When we think of pests, we often think of bugs that get into our pantries or bite us or our pets outdoors. Most of us don’t give much thought to the pests that prefer our houseplants. Recognizing common houseplant pests and preventing them is far easier than saving an infested plant.
Common Houseplant Pests
Houseplant pests may be small but they can cause big headaches. Here’s a quick guide to some of the more common plant pests:
- Spider Mites – These pests are more closely related to spiders than to mites. They are very small and the first sign you see may be damage to the plant. Another sign is a fine delicate web, usually on the undersides of the plant and leaves. If the infestation isn’t remedied, the plant will die.
- Aphids – These pests are small, typically green (though other colors include yellow, brown, and black), soft-bodied bugs. They tend to eat new growth and along the underside of leaves. They secrete a sticky substance called honeydew (several plant pests secrete honeydew), which provides ideal conditions for mold growth.
- Mealybugs – These tiny bugs are pale and often covered with a cotton-like coating. Most mealybugs feed on plant sap where the leaves meet the stems, though one species attacks the roots, resulting in the plant’s death. Mealybugs also secrete honeydew and foster mold growth.
- Scales – There are two types of scales: soft scales and armored scales. They are most often found on the underside of leaves and along stems. Immature scales are called crawlers and move, whereas adults are stationary and don’t have visible legs. They’re usually flat and resemble fish scales in appearance. Soft scales secrete honeydew, however armored scales do not.
Preventing Houseplant Pest Infestations
Now that we know what to look for when checking houseplants for pests, how do we prevent or stop an infestation? Here are a few tips:
- Check for pests before check-out – When you purchase plants, inspect them well–especially the undersides and more hidden surfaces and also the soil–before you buy them. Also check over plants in this way when bringing them inside after being outdoors.
- Grow healthy plants – Take proper care of your plants, ensuring appropriate watering, light, and space for the plant to thrive. Healthy plants are more resistant to pests than struggling plants.
- Re-pot properly – When re-potting plants, only use appropriate potting soil (not soil from the yard) to avoid bringing in pests. Also, when re-potting, check over the roots and soil in the old pot to look for pests that may have entered through drain holes.
- Magnify your inspections – Inspect your plants regularly using a magnifying glass (10x should be sufficient). This will help you spot and address pests that are very small or are in younger life stages.
- Give plants a bath – Washing down smooth-leaved plants prevents pests and also benefits plant health. Large plants can be hosed down with a gentle spray and leaves wiped with a soft damp cloth–tops and undersides of leaves. For small plants, fill a bucket with lukewarm water, use plastic or foil to secure soil and prevent it from falling out, and turn the plant upside down to dunk it and swish it gently in the water. Carefully blot off excess water afterward. Washing down plants every 2-3 weeks will help keep pests at bay.
No matter how much of a green thumb you may have, it’s no match for a houseplant pest infestation. Thankfully, a little care and attention to detail does a lot to prevent bugs from pestering your plants. If you seem to have a pest problem, and you have trouble finding the source, The Pest Force is here to help.