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BONNIE’S GARDEN – How to Get Rid of Common Houseplant Pests

By Bonnie Pega
Bonnie's Garden

It’s the end of January and my houseplants have been indoors since October. So should I do anything with them now? Yes!

Examine them for insects. All it takes is a missed egg or two and, indoors, with no natural predators, you can have a problem. Here are some of the most common pests:

Common Houseplant Pests

Aphids

Aphids tend to cluster on the newest tender leaves and/or stems. They come in a variety of colors, so look for pale green, yellow, tan, brown, or black. They can be plentiful but, thank goodness, are fairly easy to get rid of. You can wash them off with soapy water or spray with an alcohol and water spray (mix equal parts of rubbing alcohol and water). You might need to repeat it a time or two in case you miss any eggs. Insecticidal soap, pyrethrins, or Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew are also very effective.

Mealybugs and Scale

Mealybugs look like little bits of white cotton fuzz. Scale looks like little oval “bumps” in tan, brown, or black that you can pick off with a fingernail. Sometimes, one of the first things people notice is a clear sticky “sap” like substance on the foliage, windowsill, or floor. Both mealies and scales produce this “honeydew”. Taking care of them will take care of that.

The alcohol and water solution is very effective against mealybugs, as well as the sprays mentioned above. For scale, either horticultural oil or Neem oil is more effective. They cover the scale and “smother” them.

Gnats

If you see gnats flying about your plant, they are most likely fungus gnats. The adult gnats lay their eggs on decaying organic debris in the soil. The larvae feed on the debris and hatch into more gnats. They are not hurting your plants but are certainly annoying. AND—they are a clear danger signal that your plants are staying too wet! Even delicate leaved plants like ferns, etc. should dry out an inch or so down. Keeping the soil surface damp at all times means there is always “rotting” debris to attract the fungus gnats!

To address the gnat problem, pull a gallon of tap water and let it stand overnight. In the morning, add four tablespoons of plain bleach and drench the soil. That will take care of larvae in the soil. A sticky trap or two around the plant should take care of any adults. That said, if you do not correct your watering habits—THEY WILL RETURN!

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4 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN – How to Get Rid of Common Houseplant Pests

  1. Does anything get rid of fruit flies? They seem to be gone for a day and then are back no matter what I do.
    Tired of fly strips and various concoctions but do not want to be toxic…

  2. I have webs on one of my Christmas cactus. What is the cause and how to I treat it? Thank you.

  3. Nancy, if these are fine tiny little webs on the undersides of some of the foliage, it may be spider mites. The alcohol and water spray will likely take care of it. If they are bigger and over the top of the foliage, it’s more than likely a regular spider who’s taking advantage of your nice warm and dry house to live out the winter. Look for that one at night–with a flashlight. If you find it hiding on the back of a leaf or the side of the pot, just wash it off.

  4. Angela, are you sure they are fruit flies? If they’re around your plants, they are more than likely fungus gnats. If they are more populated in the kitchen, then they are likely fruit flies. I buy a lot of fresh produce from our Farmers Market so I occasionally have to battle fruit flies. I have a lot of success by filling a bowl with apple cider vinegar, covering it with Saran wrap, then poking a pencil hole in the wrap. Fruit flies get in, but can’t get back out. Then I hand a couple of sticky traps around to catch any fliers. Do make sure, when you bring in fresh fruit, for example, that you cover anything you don’t refrigerate.

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