The thing with living plants is they sometimes attract unwanted bugs. No matter what you do to prevent this, it's inevitable that one day, you might find some of these little critters on your plants. Catching these pests early is the key to saving your houseplants. When you water and clean your leaves, take note of anything that looks unusual.
We've put together a list of different houseplant pests to help guide you if you suspect your plants are homing unwanted invaders.
Aphids are small sap-sucking insects and members of the superfamily Aphidoidea. They are small, soft-bodied insects that feed by sucking the nutrient-rich liquids out of plants. Aphids multiply quickly, so it’s important to get them under control before reproduction starts.
Aphids are tiny (adults are under ¼-inch), and often nearly invisible to the naked eye. Various species can appear white, black, brown, grey, yellow, light green, or even sometimes pink. Some may have a waxy or woolly coating. They have pear-shaped bodies with long antennae; the nymphs look similar to adults. Most species have two short tubes (called cornicles) projecting from their hind end.
Look for misshapen, curling, stunted, or yellowing leaves. Be sure to check the undersides of leaves; aphids love to hide there. If the leaves or stems are covered with a sticky substance, that is a sign that aphids may have been sipping sap. This “honeydew,” a sugary liquid produced by the insects as waste, can attract other insects, such as ants, which gather the substance for food.
How to fix this?
Mix water and green sunlight soap to form a light foam. Never use dishwashing liquid or detergents containing chemicals, but Sunlight Liquid is safe to use. Dip a sponge or small cloth in this soapy water and carefully wipe the aphids from the plants. Repeat the process three times at three-day intervals. One variation of this soap-water mix includes cayenne pepper: Stir together 1 quart water, 1 tsp liquid dish soap, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Do not dilute before spraying on plants.
Spider-mites are tiny insects that spin webs at the bottom of leaves and sucks out the nutrient-rich liquids from the plant it's infesting.
A plant that is infested by red spider mites will start to look unhealthy and will have a dusty appearance on the undersides of its leaves. Close inspection will reveal that the dust is actually moving and is in fact the spider mites. The plant may also have some webbing on the underside or on the branches of the plant.
How to fix this?
To treat a plant for spider mites, the first step is to hose the plant down under the sink or shower hose to dislodge the bugs. Wipe the plant down with an insecticide, such as neem oil. For serious infestations that are undeterred by neem oil, insecticidal soap is a stronger treatment option.
Mealybugs are insects in the family Pseudococcidae, unarmored scale insects found in moist, warm habitats. Mealybugs like to suck the sap out of the leaves and stems of your houseplants.
If you see what looks like white fluffy cotton on your houseplant, then it’s an indication that you may have a mealybug infestation. Mealybugs like to hide along the veins of leaves and around the leaf joints. Mealybugs are tiny white bugs on houseplants, and most commonly look like white fluff on plants leaves and stems. Younger Mealybugs can also appear brown or cream coloured as well as waxy. Sometimes they don’t look like insects, and are commonly mistaken for fungus or mildew rather than plant bugs.
How to fix this?
Homemade dish soap spray - Soap will suffocate mealybugs. Combine 1 tablespoon of dish soap with a quart of water and spray down your plant. Test the spray on one leaf before applying to the rest, and repeat every few days as needed. An alternative is apple cider vinegar which stops the molting process of mealybugs, and will also help to kill the majority of pests on the plants. Apple cider vinegar is completely safe for your plants, and there is no harm to repeat the same mixture on consecutive days.
Scale is a problem with many houseplants. Scale insects suck sap from plants, robbing them of essential nutrients.
Scale insects thrive in warm, dry environments. The scale bug is small, oval and flat, with a protective tan to brown shell-like covering giving them their name scale. Scale generally targets the undersides of leaves and around leaf joints. Scale-damaged plants look straggly and sick, the leaves turn yellow and may start dropping from the plant. They may also leave a sticky sap or a black fungus on the leaves and stems.
How to fix this?
Crawlers may be detected by placing double-sticky tape on plant branches. Insecticidal soap is a safe and effective alternative to conventional insecticides. You can use bleach-free dishwashing liquid (1 1/2 teaspoons per 1 liter or 7ml per liter of water) in place of commercial insecticide soaps. Homemade control of plant scale can also be achieved with oil spray. Mix 2 tablespoons (29.5 ml) of cooking oil and 2 tablespoons (29.5 ml) of baby shampoo in 1 liter of water. This can also be mixed with 1 cup (236.5 ml) of alcohol to help penetrate the insect’s shell. If a fungus is also present, add 2 tablespoons (29.5 ml) of baking soda. Shake well before and during application. Spray every five to seven days as needed, covering both sides of the foliage. Wash the leaves individually with the soap/oil mixture and rinse well.
Fungus gnats are from the families Mycetophilidae and Sciaridae. These are a common pests of houseplants, especially where humidity and moisture are high.
Adults Fungus gnats are small, greyish black, mosquito-like flies with long legs and one pair of clear wings. They are not strong fliers and emerge from potted plants, especially when watering. The larvae or maggots have a shiny black head and an elongated, whitish to transparent body. You'll find these bugs in damp and rich soil. They like feeding on root hairs, fungi and other organic materials. Plant symptoms that indicate fungal gnats are seen as sudden wilting, poor growth, and yellowing.
How to fix this?
Fungus gnats do best in damp soils so be careful not to overwater, especially during winter months when plants use less water. If pests are present, allow the soil to dry to a depth of one to two inches between waterings. This not only kills larvae and inhibits the development of eggs, it also makes the soil less attractive to egg-laying females. Use Yellow Sticky Traps placed horizontally at the soil surface to capture large numbers of egg laying adults. The gnats are attracted to yellow and are easily removed on the trap before they can lay more eggs.
AzaMax contains azadirachtin, the key insecticidal ingredient found in neem oil. Mix 1 Tbsp per 4 liters of water and apply as a soil drench for effective control of soil-borne insect larvae. With badly invasive gnats, repeat the application every 5 to 6 days. A homemade Fungus gnats recipe is a combination of peppermint, cinnamon and sesame oils. This is a non-toxic spray that will get rid of gnats and other insects that gather around windows.
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