Most Common Houseplant Pests

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Learn about most common houseplant pests, how to identify them and more importantly, how to get rid of house plant pests.

You can be a complete beginner or an expert in plants, a pest infestation here and there is not something you can completely avoid. Not to worry, catching thee common houseplant pests early on is manageable and even if you didn’t catch it on early not all is lost.

Knowing your enemy is key, so learn as much as you can (and we are here to help as much as we can) about houseplant pests and how to identify them. It’s good to be prepared, but your first pest experience will be your best teacher ;).

Common houseplant pests and how to get rid of them

What are most common houseplant pests?

Early detection, treatment and prevention are key in dealing with any of these common indoor plant pets. Browse the whole page or jump to the specific common pest information and photos.

Spider Mites

Spider mites are one of the most common houseplant pests (and worst in our opinion) and what makes them extremely annoying is that they are super tiny and hard to spot and they multiply and spread extremely fast.

They can damage the plant beyond repair pretty fast so be on the lookout for them. They feed on leaves and stems so you will most likely find them under the leaf, close to the stem.

Spider Mites - on of the most common houseplant pests
Spider Mite infestation on Calathea Flamestar Plant

What are they and what do they look like?

These tiny creepy crawlies are arachnids which means they are relatives to spiders and ticks, amongst other arachnids. They come in various colors, most commonly white, red and brown.

They are really small so are usually really hard (or impossible) to see with naked eye. A magnifying glass might be useful here.

While a small number of spider mites is hard to spot, you will notice when their numbers grow thanks to their signature spider-web like webbing, usually located under the leaf next to the stem. It will look slightly different to regular spider webs, you’ll know when you see it.

Once you see the webs the mites have probably done some damage (or a lot) to the plants already and a careful inspection will reveal just how much. With some plants, parts of leaves will start turning brown or yellow, there could be small damaged specks present on the leaves, leaves can start to curl or get wavy edges – different plants react to spider mites differently.

Where do they come from?

This common indoors plant pest is a master of transportation as it’s so tiny and light. They can hitch a ride on your clothes, on your shoes, your skin, on your pets… More often than not you will be bringing spider mites into your home with new plants – it’s why its really important to place all new plants into quarantine.

When visiting areas with many plants make sure to change your clothes before coming to contact with your houseplants.

Wind can also carry them, so you might get spider mite air mail too.

How to get rid of them?

So you have this common houseplant pest on your plants? While the first instinct might be to burn the plant with all of the infestation, we assure you such drastic measures are not necessary (also who would really want to burn their plant babies?).

First take a few deep breaths and move the plant away from others. Closely inspect nearby plants for signs of spread. Asses the situation and decide on how to go about it, as there are many ways you can go about getting rid of this pest.

Rinsing with water: We like to start with manually removing as much of the pest population as possible by rinsing the leaves with running lukewarm water.

Insecticide spray: A non toxic bio insecticide spray next (treating it per instructions on the bottle). Gently wiping undersides of leaves and stems with paper towels (damp or dry, depending on the plant) daily to remove mite survivors until next treatment.

If the infestation is really bad, stronger insecticide sprays might be needed. They are usually good at killing the pests but some plants don’t tolerate chemicals well (it’s best to try it on one leaf first) and caution is needed if you have pets or small children in your home.

Neem Oil: Plants that were close to the infected plant but don’t show a sign of spider mites, get a neem oil preventive treatment (organic).

You will need to treat your plants for a while as larva and eggs are impossible to spot and will likely survive treatment.

You can opt for organic treatment, a good choice if you have pets or small children (or dramatic, sensitive plants). There are many non toxic (to pets and humans) not organic insecticides available, which are a good choice too.

Some treatment options:

  • neem oil
  • insecticide sop
  • insecticide spray
  • manual removal by washing them off (we don’t recommend this as an “only” step)
  • wash leaves with a mild water and detergent mixture (try it on one leaf first to see if the plant handles it well)

Fungus Gnats

The size of a fruit fly and the looks of a mosquito, this is how you can spot a fungus gnat, another common houseplant pest. Like fruit fly, you might end up with these floating in your drinks or in your food. Unlike mosquitos, these little insects do not bite, but they will wreak havoc on your plants if you ignore them.

If you are wondering about their color, it’s dark gray and they have clear wings.

Fungus Gnats on a Sticky Tape
Fungus Gnat Photo

How to identify them?

They do sound like plain old fly… So how do you know you have them?

They aren’t the best flyers so they will be most commonly either on the plant, soil or plant pot. When watering your plant, or moving foliage for whatever reason, the fungus gnat will be disturbed and will fly about.

