Indoor plants offer an easy and low maintenance alternative to gardening for those living in apartments. However, they are living and can get sick just like us.
If you see a plant looking ill, there is a high chance that your luck has run out and that they are infested with bugs and mites.
Indoor plants can get infested with bugs due to a variety of reasons- from outdoors, from new unsterile soil, from the nursery, due to unfavorable light and water conditions which makes them weak and susceptible to infestation, especially in winters.
Owing to the warm and consistent indoor conditions, the plant bugs can multiply and spread quickly. Ignoring their presence can lead to a bad infestation after which it becomes difficult to save the plant.
They need to be dealt with quickly and effectively to nurse the houseplant back into good healthy foliage.
Most common types of houseplant bugs and how to get rid of them
Below are some of the most common houseplant bugs and how to get rid of these.
Aphids are mostly found grouped on tender new leaf tips or on the underside of leaves. They have a soft oval or teardrop-shaped body which can be of various colors (black, red, yellow, green-brown).
They suck plant juices and secrete a sticky substance known as “honeydew”.
Honeydew attracts another unwelcome pest- sugar ant which makes burrows into the soil and destroys the roots of the plant with its burrowing.
How to get rid of Aphids?
Aphids cause deformed and stunted plant growth. To get rid of aphids, if the infestation is small, a cloth moistened with soapy water to wipe away is sufficient.soapy water kills aphids on contact.
You can also use insecticidal soap or neem oil. Spray the aphids away with a strong stream of water.
Use insecticidal soap from time to time until you are sure all signs of infestations are gone. In case of bad infestations, stems should be pruned off.
These are cousins of spiders and like spiders, they spin a fine silky webbing.
They can collectively spin a web over the entire plant! If you look closely, you will see tiny webs crawling around on the webbing, those are the mites themselves.
They spread rapidly with eggs hatching only days after being laid. They thrive in warm and dry conditions.
How to get rid of Spider Mites?
To get rid of spider mites, take the plant outdoors and wash it with a spray of water. They are tiny and are easily dislodged with the spray of water.
Be sure to rinse both upper and lower surfaces of leaves. You can also use soapy water. Dry it thoroughly and apply neem oil or insecticidal soap. Repeat once a week for three weeks to kill any new hatchings.
Keep air circulating and provide extra humidity.
Misting regularly helps to prevent spider mites. For heavily infested stems, prune them off.
These are small black flies which feed on the fungi that naturally grow in potting soil. Their eggs and larvae need water to survive so their infestation is mostly a result of overwatering.
Their life cycle is for about a week. They thrive in high humidity. Their larvae in the soil eat up new tender roots. They multiply quickly as fungus gnat lays down 300 eggs at a time.
How to get rid of Fungus Gnats?
An easy way to control them is to let the soil dry out as fungus gnats need constant moisture to survive. Another effective method to remove fungus and bacteria from the soil and fungus gnats is to use one part 3% hydrogen peroxide with four parts water.
Water the plants with this solution. It will also oxygenate the soil leading to a healthy plant. Repeat the treatment a few times to get rid of any eggs laid by adult gnats.
For a heavily infested plant, repot with fresh soil to get rid of fungus gnats.
Place a yellow sticky trap near the plant or just over it to capture the adult gnats. It will help to keep the adult gnats from flying to other houseplants.
It is one of the most common houseplant bugs but it is difficult to spot. They are found around the stems and around the underside of leaves as immobile brown or white dots or bumps.
These shells protect the insect inside as they suck the juices out of the plant’s vascular system.
How to get rid of Scales?
You have to remove the scales by hand using your fingernails. Use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or a toothpick. The alcohol will only work when it comes in direct contact with the insect inside.
Dislodging it physically multiple times over a couple of weeks works best.
You can also use neem-based pesticides. Trim the heavily infested parts.
Crawlers can leave the plant and then come back to infest it again. So to remove the plant from that area and clean the crevices of the pot both top and bottom and the plant tray.
These are tiny, white, moth-like flies found on the leaf undersides and will quickly fly off the plant when it is disturbed.
They suck the sap out of the plants leaving the plants wilted with stunted growth and yellow foliage.
How to get rid of Whiteflies?
Whiteflies can be easily trapped by placing yellow sticky cards just above the plant top. Spray the plant with water and insecticidal soap.
Try not to disturb while spraying so the whiteflies don’t fly off. Be sure to apply on both upper and lower surfaces of leaves. Neem oil is a wonderful natural spray for whiteflies control.
Spray it consistently for a few weeks until all signs of infestation disappear.
If you see little white bugs on the plant leaf underside, intersection of leaves and stems which do not fly around when disturbed, then you have mealy bugs.
Mealybugs appear as white stuff which looks like cotton or mildew. You may also notice a sticky residue. They suck the sap out of the plant resulting in stunted and deformed growth.
How to get rid of Mealybugs?
