Indoor plants offer natural beauty and better air quality to our homes, as well as the opportunity for pests to take up residence. Without some intervention, these pesky critters will multiply exponentially and kill your organic decor in the process. There are 5 common pests that love houseplants, or the soil they live in, and effective ways to make them meet their demise.
But, first let's go over some general rules to prevent the introduction of houseplant pests in the first place:
- Bringing Home a New Plant - Always have your investigative eye in gear when purchasing a new plant. Inspect it fully for signs of infestation. You may not always be able to see insects if they are in very early stages of development, but any time that you do discover them is one more time you don't bring them home.
- Contaminated Soil - It is important, when storing unused potting soil, to have it in an airtight container so that pests don't take up residence in the soil, and then you inadvertently transfer them to your houseplants when re-potting them.
- Bringing Plants In and Out - So, it's the first beautiful Spring day, and you want to reward your plants with a little of the outdoors after being cramped up inside all winter. There's not anything inherently wrong here. Just make sure that you check for pests and treat them before bringing your houseplants back inside.
- Produce and Cut Flowers - Unfortunately, we can't control how the plants that our produce or decorative flowers come from were cared for. This means, they may have unwanted pests. Again, investigation is the key, and make sure to wash all produce well as soon as you bring it in the house.
Now, let's get to the nitty-gritty details of how to control specific pests:
These little suckers (pun intended) will sneak up on you. They are practically undetectable when in their early stages, but then all of a sudden, you see fuzzy whiteness at the bases of leaves, and then all over the plant if you don't take action. The best way to take care of mealybugs is to spray them with a mixture of 1 to 3 parts rubbing alcohol and water. Once you spray them, they turn brown which means you've destroyed their exoskeletons, and they are goners. However, keep spraying 1 to 2 times a week until you are sure that more eggs aren't hatching, only for you to be taken by surprise again. Remember, when spraying any mixture on houseplants, to drench the entire plant, including bases and undersides of leaves.
Whiteflies are just annoying. If you brush up against a houseplant and a white "mist" surrounds you, you've got mealybugs on your hands (and in your nose and mouth). These buggers can be controlled by spraying with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of dish soap to 1 quart of water. Unfortunately, the adults fly away once you disturb the plant, so you are only killing the eggs and nymphs with the spray. Remain diligent with your spraying, however, and they won't be able to reproduce and the life cycle of the adults will expire.
The best way to control gnats from swarming around your indoor plants is to keep any decaying plant material from building up on top of the soil, and to water so that the soil doesn't stay moist for too long. If, however, you've discovered that fungus gnats are living in the soil, you can start watering the soil with a mixture of 1 teaspoon of Pine-Sol to 2 quarts water. It may take a couple of weeks to get rid of the gnats, but this method does work. If you don't like the smell of Pine-Sol, you can also purchase sticky strips to place on top of the soil. This doesn't actually change the environment of the soil, though. However, it is a good way to trap the adults and keep them from laying eggs.
These things don't even look like bugs. They look like innocent bumps on any part of a plant, that could be mistaken for growth imperfections. That is, until the whole darn plant is covered with them. These are one of the hardest pests to eliminate, but there is hope. Even though you can take control of early stage scale infestations with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab, the best thing to do with scale is to pretend like it's the worst pest infestation you've ever seen - because it soon will be. An oil-based insecticidal spray, such as Neem oil is your best bet here. Neem is non-toxic to humans and pets, but smothers scale insects to death, and that's what you want, right?
Ahh...the dreaded spider mite. At first, you think you're just slacking on your dusting because you see what look like cobwebs on your houseplants. Surprise! Those are spider mites weaving their destructive webs on your beneficial plants. These are also stubborn pests and can be difficult to eliminate completely, but it can be done. This is one infestation you want to quarantine, far away from other plants. Some will say that an insecticidal soap mixture works for spider mites, but I say to not waste your time. Go straight for the Neem oil (which any houseplant owner should always have on hand), spray the plant thoroughly, rinse off any webbing and dead insects, spray again, and put that plant in solitary confinement. Stay diligent by spraying twice a week, until you no longer see webbing or tiny little spider-looking things.
Houseplants bring the outdoors in. That's why we love them. They add natural beauty and refresh our air, but nature and bugs go hand-in-hand. However, these are non-toxic approaches that we have found really work. If you have any questions or concerns about pest infestations, Thomas Pest Control is ready and waiting to help. Good luck and happy growing!