Bugs are fascinating creatures that love to live outside, but they can also affect the inside of your home, particularly if you have houseplants. There are approximately 91,000 different species of insects living in the United States alone. You may wonder how to deal with an influx of insects munching on your houseplants.
While certain houseplants attract specific pests, not all of them are harmful. Read on to learn more about some different types of bugs on houseplants so you can handle them with care.
1. Common Brown Scale (Coccidae and Diaspididae)
The common brown scale is hard to spot thanks to its small size and brown color that blends easily with stems and branches. These bugs are shiny and sticky, and they love to live underneath the woody stems and leaves of houseplants. There are different varieties of the common brown scale, but the brown soft scale seems to be the most prevalent.
These bugs have an oval-shaped body and are approximately three to four millimeters long. The brown scale has a waxy covering and tends to group together in clumps. They can pose a serious problem for houseplants because they use their spiky mouths to suck the plant’s juices.
If you want to remove these bugs from your houseplants, start by covering the soil with a plastic bag or fabric covering. This will keep the scale from falling onto the soil below.
Use a natural insecticidal soap with rosemary and spray it directly onto your plant. Use your fingers to gently rub the soap along the stems and leaves, then gather them in the plastic bag and discard them. Once you remove the bugs, rinse your plant thoroughly with clean water.
2. Mealybugs (Pseudococcidae)
Mealybugs are another common insect found on houseplants. These bugs move slowly, are white in color, and have a soft, cottony-like appearance. While they’re fairly easy to see, mealybugs like to live inside of a curled leaf or under the crook of a branch, making them difficult to find.
Female mealybugs can produce up to 600 eggs at once, making them a serious issue for plant lovers. One way to eliminate mealybugs is by introducing another beneficial insect. The green lacewing is one example of a “good bug” that will feed on the mealybugs and keep the population in check.
You can also apply a small amount of isopropyl alcohol directly onto the bugs. Dip a cotton swab in the alcohol and apply it to the mealybugs to keep them from eating your beloved houseplants.
3. Aphids (Aphidoidea superfamily, Aphididae)
Aphids are one of the most widely recognized bugs thanks to their bright green color. These tiny insects are a common issue for people with houseplants, particularly leafy plants, and roses. These bugs feed on gooey sap by piercing the plant’s leaves with their mouths.
You can squash aphids with your fingers to kill them, but they can reproduce at alarming rates, making them difficult to control. If you notice aphids with wings, it means that they’ve already established a large colony and are likely looking for more plants to eat.
To get rid of aphids the natural way, take your houseplant outside and spray it with a garden hose. Be gentle so you don’t accidentally break the plant or snap the stem. If you see any remaining aphids, simply crush them in between your fingers before bringing your plant back inside.
4. Common Whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum)
The common whitefly looks like a small white moth and tends to gnaw on anything from potatoes to elephant ear plants. These flying bugs lay eggs that hatch within a week. The whitefly sucks on plants for about three weeks while they’re in the nymph stage. Once they grow to full-size, they can fly around and move from plant to plant.
If you have the common whitefly in your home, they can cause your houseplant’s leaves to turn yellow and fall off. This may weaken your plant or even kill it if you don’t get them under control. You can catch whiteflies by placing yellow sticky traps near your plants. Blast the leaves of your plants with quick, short bursts of a hose to get rid of any remaining insects.
5. Red Spider Mites (Tetranychus sp.)
Even though they’re bright red in color, red spider mites are difficult to spot with the naked eye. These tiny bugs love to latch onto the bottom of the leaves of many species of houseplants. Some red spider mites may also create webs and cause serious leaf damage that can weaken or even kill your plants.
Look for signs of webbing or for small brown dots on your leaves to see if they’re attacking the plants in your home. Wash your houseplants thoroughly before bringing them inside to prevent red spider mites from getting in.
Check the humidity level in your home and use a humidifier to keep them at bay since they prefer to live in dry conditions. Keep your houseplants wet by spraying them daily to help prevent red spider mites from establishing their homes on your beloved plants.
6. Thrips (Thysanoptera)
Thrips are long, gray-colored bugs that enjoy snacking on herbs and leafy green plants. They puncture the outer layer of a plant and make silver-colored marks on the leaves. Examine the leaves of your houseplants closely and if you see any silver lines, you may have thrips.
They also leave small black marks behind which are the insect’s excrement. Thrips enjoy basil and other herbaceous plants. These insects are attracted to the color blue, so add some blue sticky traps around your plants to get rid of them. You can also introduce natural predators like minute pirate bugs to keep them at bay.
7. Fungus Gnats (Bradysia)
Fungus gnats look very similar to fruit flies and are often mistaken for them. These flying pests like to circle around the soil of your houseplants, especially when it’s freshly damp or includes compost. The larvae of the fungus gnat feed on the fungi in the soil.
Be cautious when using compost for your houseplants, as it will likely attract these tiny bugs. To combat the fungus gnat, use a natural and safe bacteria called BTI, or bacillus thuringiensis. Sprinkle the bacteria directly into the soil and use yellow sticky traps to snag adult gnats. This should eliminate fungus gnats within just a few days.