The fuzzy coating around the mealybugs prevents it from water or pesticides. So the best way to remove mealybug is by hand.
Use alcohol dipped cotton swabs and touch on mealybugs to effectively kill them. For the final touch use an insecticidal soapy solution and spray on the plant every week for a few weeks.
Quarantine the affected plant to prevent the spread of mealybugs to other houseplants.
Prevention of bugs in houseplants
There are certain houseplants which are more susceptible to pests than others, however, in general, by following a few simple steps, houseplant bug problems can be easily prevented.
Firstly, choose a houseplant which is suited for your indoor light conditions. Unfavorable light conditions make the plant go through a lot of stress. This makes the plant susceptible to infestation.
Make a close examination of your Indoor plant before purchasing and taking it home. Examine the plant from top to bottom, leaf undersides, along the stems.
Pot your plant in sterile soil. A store-bought potting mix is usually sterile. Using outdoor garden soil can introduce larvae of bugs into your houseplants.
Use a well-draining soil mix or place a layer of gravel beneath the soil. Poorly drained soil can saturate or even rot the roots and make the plant susceptible to bug attack.
Avoid placing the plant in trouble areas. By trouble areas, I mean places where the temperatures fluctuate quite often, too warm areas or too cold areas. Avoid placing them near air conditioners, radiators, and frosty windows. The heating systems can dry out the air in winters, place a humidity tray nearby or below the plant and mist occasionally.
Winter growth on many plants is weaker than in summer making it more vulnerable to infestation. Plus houseplants go into a state of dormancy in winters which makes them prone to bugs.
Provide the right light. Each plant has its own light requirements. Plants which prefer bright light do quite well in south-facing windows. Use east or west-facing windows for moderate sunlight. North facing windows for exposure to less sunlight. Plants with high light requirements should be placed under grow lights
Next, even if you can’t see any pests, it may have pest eggs or young pests that are not visible to the naked eye. So what do we do? Before adding it along with other houseplants, for security, place your houseplant in solitary confinement in a separate room for a few weeks. Keep checking the plant.
You can also place yellow sticky cards just above the top of the plant. Many pest insects are attracted to the color yellow and they quickly get trapped on the card. Keep checking the card, if you have a few on the card, there are high chances you have many more on the plant itself.
Clean your houseplants regularly. Bugs feed on dust buildups. Dust can contain skin cells or pet hair or any other contaminant. Some insects like mites thrive in a thick layer of dust. They are less likely to get attracted to a clean plant.
Moreover, dust clogs the pores of the plant making it difficult for them to respirate. Dust also filters the sunlight before it reaches the plant. This decreases the amount of photosynthesis taking place.
Use a moist cloth to gently wipe the leaves of the plant. Once in a while on sunny days, give your plants a good bath with warm soapy water in the sink or bathroom. You can also add a few drops of neem oil concentrate to the bathing water. Place the plant outside to dry.
Keep inspecting your plants regularly. Some of the signs of infestation or changes can lead to early detection and management. This can save you a lot of trouble. Discolored, speckled, mottled and chewed up leaves indicate bug activity. You may even see the bugs and their larvae.
Provide consistent water. Alternating periods of drought and flood can stress the plant out. Different plants have different water requirements.
Some plants like to dry out between waterings while some like to remain moist. Know the requirements of your indoor plants. Check soil moisture by sticking your finger inside the soil.
Store your unused potting soil in airtight containers. They are also called as bug-proof containers as bugs can’t live without air.
Always clean and disinfect your pots and plant trays before reusing them. Wash them with soapy water.
Lastly, before moving your outdoor plants indoors for the winter dormancy, spray them effectively with a forceful stream of water from the nozzle of a hose. This will dislodge any bugs present whatsoever.
Even with the precautionary steps, your plant can get infested with bugs. There are several methods to kill and remove the bugs.
Let us see who are they and what to do about them.
Keep in mind that few plants can be sensitive to insecticidal soap, so it’s best to test the solution on a few leaves before spraying the entire plant.
In order to get rid of houseplant bugs, you must be vigilant in fighting them. It can take several rounds of treatment before eliminating them for good. Inspect daily and continue treatment until all signs of infestation are gone.
Never repot a plant just because it has a bug problem without trying above techniques of bug removal. Repotting can further stress an unhealthy houseplant which could end up killing the plant.
All the above techniques do not have a residual effect to prevent the bugs from coming back. It’s important to stay smart and create an optimum and ideal environment for a happy, healthy plant.
Choose wisely and care for the indoor plants smartly. Prevent attraction of bugs and if they occur nonetheless, get rid of it asap by following the above methodologies.
Lastly, if the plant becomes heavily infested with bugs, so much so that nothing helps, then know it’s time to give up on that plant. plant it outdoors in any area far away from healthy plants and forget about it or throw it away in an airtight garbage bag.
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