Let’s talk pests. On plants, in pots.
There is a variety of different insects that can wreak havoc on your plants, and a few that may wreak havoc on your patience (fungus gnats). Thankfully with a few steps, you can combat the pests and enjoy your indoor jungle in peace. While prevention is the best thing when it comes to plant pests, bugs will eventually happen. So when you do get them, It may take time and repeated treatments, but if you do get pests, there are ways to control them. Click here to jump right to the products I use.
Types of pests I will talk about:
First, prevention. What can you do to keep creepy crawlies from coming into your humble abode? Well, the key thing is to quarantine new plants before introducing them to the rest of the plant gang. I know the feeling of wanting to put a new plant on a hanging shelf on display as soon as you bring it home, but even if you inspect new plants, often there can be a hidden mealy bug in the crevice of a plant, a spider mite so small you can’t see it at first glance, or eggs lying in the soil, just waiting to hatch. Sounds like a horror movie right? I hear you, bugs are the cause of my worst nightmares. Outside of quarantining new plants, I also have a routine of cleaning the leaves very well, by hosing them off with a garden hose or a shower when I bring them home and then spraying the leaves with a natural pest control spray, my DIY foliage spray or an insecticidal soap a few times over the first week. I choose something like a natural spray or an insecticidal soap because with a plant that is already adapting to a new environment, I try to limit the use of harsh chemicals on the plant. I also closely inspect the leaves (both front and back), stems and the top of the soil every couple of days during the quarantine period.
To read more on insect control products, my thoughts on different kinds of more natural options (comparing neem oil to Earth’s Ally/Rosemary oil) and how to make a DIY spray, visit our pest prevention & pesticide post.
Early signs of insects on plants should be watched for, as the earlier you can stop insects, the better. This can be tricky if you don’t see the bugs themselves, because a lot of the damage you may notice, can also be caused by sun damage, lack of sun, over and under watering, fertilizer burn, fungus, disease, etc. However, if you notice some of the following signs, you will know to inspect the plant closely, to try to find pests or determine if the cause could be one of the other items I noted. Leaves with changes in color or texture, with spots, yellowing or dark patches on the leaves. Distortion of leaves can also be a sign of insects, or with holes in them. Small webs on the underside of leaves, or small orange or black raised dots on the stems of leaves, can also be clear signs.
So once you have determined that there are pests, the next step is tackling what kind of pest you have and beginning treatment. The diagnoses can be extremely tricky, as many pests that attack plants are so small, you may have a hard time spotting them with the naked eye. I personally use a magnifying glass for pests, to inspect the plant and to determine what type of pests are on the plant.
Pest types & treatments
Spider mites are one of the tiniest plant targeting bugs. You may not even see the mites by the time you know you have an invasion, however, you may see small webs underneath the leaves or what looks to be a thick layer of dust in clumps on the leaves. .
Treatment: repetition is key in the case of spider mites. I also recommend alternating treatments as bugs can adapt and start to build up a tolerance to the treatment.
Before you treat, the best thing you can do is hose off ALL of the leaves and stems. Then, use a spray such as a natural oil based spray, my DIY spray, or insecticidal soap, spray down the leaves, then wipe them off with a paper towel, making sure to get in all of the hiding spaces, then spray them again. Repeat this process every 3 days (the eggs hatch every 3 days, so even if you got the adults on the first go, you may not have gotten the unborn mites), for a total of three treatments. While your plant is still quarantined, I would personally keep inspecting it for another couple of weeks to ensure you have killed them all.
Small tiny crawling bugs, typically on the underside of leaves. They love new leaves as well. I personally noticed them after inspecting leaves that had started looking patchy and discolored.
Thrips are hard because the need a very specific kind of treatment. In order to combat thrips, you will need a spinosad based treatment. I first hosed off my plant very well, and then similar to treating spider mites however, you will need to repeat the treatment 3 times, every 3-4 days. I also added insect granules to the soil to help the plant protect itself from future thrips!
Millipedes typically only feed on decaying matter. However when they multiply (which they do at an alarming speed) and eventually run out of decaying plant matter, they will turn to the healthy plant. I first noticed just a couple millipedes on the top of the soil, in my plant, and just removed them from the soil. Once I noticed a steep decline to the plant, I knew there was a bigger problem. The millipedes had multiplied seemingly overnight and it felt like there were 100s.