8. Pill Bugs (Armadillidium vulgare)
You may recognize pill bugs due to their gray color and curled body. These pests can attack the root ball of your houseplants, causing serious damage to the root system. You’ll typically find pill bugs right outside of the root ball near small holes that they dig.
To remove pill bugs from your houseplants, take the plant out of the pot and gently scrape the root ball clean. Look for a plant-safe insecticide you can apply directly to the soil. Use the insecticide as directed, then let your plant drain and dry out thoroughly before you bring it back inside.
Remember that it’s always best to spray your houseplants outdoors to prevent breathing in potentially dangerous chemicals or toxins.
9. Springtails (Entognatha)
Springtails are tiny in size and love to live inside the soil of both indoor and outdoor plants. Most springtails are white or black in color and have no wings, although they can jump. If you have springtails, it could be due to overwatering.
These bugs love to eat decaying organic matter but will also chew on seedlings and the tender parts of your plants. While a few springtails aren’t something to be too concerned about, an infestation is definitely a problem.
Always let your soil dry between watering, since these bugs reproduce when humidity levels are high. Not only can these bugs affect your houseplants, but they can also infest your home since they like to live in dark, moist areas. Caulk areas around your home and rake mulch to about one foot away from the perimeter of your property to keep the bugs at bay.
10. Leaf Miners (Agromyzidae)
Leaf miners are the larvae of certain species of flies, sawflies, beetles, and moths. These small insects feed on the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves of your houseplants. You’ll notice you may have leaf miners if you see discoloration on your leaves that seem to be in a winding, trail-like shape.
This will leave an unattractive mark on your leaves, although the actual damage is usually not very serious. The leaf miner lays its eggs underneath the leaves of plants, which then eat the leaves once they hatch. This is what causes the unusual markings left behind. To eliminate leaf miners, add a granular insecticide to your soil.
Always remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure safe application and use.
11. Broad Mites (Polyphagotarsonemus latus)
Broad mites are microscopic in size, which makes them difficult to detect. If you notice that the leaves of your houseplants suddenly look curled up, distorted, or have stunted growth, it may be due to the presence of these tiny insects. Broad mites love to feed on plants like cyclamen, begonia, African violets, and some tropical houseplants.
They’re also notorious for attacking agricultural plants like grapes, apples, and even cannabis plants. To treat your plants, spray them with a miticide, an insecticidal soap. You can also use horticultural oil, but only if you’re able to completely cover the plant with it.
Unfortunately, broad mites spread rapidly, so sometimes the best remedy is to discard affected houseplants altogether.
12. Millipedes (Diplopoda)
Millipedes like to eat organic matter like dropped leaves. These bugs actually break down the organic matter and turn it into useful nutrients that can actually be beneficial to your houseplants. Although they’re not too harmful, seeing large numbers of millipedes can definitely be disturbing.
Most millipedes won’t move around much unless you disturb the soil or when you water it. The best and easiest way to get rid of millipedes is to simply pick them out of your soil and relocate them outside.
However, if you notice a lot of millipedes, you may want to repot your plant with fresh potting mix and discard the old soil. Another way to get rid of these bugs is to fill a bucket with some warm water and liquid soap. Dunk the root ball of your plant into the mixture, let it soak for about 30 minutes, and then place it in fresh soil.
13. Snails (Gastropoda)
Snails are not very likely to affect your houseplants unless you leave the plant outside, then bring it indoors. These shelled insects are easy to spot and usually leave a slimy trail behind on leaves and stems.
Most snails eat away at a plant’s leaves, so you may notice large holes in your leaves or the leaves may be entirely stripped away from the stem. Look for snails at dusk and manually pick them off your houseplants, then rehome them outside.
Slug pellets also work to kill these bugs, but they actually play an important role in the ecosystem. It’s best to simply remove the slugs and take them outside so that animals like hedgehogs can enjoy them as a meal.
14. Green Lacewings (Chrysopidae)
Green lacewings are actually a beneficial bug that likes to live on houseplants. These predators eat a variety of harmful insects including aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies, just to name a few. The insect gets its name due to the delicate wings that are almost transparent and resemble a piece of lace.
They’re large in size and have a bright green color with gold or copper-colored eyes. Aside from feeding on other insects, the green lacewing also likes to eat pollen, plant nectar, and honeydew. Many people use these insects as a form of pest control, and they’re often introduced to greenhouses to protect valuable plants from getting eaten by more harmful bugs.
15. Tortrix Moths (Tortricidae)
The tortrix moth starts off as a small, green caterpillar that rolls inside of plant leaves, feeding on them as they develop. You’ll find the tortrix caterpillar living inside the leaves of edible and ornamental indoor and outdoor plants. When they grow to full size, tortrix moths can cause a lot of damage to your houseplants.
If you need to get rid of these bugs, start by removing all plant debris and dead vegetation around your houseplants. If you see the caterpillars rolled into leaves, simply squish the leaves to kill them. Certain pheromone traps are effective at trapping male moths.
A biological insecticide is recommended if you have a large infestation. As the moths feed on the bacteria, their guts rupture and they die within just a few days. This bacteria is safe and non-toxic to beneficial insects but should do a good job of eliminating tortrix moths.