Buying houseplants can put you at risk for harboring unwanted pest infestations. Before these bugs cause damage to your new plant, know how to take care of them using natural remedies.
According to a study published by researchers from the University of Washington, having ongoing access to nature can help reduce stress, improve sleep, and contribute to a greater happiness and satisfaction with life. And while camping trips and long walks in the park are great ways to feel connected to nature, taking care of houseplants can be a much easier way to incorporate greenery into your daily routine.
Thanks to the growing popularity of houseplants, there are numerous ways homeowners can purchase houseplants, be it from large plant nurseries or online plant boutiques. However, any plant purchased from an outside source can potentially bring unwanted pests into your home.
Spotting Bugs on Houseplants
While spiders, cockroaches, and ants may occasionally inhabit houseplants, especially ones that have been placed outdoors, it’s unlikely for these pests to feed on plant material. In fact, spiders are known to feed on plant-eating insects that cause damage to greenery. Instead, there are a number of lesser-known pests that can cause significant damage to your houseplants, like yellowing, wilting, and stunted growth, if not treated in time.
While other conditions, like improper watering, extreme temperature changes, and excess humidity can cause plants to yellow, three common houseplant pests, whiteflies, spider mites, and mealybugs, are also known to cause houseplant leaves to yellow and drop off due to their feeding habits. All three of these pests use their sharp mouthparts to pierce plant leaves and stems, which then allows the insects to suck juices straight from the plant tissue. An infestation can quickly deplete the plant of its necessary nutrients, which can cause the houseplant’s leaves to yellow and drop off.
Underwatering can cause your houseplants to wilt and droop, though it may also be a sign that your plants are hosting adult thrips or young scale. Both pests tend to congregate in clusters, often on the undersides of plant leaves, where they feed on sap. The crawler stage of a scale nymph is very tiny and as small as thrips which measures just a few millimeters in length, and can make spotting an infestation difficult with the naked eye.
Some pests, like broad mites which are most common during the warm summer days, can even stunt plant growth. Like other common houseplant pests, the typical feeding habits of these mites can cause plant leaves to deform and stunt. Its usual target are the newest growth. The damage that broad mites bring to a plant is caused by the toxicity of its saliva that even after getting rid of these mites, a deformed growth may still surface.
How to Get Rid of Bugs on Houseplants
Fortunately, this damage can be prevented and these pests can be removed by using a few easy and natural remedies.
Inspect new plants
The best way to help get rid of pests on plants is to avoid bringing infested plants home in the first place. When purchasing a new houseplant from a plant nursery or gardening center, thoroughly inspect the plant for evidence of any harmful pests. Check under the leaves for clusters of white, brown, or red spots, which could point to an infestation of aphids, scales, or spider mites. Next, check for insects at the points where the plant’s leaves meet its stems, where thrips may be commonly found. Finally, check for fungus gnats by combing your fingers through the plant’s soil to look for dark, fly-like pests that measure approximately one-eighth of an inch long.
Examine plants before bringing them indoors
Many homeowners like to place their houseplants outside during the spring and summer to allow the plant to receive more sunlight. Unfortunately, this can increase the likelihood of bringing hitchhiking pests indoors. Before moving your houseplants inside for the fall and winter, carefully check your plants for pests and damage. In addition to yellowed leaves and drooping plants, keep an eye out for spotted or misshapen leaves, webbing attached to the undersides of leaves, and the presence of a black, sticky substance called sooty mold. If an infested plant is brought indoors, the pests can quickly spread to other healthy houseplants.
One of the biggest factors that attracts fungus gnats to houseplants is an excess of moisture. Because these pests prefer to lay their eggs within moist soil, an overwatered houseplant may quickly begin to host a fungus gnat infestation. Dr. Leonard Perry, a Horticulture Professor at the University of Vermont, advises against watering plants following a specific schedule. Instead, he says that “plants should be watered when the soil feels dry to the touch.” Water any more, and you may cause your plants to retain moisture for too long and attract unwanted pests.
Try soap and water
If you do spot pests on your houseplants, there is an easy, natural remedy that can help you remove the pests. According to an article published by the Colorado State University Extension, a mixture of dish detergent and tap water can help remove spider mite and aphid infestations from your houseplants. Pour 1 quart of water into a spray bottle and add 4 teaspoons of the detergent to reach a desired 2% percent concentration, and give each plant a good spray. This mixture won’t take care of all houseplant pests, but it will successfully dehydrate some of the soft-bodied bugs living on your plants.
Some of the most common houseplant pests, like aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies, can cause major damage to the plants you spent so long tending to, but following these DIY tricks can help you identify, prevent, and remove harmful pests from your houseplants.