Houseplant Pests: Common Critters and How to Get Rid of 'Em
Removing Pests from Houseplants at a Glance
- Prevent infestation
- Physically remove bugs
- Create an inhospitable environment
- Use predator pests
- Create an integrated pest management system
If you need to know how to get rid of bugs in houseplants, chances are you're already playing host to some unwanted pests. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for bugs to sneak in and start multiplying.
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Here are some methods to debug your houseplants.
How to Get Rid of Bugs in Houseplants: Prevention
The following tips can help minimize the risk of waking up to find your plants have become over-run by unwanted pests. They are also useful if you want to reduce the risk of allergens or other unwanted bacteria, mold or fungi settling and growing in your home.
- Ensure there's good air circulation in your home, including around your houseplants.
- Clean pots and plants regularly. Pots can be cleaned with warm water and a mild detergent.
- Use pasteurized soil for your houseplants.
- Keep your plants healthy.
- Check your plants regularly for signs of infestation. As with any other infestation, the earlier a problem is identified, the easier it is to treat.
What Are the Little Bugs in My House Plants?
According to the Mississippi State University Extension Service, there are potentially dozens of pests that can affect houseplants. The appearance and habits of the bugs on your plant help you determine what type of bug you're dealing with. These are some of the most common ones:
These appear as little green, white or black specks on the undersides of leaves and stems. They're often found on new, tender leaves.
Red Spider Mites
It's often the damage that these mites cause that's the first evidence of their presence. Brown speckles appear on the top surface of the leaves. As the infestation increases, the houseplant leaves start to yellow, and you may notice the spider mite webs on the plant.
These look like fluffy, white woodlice. A crowd of them may resemble a cotton swab. They eat sap, rapidly depleting the plant's resources and affecting its health.
As the name suggests, once their numbers begin to rise, these look like a brown scale on the plant's stem and leaves.
Thrips are small insects with long, thin bodies. They are usually pale and yellow-brown in color. Thrips feed on plant sap, causing the leaves to curl downwards or deform.
How Do You Get Rid of Bugs on Houseplants?
If you've noticed some signs and symptoms that your houseplants could be under attack, don't ignore them. Pests don't go away of their own accord, and leaving them alone can make the problem worse.
In most cases, houseplant bugs can be dealt with naturally and safely. If you're faced with a bug infestation, use one or more of these strategies to eliminate them:
Physical (Mechanical) Removal
This can be as simple as using a fingernail or cotton swab to scrape off the pests. A damp cloth can also be used to wipe off a build-up of pests. In some cases, a spray bottle filled with water can be used to blast the insects off leaves and stems.
Physical removal is highly effective, but care must be taken not to damage the plant while removing the insects.
Weak Detergent Solution
Along with physical removal, spraying the plant with a solution of room temperature water with a squirt of mild detergent in it can work. Leave it for five minutes, then rinse it off with fresh water.
Detergent kills the pest in most cases, making it easier to remove bugs from leaves and stems. The detergent spray uses safe chemical means to get rid of indoor plant bugs; it can also physically blast away pests that are lodged on the plant.
Introducing a Predator Insect
Introducing a predator bug may sound counterintuitive — after all, who wants more pests on their plants? The reality is that, if carefully chosen, a predator bug can successfully eliminate the troublesome pest without causing further problems to your houseplants.
The best type of predator insect depends on the type of pest that is affecting your houseplant. Ladybugs or hoverfly larvae will eat up any aphids that are attacking your plants. Cryptolaemus montrouzieri larvae (a.k.a. mealybug destroyers) are natural mealybug predators.
Natural pest control insects can be bought from specialist biological pest control outlets. Whether this choice is right for you depends on a variety of factors, including how many plants you have and where you keep them. Introducing more insects to your glassed-in porch is one thing, but you probably don't want bugs of any kind running amuck in your kitchen or bedroom.
Chemical elimination may be something as simple as the weak detergent solution previously mentioned or a chemical compound that's been specifically designed to get rid of bugs in houseplant soil or on the plants themselves. While many chemicals can be used safely indoors, the proximity of pets and children means that toxic chemicals should be used with extreme caution.
Create an Integrated Pest Management System
Integrated pest management involves using a suite of chemical, biological, environmental and physical controls — like the methods listed — to eliminate unwanted pests. Encompassing both treatment and prevention, indoor gardeners troubled by plant mites, tiny white bugs on plants or similar pests can either create their own IPM strategy or use the services of a professional.
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How Do You Kill Bugs Without Killing Plants?
The nonchemical means listed above — picking off bugs, spraying them with a mild detergent solution or using pest predators — are the best ways to kill bugs without killing plants. If the plant can tolerate it, you can also make alterations to the plant's environment, transforming its home into one that isn't well-tolerated by the pests. Many people find that they are able to keep their houseplants in top condition without the use of any artificial chemicals, bug sprays or other potentially toxic options.
What Can I Spray on My Houseplants to Kill Bugs?
In almost all cases, tepid water with a small amount of mild detergent can be safely sprayed on houseplants that have evidence of bugs. Spray the leaves and stem of the plant, then leave it for five minutes or so before rinsing. Repeat every few days until the pests are gone.