How I Deal with Houseplant Pests - gardenstead Skip to content

How I Deal with Houseplant Pests

Are you a plant parent who is either new to plants or new to houseplants pests? Have you noticed your pretty new leaves yellowing and curling up? Or maybe yellow spots suddenly showing all over the leaves that were nice and green just a few days ago? Regardless of how long you have been in the plant world, these pests will REALLY test your love and patience for plants.

If you do notice any of the mentioned signs please do not brush the issue off, because this is not a problem that will just go away on its own. They will jump onto the next plant and before you know it, they’re EVERYWHERE! (Aaaaaaah!)

If that’s a terrifying thought, then it’s time to buckle up as I share with you how I’ve dealt with these pests as well as tips from other plant parents who have gone through the same pests problems: scales, mealybugs, gnats, aphids, spidermites and thrips.

HOW DID PESTS GET ON MY PLANTS?

When I first saw my caladium with SO MANY aphids crawling on it, I was shocked. I kept asking myself, “where the heck did all these insects come from??? I just watered you yesterday and you were fine!”, but there they were. Aphids crawling all over the stem and the new leaf trying to grow.

Houseplant pests can come through various ways. They can come through windows (they fly and jump!), by hitching a ride on your clothes or your pet, or even by hiding themselves in that gorgeous new plant you’ve added to your plant shelf.

These pests are great at hiding themselves. You only notice when the damage is visible on your plant or there are so many that you can see them. Early detection is key to fighting houseplant pests and below are some tips based on experience with these tiny plant killers.

HOW DO I TREAT MY PLANT?

Before we even start treating, the first step is to ISOLATE your plant. Take that plant and keep it in your washroom where there are no other plants. This decreases the chances of any pests transferring onto other plants. Trust me, you will be happy to have a sink or a bath to treat your plant!

There are various ways to approach this. It is always up to you and how aggressive you want to be in getting rid of the pests. The most common products to fight houseplant pests are: insecticide, neem oil, and dish soap. The plant community will have variations of what products and methods to use. Below are a couple of experiences I’ve had with pests as well as some information on what the common practice would be when fighting specific insects.

• Spray them gone
Aphids on Plant

When I had my first aphid infestation, I used the spraying method. With a mix of water, neem oil, and a small amount of dish soap in a spray bottle I sprayed all those aphids off of my plant and into the sink. I kept the plant in the washroom and observed for a week. This has worked for me for some of my other plants, but in this particular infestation it did not.
After a week, the aphids came back! There were less of them, but they were back. I realized that the soil probably had eggs or the aphids hid in the soil during the treatment. I removed as much soil as I could from the plant and its roots, washed the entire plant, sprayed it with the dish soap mix and put it in water. After a week the plant was better and no aphids in sight!

• Drown them to death
Unhealthy Pink Cordyline

I once had a beautiful Pink Cordyline that was full, healthy, and happy. One day her pink leaves started to turn into a yellow-brown colour. I inspected the plant and couldn’t see any insects until I turned the leaf to look underneath. The leaves were covered with so many spidermites! It was so creepy, but I had to take action ASAP.

I tried the spray method, but it did not work as the spidermites kept hanging on and coming back. Eventually, I decided that my plant’s only chance was to drown the bugs. I removed all the soil, washed the plant from leaves to roots, and submerged the entire plant in a mixture of water, insecticides and water. The next day, I rinsed the plant and repotted it.

Please keep in mind that drowning the insect together with your plant is a very drastic approach and could hurt your plant before it can get better. I normally use this as my last option.

• Throw your plant away

When is an infestation too far gone that your only choice is to throw your plant away? The timing is really up to you. It depends on whether you want to go through the process, how large is the infestation, or how much you value the plant. No one can judge you. Your plant, your call.

SOME COMMON PESTS AND HOW TO GET RID OF THEM:

• Scales

Scales are insects that have a brown outer shell that protects them when burrowing themselves into the stem of the plant. The most common way of removing them is quite tedious, especially if you are treating a plant with vines or if it’s a larger plant. With a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, soak the scale for a few seconds and pry off the scale. Depending on how thin the stem is you will have to be more gentle not to severely damage the plant.

Scale on Oxalis Front View
Scale on Oxalis Side View
• Mealybugs

Mealybugs are the most creepy looking out of all of them. They are like ninjas,you won’t know they’re there until the plant is dying. The most common way of fighting mealybugs is manually removing them with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol or tweezers. If the one-by-one method does not work, try the drowning method. Remove and wash off all the soil together with any of the larger bugs, submerge the plant in the soapy water, after an hour let the plant completely dry off and keep in water for a week under observation.

• Aphids

Aphids like to go for those pretty new leaves that we all happily wait for. If you see one aphid, it means that very close by there are hundreds more on a young plant that is trying to grow. These insects are born pregnant and like to build their colonies inside the soil in your pot.

If you want these pests gone, the best tip is to first spray or wash all the aphids off. When washing off the aphids, make sure you check the baby leaves and any crevices that the aphids could be hiding in. Follow it up with daily spraying with a dish soap mixture or neem oil and dish soap mixture.

• Spidermites
Spider Mites on Marigolds
Spidermites on Leaf

Spidermites are the silent killers that LOVE dry air. Spidermites are extremely small and normally hard to see until there is a full infestation under the leaves. They are white dots on very thin webs and because spidermites are so small, people sometimes mistake them for dust particles. One way to verify that they are spidermites is by blowing or lightly spraying them with water. If the dots move, you have spidermites on your plant. Another way to tell if you have spidermites is when you notice your plant’s leaves have yellow-brown speckles on them and are drooping out of nowhere.

How to get rid of these tiny spiders? Cut off any yellowed leaves and throw them in a bag that you can keep sealed so the mites don’t jump onto other plants. Wipe all the leaves with a mix of water, dish soap and/or neem oil. Spray the entire plant with the same mix every week.

• Thrips
Thrips on Lettuce Close-Up

Thrips are the most feared out of all the pests. Thrips damage is similar to spidermites damage, but thrips are much harder to see. These insects look like a thin particle of dust or dirt on your plant and unless you have a huge infestation of thrips, these pesky little guys are extremely difficult to see. One tip to see if you have thrips is by keeping an eye out for thrips poop. Yes, thrips poop look like little black dots on your plant.

Similarly to the other pests, wash off any visible pests with water then follow up with weekly spraying of dish soap and/or neem oil mix.

Whenever any of these pests show up, isolate your plant into another room or inside a sealed bag. These insects can easily transfer to other plants by crawling, jumping, and flying.

HOW DO I PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING AGAIN?

Houseplant pests will typically target the weaker plants. Plants grow weak due to improper care. So when caring for your plant, make sure you give it the best chance to grow as best as it can.

• Daily checks

Try to check your plants as often as you can. Look out for yellowing, drooping or anything unusual with your plant. Catching symptoms early increases your chances of winning against these pests!

• Soil

When potting a plant, make sure the soil is clean. Try not to reuse soil from a different plant as it may contain pests that are hiding or even eggs waiting to hatch in a week or two.

• Humidity

Some pests thrive in dry conditions so make sure to mist or wipe those leaves every now and then. Doing this will also help with your daily checks!

• New neighbors

When buying new plants or bringing summer plants indoors, be careful not to bring in hitch hiking pests. Make sure to temporarily isolate any new plants before adding them to your plant shelf. Observe them for a week or so to ensure that there are no pests feeding off of the plant.

Hopefully the tips and experiences above answer most of your houseplant pests questions. Wishing you luck in fighting and preventing any of these plant infestations!

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