Things I love about houseplants: they clean the air, look pretty, and make me feel like I’m capable of taking care of something other than myself.
Things I don’t love about houseplants: they can attract annoying bugs that buzz around my face.
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re also a houseplant lover who’s had to swat at a bug or two. Indoor plants make an incredible addition to any home, but pests - not so much. Not only are pesky bugs annoying, but some types of pests can damage your plant and affect their growth. Luckily, there are ways to get rid of pests for good.
These are the most common types of houseplant bugs, and how to get rid of them.
Similar to fruit flies, fungus gnats are tiny black flies that feed on organic debris in potting soil. They can be brought in from a new plant, potting soil, or otherwise from outside. While the adults are most noticeable because they buzz around, the larvae also shouldn’t be ignored, as they can cause serious damage to your plants roots.
Fungus gnats have a short lifespan, so luckily you can get rid of them pretty quickly just by interrupting the life cycle.
While it’s sometimes recommended to add a layer of sand to the top of your soil to prevent the larvae from hatching, doing this too much can lead to soil compaction that reduces air flow. Instead, the best method I’ve found to get rid of fungus gnats is to set traps, either store bought or homemade.
These yellow sticky traps capture and kill little flying bugs. Gnats are attracted to the color yellow, so just stick these traps in the soil to catch them.
A homemade solution can be made with just a jar, apple cider vinegar, sugar, dish soap, a piece of paper or plastic wrap, rubber band, and a piece of fruit (optional). Fill a jar with two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, about six drops of dish soap, and water. They’ll be lured in by the sugary mixture, but the sticky dish soap will trap them. To further ensure the bugs can’t escape, you can cover the jar with plastic wrap poked with holes and held with a rubber band, or a piece of paper rolled into a cone. Change the mixture every couple of days, rinse and repeat until you don’t see those pesky flying bugs anymore!
Aphids are tiny, pear-shaped insects that can usually be found on the underside of foliage in groups. Various species can appear white, black, brown, gray, yellow, light green, or pink. They feed off the nutrient-rich sap in plants, and most commonly afflict succulents.
You can get rid of aphids by applying a simple homemade insecticide. Mix a few teaspoons of liquid dish soap with one quart of water, then wipe or spray infested leaves. Repeat this every two or three days until you no longer see aphids on the plant. For leaves that are heavily infested, carefully pinch off the stem to remove from the plant.
Spider mites are tiny reddish arachnids that collect on the bottom of leaves, where they feed on plant fluids. A tell-tale sign of spider mites is small webbing under leaves and between stems. If left to their devices, spider mites can cause plant leaves to yellow, curl up, and fall off.
The best way to get rid of spider mites is to spray down the plant with lukewarm water. Since they prefer high temperatures and low humidity, slightly increasing the humidity and cooling off the plant’s environment can discourage them from breeding.
The easiest and gentlest way to address the infestation is to simply hose down the plant with lukewarm water, or use a sprayer on small plants. You can also get rid of spider mites using a neem oil (1.5 tsp neem oil: 1tsp liquid soap: 1L water) or insecticidal soap solution (1 tsp liquid soap : 1L water).
Thrips are tiny, skinny flying bugs with pointed tails. They can usually be found on the underside of leaves, sucking on the sap. If they’re not addressed quickly, they can cause leaves to brown and fall off. The best way to get rid of thrips is with the neem oil solution mentioned earlier. Only reserve the insecticidal solution for aggressive infestations.
Mealybugs look like cotton wool that attach to houseplant stems and leaf joints. The best way to kill mealybugs is by soaking a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol and applying it directly to the bugs.
How to prevent houseplant bugs in the first place:
Switch up your watering: Fungus gnats lay their eggs in moist soil, and their larvae don’t survive in dry soil. Try watering your plant less frequently - stick your finger into the soil until the second knuckle, and wait until it’s completely dry before watering it. Or, try bottom watering - when your plant takes up water from the bottom of the pot, it’s less likely to get wet on the surface and become attractive to gnats.
Battling houseplant pests can be frustrating, but using these techniques you'll be able to get rid of those tiny bugs until one day you'll realize you're not swatting at them anymore.