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Pests of Indoor Houseplants…and How To Get Rid of Them!

August 15, 2013

If you are reading this blog you probably love houseplants. So do we! What we don’t like, however, are the nasty pests that can get on our plants and ruin their appearance or even kill them. So today we’ll write about some of those pests, how to identify them, and what to do if you find them.


Please keep in mind:

  • Early detection is important!

  • Check for pests before you buy.

  • Watch new plants closely for signs of pests.

  • Knowledge is power! Research specific pests for the best treatment options.

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices.

  • Organic vs. conventional treatment methods – whichever option you choose, be sure to read the product label!


Fungus gnats

  • These are flying pests that lay eggs in the soil of house plants. They don’t do much damage to the plant, but they tend to annoy people by flying around the head or accumulating on windowsills.

  • There are several look-alikes: fruit flies, shore flies, drain flies, etc. Many of these aren’t actually in your plant and require different methods of control from fungus gnats.

  • Methods of control:

    • Keep the soil on the dry side. Dispose of any standing water and dead organic material.

    • Repot the plant, removing all loose soil and replacing with fresh soil. Sterilize the container.

    • Catch the adults and monitor the populations with yellow sticky traps.

    • Treat with insecticide, Bti, nematodes, or soapy water solutions.


Spider mites

  • These are very small pests that are barely visible to the naked eye. They can be red, yellowish, or greenish. On some species you can see two dark spots on the back of the mite. They will often be accompanied by very fine webs and very small, whitish “dust” which is made up of their eggs and shed skins. If you bump a live mite with your fingernail it will run away.

  • Early detection is very important with spider mites! Try to detect them before the webs appear. Keep an eye out for:

    • Very fine white or yellowish stippling on the plant leaves. (Feeding damage)

    • Affected plants may look or feel dusty or gritty.

    • A Kleenex dabbed with a little rubbing alcohol and wiped along the underside of the leaf will come away yellow, greenish, or reddish if there are live mites present.

  • Mites have favorite foods, which should always be watched closely to prevent infestations. These plants include (but are not limited to) cast iron plants, palms, crotons, English ivies, Dracaena marginatas, gardenias, hibiscus, and scheffleras.

  • Methods of control:

    • Keep the plant as healthy as possible by providing adequate light and moisture.

    • Wipe off or spray foliage with soap, water, and rubbing alcohol mixture once a week for 3-4 weeks. Neem oil also works on mites. Be sure to pay particular attention to the undersides of the leaves.

    • There are also pesticides available labeled to treat mites.

    • Keep the plant in a cooler area and the humidity higher if possible, as mites prefer hot dry conditions.


Mealy bug

  • These are white cottony blobs that hang out in the nooks and crannies of your plants. Favorite plants include aglaonemas, ficus, pothos, philodendrons, dracaeans, and birds of paradise.

  • Will produce clear, sticky honey dew when populations are high.

  • Mealy bugs are notorious for showing up again several months after you think you’ve gotten rid of them, so keep an eye out for more.

  • Methods of control:

    • Hand squish or remove with baby wipes

    • Spray with soap, alcohol, and water mixture or Brand X. Neem oil will also work. Spray weekly for 3-4 weeks

    • Soil systemics with Imiclodprid work well on severe infestations.



  • These guys look like little bumps on the stems and leaves. There are three different types that we regularly see indoors: soft scale, armored scale, and snow scale.

    • Soft scale: usually brownish or grayish, irregular oval shaped. 1/8” – ¼” in diameter. Will flake off easily with a fingernail, and be a little soft and gushy. Soft scales generally produce copious amounts of honey dew.

    • Armored scale: often dark brown, white, or blackish in color, and very circular. They are harder to scrape off that soft scale, and produce no honey dew.

    • Snow scale: 1/8” long, thin, and white or light grey. Does not produce honeydew. Snow scale is usually found on liriope and aspidistras, occasionally on palms, and prefers to be low down on the stem near the soil line.

  • Methods of control:

    • Wipe off with a damp rag or sponge. Check stems and undersides of the leaves in particular.

    • Because of their little shells they are often hard to control with sprays. Neem oil and leaf shines will smother them, but many other sprays will not work.

    • Soil systemics labeled for scale generally work very well, but may take some time to work. For large trees ACE caps are very effective.



  • Often green, light brown, black, or yellow. They are 1/8” long and very quick moving. They may jump if disturbed. Their damage looks like silvery or translucent patches on the leaf, distorted new growth, and small irregular feeding trails in patches. They will also leave small black fecal matter on the undersides of leaves that look like poppy seeds.

  • Thrips can feed on many plants, but their favorites are hibiscus, anthuriums, scheffleras, pothos, ficus, and jasmine.

  • Methods of control:

    • Thrips can be difficult to get rid of, but spraying weekly with soap, water, and alcohol or Neem oil will cut down on the population. Spray for at least 3-4 weeks.

    • Thrips have a life stage in the soil of the plant, so it can also help to place blue sticky traps near the soil surface.

    • There are also pesticides available for the treatment of thrips.

    • Keep the plant in a cooler area and the humidity higher if possible, as thrips prefer hot dry conditions.



  • Oval in shape, 1/8” long. Often green, yellowish, or black. They are slow moving, but you can generally see their little antennae waving about. Aphids typically congregate around the stems of new growth.

  • They can affect many plants, but aphids are found most often on scheffleras, indoor herbs, and hibiscus.

  • While indoor plants can get aphids all year long, they are most commonly found in spring and fall.

  • Methods of control:

    • Hand squishing and wiping, spraying with streams of water

    • Sprays of soap, alcohol, and water or Brand X or Neem oil.

    • Pesticides labeled for the control of aphids



  • Diseases of interior plants can be easily confused with nutrient deficiencies or improper watering. They are often difficult to identify and even more difficult to treat, but can be controlled if detected early.

    • Fungal diseases usually produce leaf spots with concentric rings of dead or dying tissue. They can also cause stem and root rots. Sometimes you can see small dots of spores in the affected area.

    • Bacterial diseases generally result in slimy leaf spots or stems. Leaf spots will often look water-soaked, and stems will dissolve into smelly mush. Roots with a bacterial disease may also smell sour.

    • Viruses are not often seen on indoor plants, but often result in bizarre discolored patterns across the leaves.

  • Methods of control:

    • Provide your plant with adequate light and water. A stressed plant is more likely to get sick.

    • Remove any leaves that develop unusual spots.

    • Sterilize scissors and pruning tools to avoid spreading disease. Use new, sterile soil when repotting.

    • Keep water off of the leaves of affected plants, as this can spread the disease.

    • Neem oil and Brand X may provide some protection from disease

    • There are fungicides out there, but may not be many available for retail


While it can be very discouraging when we discover a pest on a beloved plant, most pests are very treatable with thorough treatments and a little patience. We at Green Connection are very happy to help with identification or treatment recommendations. Good luck on your pest safari!


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