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Pest Control on Indoor Plants

Pest Control on Indoor Plants
By Haley Fox - Indoor Plant Specialist

Pests are something we will inevitably encounter as plant collectors. In spite of all the detailed care and love we provide to our plants, nature is nature! Pests can easily enter the home through open windows, they can hitch a ride on other bugs, or even be living on the newest plant you just picked up. Establishing a consistent care routine will help your plant be more resistant to potential pests; and If you notice pests on one of you plants - Isolate it right away. This will prevent further spread of the pest.

The most common pests we encounter are scale, aphids, mealy - bug, fungus gnats, and spider mites. We’ll go over how to identify and eradicate them. Many of these methods of eradication will be useful in a treatment plan for other pests I don’t discuss.

Let’s start with scale; Scale is characterized by shinny and sticky leaves - this is the result of small nub like creatures that suck the sap out of your plant. Luckily, scale become immobile shortly after birth, so if you catch the infestation early on, you can contain it just as quickly! Removing scale from the affected plant can be difficult, as their hard outter bodies shelter their soft inner body. Therefore, your best method of treatment is to use an organic insecticidal soap to kill the eggs, and while that soaks in, scrape the existing scale off with a sharp object.

Scale often surfaces when a plant goes too dry. Make sure you are watering regularly, and During any infestation, keep up with your watering routine as usual. In extreme cases, you may want to prune the infected area all together. Make sure to sterilize your sheers before and after pruning any plant with pests.

Aphids are soft body insects - they can be green, orange, or brown. Aphids tend to feed on your plants new growth and you will often find them at the tips of your plant. Similar to scale, they excrete a sugary waste as they feed on the sap of your houseplants. This could cause a secondary infestation of ants as well as sooty mold. Sooty mold will not cause much damage to your plant, however it will engulf the leaf causing discoloration.

Aphids are also very mobile and can spread quickly. My first recommendation is to take your plant directly to the shower. The pressure of the water should be enough to dislodge them – you may need to rub the leaves with your fingers to remove any remaining aphids. Luckily, this step is generally enough to calm the infestation. If I find any stragglers, I mix together water with an all-natural soap, and spray that on the affected area.

Mealy bug are those little white “specks of dust” on your plant. They populate quickly and settle into the small nooks of you plant, making It very difficult to get rid of. Mealy bug is another one that seems to take hold of a plant that is going too dry. I have had mealy bug primarily occur in ferns, and it can be very difficult to treat. My first suggestion is to rinse the plant off on your patio or in the shower - this will dislodge many of the bugs and hopefully wash away their eggs too. From here, you can mix rubbing alcohol with water in a spray bottle and apply to the entire plant. This can be very timely and may need to be repeated. As I mentioned previously, it is so important to make sure you are isolating any plant you’re treating for pests and leave it isolated until you are confident the situation has resolved.

If you’re struggling with those tiny little gnats swarming your favorite plant - here’s what’s going on. Your plant is likely too wet. This may be from over watering, it may be lingering in standing water, or perhaps just not drying out in a timely manner. Moist soil is a magnet for these gnats. They are also highly attracted to rich, organic soil. Those odors are particularly potent upon watering. Make sure your plant is drying out enough between watering and that you’re providing adequate drainage. In the meantime, to eradicate the gnats, I mix together apple cider vinegar and dish soap in a shallow container. I left this by the affected plant and in a few days I had no more gnats, You could also invest in sticky patches made just for those gnats, they will stick right to it.

Lastly, lets cover spider mites. Spider mites can be hard to see, but can be identified by tiny little webs in the notches of your plant or a bronzing of the leaves. They can multiply quickly in hot and dry conditions similar to the other pests we’ve discussed.

They damage the leaf by piercing the underside causing a veiny discoloration. Rinsing your plant with a hose will help dislodge most of the spider mites. As for what remains you can treat with neem oil. Neem oil is a fantastic remedy for most all pests, even those we didn’t discuss today. Its a plant based solution and about as natural of a treatment as you can find. As a preventative measure, you can always spritz your plants monthly with neem oil to eliminate any existing pests or to kill any eggs that may be developing on your plant.

Lastly, one important tip for avoiding pests, is to keep your indoor collections separate from your outdoor. Many of us may take our plants to our patios or backyards for a watering, this can expose them to several pests we’ve covered here. Keep your plants well watered, and keep a close watch to catch the infestation before it spreads!

In conclusion - though pests can be frustrating to encounter, with early treatment and preventative measures, you will be able to resolve these infestations and continue to enjoy your collection! Happy growing!


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Credit for Mealybug picture:
David Short from Windsor, UK LINK

Credit for Aphids Picture:
aroid from San Luis Obispo, CA, USA LINK

Credit for Scale Picture:
Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium LINK

Credit for Spider Mites Picture:
Forest & Kim Starr US LINK

Credit for Fungus Gnats Picture:
John Tann from Sydney, Australia LINK