the most common houseplant pests, so you can learn how to remove them. Read on further to learn more about what causes an infestation, various prevention methods, and more!
What Causes Houseplant Pest Infestation?
People enjoy indoor plants because they are easy to care for and experience fewer issues than plants grown outside. However, even plants grown inside a home are prone to pest infestations.
Caring for a houseplant requires having the right conditions for it. Factors like plant placement, light, temperature, and humidity all play an important role in your plant’s health. Here are the most common causes for houseplant infestation:
- Excessive Moisture: Too much water or humidity can attract pests. These bugs rely on moisture to survive, or else they can dry out and die. Overwatering your plants instead of allowing the soil to dry can draw in houseplant-eating insects.
- Unsanitary Pot and Soil: When you purchase a brand new plant from a store or receive it as a gift, check the pot and soil it came with. Some pests like to lay their eggs in potting soil. Old pots might have been recycled from an infested plant and used to hold a new plant without being properly sanitized.
- Lack of Air Movement: One of the ways humidity around a plant increases is from a lack of ventilation. Air helps lower fungal growth and dry out damp soil. Plants placed away from a fan or window might not be receiving enough air and can attract pests.
- Outside Exposure: Even if you take extra measures to keep your plant as pest-free as possible, there is a chance these insects could have come in from an outside source. These bugs might have been on a bouquet you brought home or attached themselves to your pet while they were playing outside.
- Stressed Indoor Plant: Plants can become stressed if they experience constantly changing growing conditions. Moving your plant, changing its light source, and improper watering can make the common houseplant stress and stunt its growth.
Are Houseplant Pests Common?
Pests are a common issue that affects many houseplants! Indoor plants encounter pests less often than outdoor plants, but a pest infestation can still affect them. Pests can adapt to indoor conditions as well as outdoor settings. They enjoy moisture, indirect light and can thrive in normal room temperatures.
You can often find these tiny parasitic bugs attaching themselves to an indoor plant’s roots, potting soil, undersides of leaves, and stems. Some of these pests are normally eaten by ladybugs or bigger insects when they are on plants outside. However, these insects that feed off the pests are rarely found indoors, increasing the survival rate of the pests.
Common Houseplant Pests
Some houseplant pests are more common than others, but all of them have the potential of seriously damaging your indoor plants. To defeat the houseplant’s enemies, you need to get to them early on! This section will look at each of these insects and break them down to look at what they are, their symptoms, and where to find them.
Scale insects are tiny little bugs that feed on the sap of indoor plants and absorb their nutrients. These pests can be of different shapes, sizes, and colors.
- Appearance: Whether armored or soft, scale insects can appear as red, brown, or whitish bumps on the indoor plant. They can appear waxy or look like a fish’s scale. They are usually round-shaped.
- Symptoms: A scale pest infestation can increase your indoor plant’s chances of developing a fungal infection known as sooty mold. The leaves and stems can turn yellow and wither. The growth of the plant is also significantly affected.
- More information: The scale insect is split into two groups, the soft scale and the armored scale. Both types of scale insects can attach themselves to the underside of leaves, soil, and stems. The main difference is that the armored scale covers itself with a hardening substance for protection while the soft scale does not.
The spider mite is part of the arachnid family and is the only common houseplant to create a web. Spider mites can be destructive if left unchecked, as they love to feed off the plant’s fluids. Colonies can quicly grow on the undersides of leaves.
- Appearance: Spider mites can be hard to spot on their own since they are really small. They do make their presence known by producing white webs around your plant. Do not mistake these webs for regular spiders; they are home to possibly hundreds of tiny mites.
- Symptoms: As spider mites continue to suck the sap out of your plants, they can wither and become yellow.
- Life Cycle: Before they spread their webs of indoor plant destruction, spider mites go through a long life cycle. The females lay eggs during the winter, and up to hundreds of spider mites can hatch in the spring. These insects love the dry and warm climates and reproduce more during the summer.
Fungus gnats are some of the most common houseplant pests. These tiny little flying insects do not eat your plants, but their larvae can be harmful. The fungus gnats themselves can be annoying to deal with as they fly around your plants. Excess moisture attracts these insects the most. Overwatering your plants can increase the humidity around your indoor plants and attract more fungus gnats.
- Appearance: The adult fungus gnat resembles a mosquito, but it will not suck your blood. It is smaller than half an inch with long legs and a pair of wings. The fungus gnat larvae are even smaller, with a dark-colored head attached to a slim, almost transparent body.
- Symptoms: Healthy roots are vital for all plants, especially young houseplants. When too many larvae feed off a plant’s roots, the leaves can fall out, and the plant can wither and die.
