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How to Prevent, Identify, and Get Rid of 8 Common Houseplant Pests

No matter what the season, filling your indoor space with houseplants is a great way to bring nature inside and get your garden therapy in the warmth and comfort of your home. Having plants in the house feels both refreshing and cozy, until…yuck! Pest infestations are common on houseplants, but expert David Squire is here with some tips from his book The Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Everyday Houseplants to help prevent, identify, and get rid of houseplant pests before they do too much damage.

How to Identify, Treat and Get Rid of Houseplant Pests

Houseplant Problems

By David Squire

Few plants can completely escape from pests and diseases or cultural problems. It is much easier to prevent attack by pests and diseases than to eliminate them from badly affected plants. Here are some prevention tips.

  • Buy plants from reputable sources.
  • Inspect plants before buying.
  • Regularly check for infestations.
  • Never use garden soil instead of potting compost as it may contain weed seeds, pests, or diseases.
  • Avoid leaving dead flowers and leaves around plants.
  • Check root balls for soil pests when plants are being repotted.
  • Never use infected plants as propagation material.

Keep colorful foliage like this happy and healthy by preventing pests naturally

Pests

Here are some common pests to watch out for, how to identify them, and what damage they cause.

Aphids: also known as greenfly, aphis, and aphides, they are the main pests of houseplants. These small, usually green, sap-sucking insects infest flowers, shoot tips, and soft leaves, sucking sap and causing mottling and distortion. They also excrete honeydew, which attracts ants and encourages the presence of a fungal disease called sooty mold.

Cyclamen mites: these infest a wide range of plants, including cyclamen, pelargoniums, saintpaulias (African Violets) and impatiens (Busy Lizzies). They are minute, eight-legged, spider-like creatures that cluster on the undersides of leaves. They suck sap, causing leaves to crinkle and darken. Flowering is shortened and buds become distorted and may fall off.

Mealy bugs: white, waxy, woodlice-like creatures that live in groups and especially infest ferns, palms, azaleas, and hippeastrums. They suck sap, causing distortion, loss of vigor, and yellowing of leaves. They excrete honeydew, which encourages the presence of ants and sooty mold.

Red spider mites: also known as greenhouse red spider mites, they are spider-like, minute, usually red, and have eight legs. They suck leaves, causing mottling and, if the infestation is severe, webs. These are unsightly, reduce air circulation around the plant, and make eradication difficult.

Cacti look lovely in the home

Scale insects: swollen, waxy-brown discs, usually static, under which female scale insects produce their young.

Thrips: these tiny, dark brown, fly-like insects jump from one plant to another. They pierce leaves and flowers, sucking sap and causing silvery mottling and streaking. Undersides of leaves develop small globules of a red liquid that eventually turns black.

Vine weevils: serious pests in the adult form, when young, and as larvae. Adults are beetle-like, with a short snout. They chew all parts of plants. The larvae—fat, legless, and creamy white with brown heads—inhabit compost and chew roots.

Whitefly: small, moth-like white insects that flutter from one plant to another when disturbed. They have a mealy or powder-like covering and are mostly found on the undersides of leaves, sucking sap, causing distortion, and excreting honeydew, which encourages the presence of ants and sooty mold.

Keep houseplants healthy with these tips for getting rid of pests

Non-Chemical Control of Pests and Diseases

Apart from growing plants healthily, with adequate moisture, food, and circulation of air, there are other ways to keep them healthy and to ward off pests and diseases.

  1. Mist plants with clean water where there is a risk (or presence) of red spider mites.
  2. Regularly remove dead leaves and flowers.
  3. Use insecticidal soaps, which are ideal against a wide range of insects and mites.
  4. Investigate biological controls, which means using other insects and mites to control pests. Biological controls exist for aphids, caterpillars, mealy bugs, soft scale insects, red spider mites, thrips, vine weevil larvae, and whiteflies. Ask your garden center for advice.

Reprinted with permission from Houseplant Handbook: Basic Growing Techniques and a Directory of 300 Houseplants by David Squire© 2017. Published by Fox Chapel Publishing. Photography courtesy of Fox Chapel Publishing.

About the Author

The Houseplant Handbook

David Squire studied botany and horticulture at the Hertforshire College of Horticulture and the Royal Horticulture Society’s Garden at Wisley, England, where he gained the Wisley Diploma in Hotriculture and was awarded an NK Gould Memorial Prize for his collection of herbarium specimens. He has written more than 70 gardening books, which have been sold throughout the world and translated into several languages.

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Comments

  1. Hello! I just recently began finding small piles of ‘dirt’ as the base of my pots where the drainage hole is. At first, I thought it was dirt than ran out as the pot was shifted or dirt settled, but I realized that the granules were too regular. After inspecting a lid that I had a pot on, I saw very tiny bugs near the pile – maybe even smaller than the granules. There is no sign of any infestation on the leaves of my plants or at the top of the soil. Do you have any ideas as to what these could be and recommendations on how to treat them? I would appreciate any advice! Thank you!

    Reply
  2. I’ve got leaves dying and dropping off at the base of my English ivy’s. Is there something I can apply to stop this process? I don’t see any bugs or any invasive evidence near the plants that could be causing this problem. Any advice before I lose them all?
    Thank you!!

    Reply

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