Nothing worked to kill them, insect sprays, caterpillar killer, insecticidal soap, etc. In Fact, all of the treatments I tried seemed to be stressing the plant more. So, I took drastic measures. I took the plant out of the existing pot, removed ALL of the soil, every single spec, from the roots, and disposed of the soil, to prevent them from spreading outside. Then I hosed down the plant very well, including all of the roots, sprayed the entire plant with insecticidal soap and neem oil, and replanted it with fresh soil in a new pot. So far, they have been gone for about 6 months now, so it seems to have worked and the plant is in full recovery!
Scale looks like an immobile tiny yellow lady bug, however their appearance can vary drastically (they can be white, brown, black or red) and can be found usually hanging around on the stems of plants. In my experience, they like to target woody stems or thick fleshy leaves but I don’t think that they discriminate.
Treatment, when detected early, can be fairly easy for these, however, they can come back with a vengeance and if left undetected can be extremely difficult to treat. Using a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol on it, dab the scale to kill it, and then scrape it off of the plant. Make sure to inspect the rest of the plant for any more scale. I then used my DIY plant spray and sprayed down the leaves every few days, for about a week and a half as an extra precaution. I then used insect granules in the soil.
Mealy bugs are super creepy looking, however relatively easy to treat when caught early. But they are quick to spread, so quarantine as early as possible! Mealy bugs are wingless critters that look like itty bitty cotton balls on plants. They feed on plants, as well as fruit and other produce, so they can hitch a ride on a new house plant or in your grocery bags (I know, its scary to consider.)
Using the same method as with scale, put rubbing alcohol on a q-tip and get the bugs individually, then use an alcohol based spray, like my DIY plant spray, and spray down the entire plant. Carefully inspect the plant, in every crevice, and continue to inspect the plant for a few weeks for any remaining bugs! I also add insect granules to the soil as another step to stop the bugs!
Like tiny annoying fruit flies, fungus gnats seem to come out of nowhere, and are a huge nuisance. Although they do not really cause harm to plants, they may cause harm to your sanity and mental health. (I know they did for mine). Fungus gnats thrive in soil that is very moist and lay eggs in over watered soil. The best way to prevent and treat fungus gnats is by using a well draining soil and a pot with sufficient drainage. Check out my post on what’s in my aroid soil and why, to learn about different additives you can use to help with drainage and what kind of soil I use. Certain cheap, common soil can often come with fungus gnats already in it, so do research before choosing a soil brand, or talk to your local nursery.
If you do get fungus gnats, repotting plants, with a good soil mix, in a well draining pot, is an option. This is the best long term solution in my opinion, if you have a bad infestation. If you only have a few fungus gnats, using sticky traps, a natural insect spray and putting diatomaceous earth, mosquito bits in the top of the soil or sprinkling cinnamon around the top of the plant are good ways to get rid of them and prevent them from breeding more.
Products for Plant Insects
Here are the products I use for controlling insects. Visit our post on insect prevention & pesticides, where I have a detailed comparison of 2 minimum risk pesticides (Earth’s Ally and Neem oil) and my DIY insect spray.
Insect Control Products
We are constantly learning more about our plants, what they enjoy and what we genuinely like using, so this list is ever evolving! We also post a lot about the products we currently using on our Instagram.
This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something we may earn a small commission. Thank you!
- Neem Oil: https://amzn.to/2CUK9jH
- Earth’s Ally Insect Control: https://amzn.to/3hCB5Pl – smells great
- Bonide (BND951) – Systemic House Plant Insect Control Granules (HousePlants): https://amzn.to/3k57Aab
- Bonide (BND952) – Insect Control Systemic Granules (Outdoor): https://amzn.to/35mejYT
- Captain Jacks Spinosad: https://amzn.to/33b5xuW
- Captain Jack’s concentrate: https://amzn.to/397lJRK
- Diatomaceous Earth: https://amzn.to/3nOeJO0
- Ground Cinnamon: https://amzn.to/39PVJaj – natural anti fungal!
- Sticky Traps for Fungus Gnats :https://amzn.to/2Jpy1a6
- Safer Brand Insect Soap: https://amzn.to/3fviiWf
- Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap:
- Magnifying Glass (for checking for bugs!): https://amzn.to/3jFUBMK
- Glass Amber spray bottles (for DIY soap):
- Mosquito Dunks: https://amzn.to/338I4uG
- Mosquito Bits: https://amzn.to/2UQCDvF