The larvae can be found in the soil, they have a transparent whitish body with a black head.

What will they do to your plants?

The larval stage of this pest is what you need to be worried about the most, the larva can be found in the top soil of your plants and they feed on organic matter – they will deprive the soil of nutrients for your plant and will damage the roots. Seedlings and young plants are the most susceptible.

What you may notice with plants that have been infested with fungus gnats is wilting, yellowing and loss of foliage.

Where do they come from?

As any other flying insects, the fungus gnat can come into your home by flying in.

You can also bring them in with new plants as their larvae can be in new plant’s soil, even if there is no trace of an adult fungus gnat. Inspect the soil of any new plant (fungus gnats love moist soil) before bringing it home, and always place the new plant in quarantine.

They can also be bought in with soil for your plants.

How to get rid of this common pest?

Yellow sticky tape: If you start noticing fungus gnats, the first thing we recommend you to do is to purchase and place some yellow sticky traps that will catch adult fungus gnats. If you don’t have a large infestation this might nip it in the bud.

Change watering routine: For getting rid of the larva, decrease watering of the plants if the plant allows it, keeping the top inch of the soil on the dry side. Watering from the bottom will also help.

Neem Oil: Drenching the soil with neem oil (diluted per instructions on the packaging) or hydrogen peroxide (diluted). These two are really effective in getting rid of fungus gnats – consult your local nursery on how to best use these depending on which plants you have.

Watering with hydrogen peroxide: get rid of larvae by watering the plant (let the soil dry) with a 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with water (1 part hydrogen peroxide 3 parts water). As you water the soil you will hear a sound that will persist for a while, it’s completely normal.

Mealybugs

Some mealybug varieties will atack the plant, while other will attack the root. You won’t have any issues spotting the plant attacking ones, while root infestations will be trickier to spot.

Mealybug
Mealybug

What are they and what do they look like?

These soft small bodied insects (Pseudococcidae family) can be a nightmare pest. You will recognise them by their small, oval, oval soft pink, almost white body. They are easily spotted by the naked eye as they are about 1/16th to 1/4 of an inch (2-6 mm) in size.

They form white fluffy looking cottony nests which is often a telltale sign of the infestation.

Small populations won’t cause significant damage to the plant, larger infestation will damage the plant.

You can spot larger populations under the leaves and on the stems of plants.

Mealybug a dreaded houseplant pest
Mealybugs on Plant @ mila1977

Where do they come from?

Most commonly you will bring one home with a new plant from the store or nursery. Inspecting all new plants as well as placing them in quarantine will help with preventing an infestation, although there is always a possibility of a mealybug being in the soil.

How to get rid of this common pest?

Rubbing alcohol: You can get rid of adult mealybugs by tipping a Q-tip in rubbing alcohol and pressing the Q-tip on the mealybug. They should die on contact. Mealybugs can hide in small crevices so be sure to inspect all parts of the plants to remove as much of adult population as possible. Inspect daily and treat whenever needed. If you’re not dealing with a delicate plant, spraying rubbing alcohol solution (diluted in water) on the plant will remove the ones you can’t see too (we recommend first testing the solution on a part of the plant).

Insecticidal soap: make your own by using organic detergent mixed with water (1-2 teaspons per galon / 1-2 teaspons per 4L) or get store bought insecticidal soap. Spray on the plant, making sure you spray under the leaves and all crevices.

Insect spray: check the store for sprays they have, go through labels and find one that is listed as effective for mealybugs. Most houseplant insecticide sprays are efficient against all or most common houseplant pests. Be mindful if you have small children or pets as many of these sprays can be harmful. Practice care with delicate plants too.

Neem oil: neem oil is great at keeping all kinds of houseplant pests at bay, while it might not help you completely eliminate mealy bugs it’s good to use as a prevention.

Unless you are extremely lucky it will take multiple treatments (both removing adult population and larvae) to completely get rid of mealybugs.

Watering with hydrogen peroxide for root mealybugs: get rid of root mealybugs and their larvae by watering the plant (let the soil dry) with a 3% hydrogen peroxide mixed with water (1 part hydrogen peroxide 3 parts water). As you water the soil you will hear a sound that will persist for a while, it’s completely normal.

Scale

If you start noticing small brown discs that are attached on your plants, you are seeing scale another common houseplant pest. Unlike other pests, these won’t be moving around but will be set in place, and protected with their waxy shell.

Photo: Gilles San Martin – Scale Insects – under CC BY-SA 2.0

Where do they come from?

You most likely brought these houseplant pests home with a new plant.

How to get rid of them?