- Life Cycle: Fungus gnats lay their eggs in the soil of plants where up to 300 larvae hatch and feed off the organic material in the potting mix. Larvae also feed on roots and can rob the plant of nutrients found in the soil.
Mealybugs are part of the scale insect family, and they are just as annoying. There are over 200 species of mealybugs! These common pests use a long straw-like mouth for feeding by sucking plant sap. Mealybugs are also an issue for other organisms besides plants, like fruit, trees, and avocados.
- Appearance: Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that are only a few millimeters in size. Upon closer inspection, they appear oval-shaped and covered in gray or whitish wax.
- Symptoms: An infestation of mealybugs will appear like a thin layer of white cotton leaves and stems. Like most pests, mealybugs damage a plant bug sucking its sap and feeding off the nutrients. This can cause discoloration and can spread across plants.
- Life Cycle: Female mealybugs can lay anywhere from 300 to 600 eggs on the underside of leaves within one to two weeks. The female dies once all the eggs are laid. Baby mealybugs are nymphs and go through several growth stages until they reach maturity and reproduce again.
Aphids are small sap-sucking pests that are the main culprits in damaging gardens and houseplants. As they feed on the sap, they secrete honeydew, a waxy substance that can increase the chances of fungal infections such as sooty mold.
Aphids are attracted to the smell of plants and use the odor to find a plant to feed on. They continue to feed until the plant dies, and it will then choose another plant to feed off.
- Appearance: Like mealybugs, aphids are also soft-bodied and have two antennae with long thin legs. They are so small they are almost hard to spot with the naked eye. These plant pests can be green, pink, colorless, black, and brown.
- Symptoms: The stems and leaves of a plant infected by aphids will look discolored and lose shape. Houseplants can experience issues with their growth and cannot thrive due to the aphids sucking up the houseplant’s sap and nutrients.
- Life Cycle: One of the biggest issues about aphids is how fast they can reproduce and spread. Females can reproduce on their own without the assistance of males. In one season, these pests can produce up to 41 generations of aphids.
There are more than 6000 species of thrips whose roles are to live off the plants and feed them. These insects are less common than other plant pests but can cause just as much damage. Besides houseplants, thrips feed off the juices of fruits as well. They are known to be more attracted to light-colored plants.
- Appearance: Thrips are so small, you need a magnifying glass to view them. They are long and slender and only grow up to a few millimeters long. To the make eye, thrips appear as discolored threads on the plant leaves.
- Symptoms: Thrips feed off your plant in large groups and can spread a virus to your plant that can stunt its growth and cause the plant leaves to wilt and fall off.
- Life Cycle: The climate can affect how long eggs from thrips take to hatch. They enjoy warmer weather can hatch after a few days. During the winter, these plant pests can take weeks to months to hatch.
Related: How to Get Rid of Thrips: 5 Common Signs of House Pests
How Do You Prevent Houseplant Pests?
So you can identify the different kinds of houseplant pests, now comes the fun part of learning ways of preventing an infestation. There are a couple of ways to get rid of plant pests, either chemically or naturally.
- Insecticidal Soap: If you do not have insecticidal soap, regular liquid soap mixed with water can help too. Add insecticidal soap to a spray bottle and use it to kill and prevent mealybugs, aphids, and other pests. Make sure the soap is safe to use on plants!
- Rubbing Alcohol: Get rid of pests like scale insects by rubbing the infected leaves of a plant with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
- Neem Oil: Neem oil is a natural pesticide found in the neem tree. Studies suggest neem oil is very effective in killing off pests by hindering their ability to feed off plant sap.
- Pest Predators: Beetles and ladybugs can prevent pest infestations by feeding off the pests themselves. Capturing these bugs in the wild can be a challenge, so seek a pet or garden store that carries these pest-eating insects.
- Pesticides: If all other natural methods did not work, look for a chemical pesticide you can spray on your house plants. These are easy to find at different stores. Spray outside to prevent the chemical from ventilating inside your home.
What Happens if Don’t Treat Houseplant Pests?
Failure to treat houseplant pests can cause your plant to die while potentially spreading the pests to other nearby plants. Even if you remove the infected roots, stems, and leaves, a houseplant can die from shock and lack of nutrients.
If more than half of the plant sustained damage from the pests, it might be extremely difficult to save it. Remember to consistently check your plants for pests, damage, or growth to ensure their health!
Final Thoughts – Houseplant Pests
Being able to care for houseplants brings a sense of joy and accomplishment. Houseplants also provide plenty of other benefits like filtering air and improving the appearance of a home. Houseplant pests are an obstacle that can prevent your plant from thriving.
After learning more about these annoying insects, you are now ready to identify and prevent them from ever hurting your plant family again. If you want to learn more about plants or shop for some great houseplants, check out Planted Pot!