Houseplants are giving us signals when they need extra care, but we sometimes misinterpret them. A plant can be watered, sunbathed, and kept in optimal conditions in terms of humidity and temperature, and it may still look unhealthy.
In most cases, unhealthy plants that are properly maintained are invaded by pests. In comparison to certain garden pests, houseplant pests are much smaller and can blend with the environment quickly. That does not mean that they’re less dangerous, though; that’s the reason why we’re here today to help you identify and control houseplant pests, so let’s dig in:
General Prevention Tips
Essentially, the best way to keep your plants free of pests is to keep them as healthy as possible. Pests tend to attack weaker plants, as their compromised defence systems make them easier prey.
First and foremost, provide healthy growing conditions to your plants. Any external stress will make them more vulnerable to pest attacks.
When relocating plants from a garden (or outdoors in general), always examine its soil for pests. Relocated plants should be isolated from older ones to prevent potential pest infestations.
Finally, limit the entry points where pests can infiltrate your home. Their tiny bodies can fit through most cracks in the doors or windows, so it may be wise to patch them up before potting any new houseplants.
Common houseplant pests and control measures
Each family of pests has different traits. Some are highly resistant to certain chemicals; some have sturdier shells that can withstand higher water pressure; some nest on the plants while some breed away from their feeding grounds.
It’s important to determine the type of pest you are facing before taking any action. Some of the most common houseplant pests include:
Although their name suggests that they’re related to flies, they have more in common with aphids and scales. They can be smaller than a centimetre (0.15 cm) in size, and their greenish colour can make them indistinguishable from leaves.
Whiteflies make nests on the leaves, which means that they aren’t too hard to hunt, but if left unchecked, they can ravage a plant fairly quickly. These pests excrete honeydew that promotes the growth of mould.
These pests are on top of the list as they’re not easy to force to abandon their nest. Once disturbed, they may flutter for a brief moment, but they’ll retreat to the same spot and continue sucking the plant’s sap.
The best way to control them is to use insecticidal soap while washing your houseplant thoroughly. They’re rarely few in numbers, so handpicking is seldom an option.
Spider Mites would be almost invisible to the naked eye if it weren’t for their habit of spinning webs around infested plants. They’re arguably among the most dangerous houseplant pests since even immature mites can cause damage to the plant.
Just like whiteflies, spider mites suck the plant’s sap; the attacked plant becomes yellowish and somewhat faded. They breed fairly quickly, as females can lay more than a hundred eggs in their life; spider mite eggs typically hatch within two to four days, so they should be addressed as soon as noticed.
Most organic insecticides work against them, as their bodies are frail. Combine spraying the plants with insecticides for best results, as stragglers can easily hide should they survive.
Scales attach themselves to a plant and become immobile after a certain period. They can be grouped into soft and armoured Coccoidea categories.
Armoured scales are a nuisance because they secrete a covering of wax-like material that they use as shelter. Soft scales also produce their wax shelters, although they become part of their bodies, making handpicking an efficient method of removing them. Both adults and immature scales suck the plant’s sap.
Scales that have managed to cover themselves with waxy substances are typically resistant to most insecticides. Neem and Canola Oil products can smother them, making them more vulnerable to insecticidal soap.
Aphids are more common than most other pest types, although they’re not as dangerous or hard to deal with. They’re somewhat larger than whiteflies and much bigger than spider mites, which makes them easier to notice in time when handpicking is still an option.
However, the main problem aphids pose is their rapid reproduction. Females produce live young in spring and summertime instead of laying eggs, which means that their offspring reach maturity sooner. Aphids can swarm several plants very quickly, which makes even some of the sturdiest plants defenceless.
Depending on the severity of the infestation, you may need to utilize multiple control methods. The earliest stages can be dealt with through handpicking and power washing; medium-sized infestations require a combination of insecticidal soap and handpicking while large-scale infestations call for a professional exterminator (or chemical insecticides).
Winged, brownish insects with three pairs of legs that are franticly flying near light sources are most likely to be gnats. As opposed to most houseplant pests, gnats tend to bother humans as well. Fortunately, adults won’t feed on plants, but their life cycle is long enough to sustain a steady population of herbivorous larvae.
Aphids, scales, and spider mites rarely leave the plants, but gnats rarely stay in one place for too long. This makes physical traps more efficient than spraying water or handpicking.
Furthermore, given the fact that only gnat larvae feed on plants, you can kill them by allowing the soil to properly dry between the watering cycles. Dry conditions are lethal to them, much more than most conventional organic insecticides.
Large and tall, caterpillars are very easy to notice and deal with. They don’t breed as quickly as other pest categories, but infestations are still possible if their breeding grounds are not discovered. That being said, the easiest way to deal with caterpillars is to locate their eggs and destroy them.
Handpick adults and larvae, and make sure that you’ve searched the surrounding plants for potential stragglers. They’re more resistant to chemical-based solutions, and they can kill plants faster than spider mites, scales, or whiteflies, so consider dealing with them as soon as possible.
We hope that this guide was useful to you and that you have learned something new today on how to identify and control houseplant pests. Make sure you are staying safe in these times we are all going through and have a good one, guys!
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