Scale are fairly easy to get rid off if the infestation is caught on time. Wipe them off the plant with a damp cloth and spray the plant with insecticide after. Repeat if necessary.

However, if the infestation is larger, they quickly become one of the worst pests to deal with. Removing them from the plant will be difficult and they are quite resilient when it comes to sprays (their outer shell protects them). Prune the plant, removing the areas that are heavily infected (do not throw it in compost as this will result in more scale). Manually remove the scale from the plant – you might need to use a harder tool to remove them.

Try horticultural oil spray.

Neem oil is great for prevention of scale.

Aphids

They are small insects that are usually green / yellow green but black, gray or orange ones can also be found on the plants.

Aphids closeup photo @ Tomatito

All plants are susceptible to aphids, flowering plants a bit more so. They suck out the nutrients from plants, making the plants weak. They are relatively easy to spot (they can even be seen with naked eye), don’t move around quick and their soft bodies make them a pest that is fairly easy to control.

How to identify them?

Majority these houseplant pests species have soft bodies. They can come in variety of colors – green, black, colorless, brown, pink… A pair of long antennae and long legs. They are wingless insects, however they can develop wings under certain conditions (if the infestation becomes too big / too crowded) – fascinating and troublesome at the same time for a plant owner.

They might be seen with naked eye, if not they are easy to spot under a magnifying glass.

If you find signs of sticky honeydew and weakening of plants you can suspect aphids and should give a closer look to your plants. As with other pests, curling of leaves and yellowing can also point to aphid infestation.

They are also one of favorite foods of ladybugs, so if you notice ladybugs hanging around your houseplants… Suspect aphids.

How to get rid of them?

Aphids multiply fast so you should start treatment immediately. Luckily these aren’t as stubborn as many other pests and if the infestation isn’t really out of control can be dealt with fairly easy.

Remove them mechanically: wipe them off with damp cloth or wash them out with water.

Neem oil: it’s effective against aphids, use according to instructions

Insecticide soap / spray / powder: all are pretty effective with aphids (be careful if you have young kids or pets in the household)

Diatomaceous earth: it will kill aphids. Wear protective gear (mask) to prevent inhalation

Beneficial insects: use only species that are local to your area and ones that you are ready to live with. Green lacewings are commonly used (and are quite cute).

Aphids on leaf @ locrifa

Thrips

These small slender bodied houseplant pests can be really hard to spot and can quickly become a nightmare for any houseplant owner (relatively speaking they don’t do too much damage but they can also spread disease on plants and move around quickly).

They do not need to mate to reproduce, so they are a houseplant pest that shouldn’t be ignored.

How to identify them?

They are tiny, barely seen with a naked eye, insects – most measuring about 0.08inch / 2mm, with some species being way smaller and others way larger. Their slender bodies make them really hard to spot – they might look like dirt on your leaf but will jump or fly away if you poke them with your finger (or another object).

The tell-tale sign (that can be easier to spot than the trip itself) are the silver streaks (silver speckling spots and streaks) on your plant’s leaves. Larger infestation can also stun plants.

Adult Thrip Photo: Gary Chang Thrip CloseupCC BY-SA 2.0

What will they do to your plants?

Thrips suck plant cells, which ends up creating their tell-tale silver streaks on leaves. While small infestation might not do a lot of damage to the leaves a larger one will severely damage the leaves.

As they can leaf or fly away they can spread to other plants pretty fast.

How to get rid of them?

Different stages of thrip life cycle
Different stages of Thrip Life Cycle (egg, larvae, adult) Photo Scot Nelson (public domain)

Yellow Sticky Tape: this won’t get rid of them but it’s a good preventive measure and it will help keeping them under control

Water + Detergent: wash leaves with a mild water and detergent mixture (try it on one leaf first to see if the plant handles it well). Repeat every couple of days. Adding some rubbing alcohol to the mix can be beneficial too – but some plants don’t really handle it well.

Neem oil: neem oil is great at keeping smaller populations at bay. Great as a preventive treatment too.

Insecticide spray: as thrips are fast in conquering plants and it doesn’t take long to have a bunch of plants infested before you realize you have a problem insecticides might be your best friends. Handle with care as they can be damaging to your plants and many are not pet or child safe.

There are many varieties available and they specialize on different kinds of pests and plants so get one that suits your needs best. Some thrips are more susceptible to one brand and some to another, so do not feel discouraged if the first spray you buy isn’t as effective as you hoped.

Preventing Most Common Houseplant Pests

Most common houseplant pests tips and tricks

Prevention is key! Make a habit of inspecting your plants for pests and employ a neem oil treatment as a precaution.

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