It's one thing to see a few flies in your house, but when you start to notice tiny white bugs on plants, or something that looks sticky, you may wonder if you've crossed the line from gross to concerning.
Before you write things off as nature running its course, make sure your little visitors aren't able to cause big problems. You should inspect your houseplants regularly for evidence of pest activity. This way, you're more likely to identify the problem and stop it before it becomes extensive. Once the infestation becomes too large, then you may need to throw away the plant.
If you have any issues with bugs on houseplants, the first thing you want to do is isolate that plant from your others, and then start treating the problem.
Here are some likely culprits:
Types of White Bugs on Plants
If you see what looks like a white fuzzy mess around your stems and leaves, it's a tell-tale sign of a mealybug infestation.
Female mealybugs — males are rarely ever seen on plants — are minuscule, lightly colored, soft-bodied insects that suck nutrients out of houseplants, sometimes causing enough damage to make the leaves and buds wither and fall off the vine. If left untreated, the mealybugs can cause enough damage to kill the entire plant.
The white, cottony fluff is where the female hides her eggs. The eggs take about 10 days to hatch, creating an even larger mealybug population.
Whiteflies have a lot in common with mealybugs. They're both small and white, and they both suck nutrients from plants, sometimes leaving them yellowed and damaged.
Although they may look similar to their mealybug counterparts, the difference with whiteflies is in their name — they're able to fly and will likely do so when disturbed.
While whiteflies aren't actually a type of fly (fun fact), they are small, triangular and travel in groups. If you notice a sticky material on your houseplant, that could be honeydew, which comes from their mouth during feeding. This is a sweet substance that may attract ants.
Aphids are small, oval-shaped and can be white, black, green or pink. They aren't as mobile as mealybugs or whiteflies, but some do have wings. Their slower speed works in your favor, as it makes removal easier.
Like mealybugs and whiteflies, aphids drain plants of their nutrients. In large enough numbers, they can even transmit viruses that gradually debilitate and kill some plants. Aphids reproduce quickly, so it's important to control the population before the infestation gets out of control.
How Do I Get Rid of Bugs on Plants?
Insecticidal soap is often used to treat houseplant infestations. You need to follow the label instructions and make sure the product is labeled for both pest and plant use.
Turn the hose on them
For smaller infestations, water pressure will likely wash away the mealybugs and their eggs. It's important to note, though, that this removal method rarely gets rid of all the bugs after a one-time application. You may have to do a few rounds to see progress.
Use rubbing alcohol
For smaller infestations, soak a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and wipe down every inch of the plant. Alcohol only kills the bugs by direct contact, so you may need to do a few applications. After you feel like the population is sufficiently taken care of, rinse the plant a few times with water.
Use a yellow sticky trap
Sticky traps may work for very light infestations. Some houseplant bugs are attracted to the color yellow, which is why sticky traps typically use that color. Made of a tape-like material, hang the trap on the top of the plant to attract the bugs. Be sure to follow instructions and keep the sticky trap out of reach of children and pets.
Get rid of the affected plant
Some of these houseplant bugs are movers, and they can travel easily from plant to plant, laying eggs and growing in number. If an infestation is beyond control, it's best to get rid of the infested plant to prevent damage to other plants in the vicinity.
Best of luck getting your plants insect-free again. Remember to always inspect new plants for these invaders so you don't bring more into your home.