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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Ford

Pests that Plague Your Plants and How to Treat Them

In my experience, pests are just a part of owning indoor plants. What exactly are these pests I’m speaking of? Well, commonly, Fungus Gnats, Spider Mites, Thrips and Mealy Bugs. Less common, but still totally possible are Aphids and Scale. I know this seems like a disgusting subject, and one no one really wants to deal with them, but I’m telling you that after a while of plant ownership, pests are inevitable. No, you may not deal with all of them; maybe just one or two of them, but it’s good to be prepared and have a reference if you do! Are you starting to feel your skin crawl while reading this? Well, try to relax, because all these pests want is your plants; not you.

Fungus Gnats

Let’s start with the most common pest, fungus gnats. Gnats are really more of an annoyance than any serious plant killer. These gnats generally live in the soil and can munch on the roots of our plants, and eventually age enough to grow wings and fly, usually into your mouth or your morning coffee. See, gnats are attracted to carbon dioxide. Hence the reason they are usually around plants, but also our faces, annoying us. They want the CO2 that is leaving your breath. But, the reason they are in your coffee?? They also like things that are sweet. While that may seem a bit gross, try to envision them as a little extra morning protein. Kidding, of course.

It’s almost impossible to completely eradicate them, so rather, let’s focus on minimizing them. For the adults, I like to use Yellow Sticky Traps. What are those, you might be wondering? Well, exactly that; traps that are sticky and yellow! Just stick them in the soil at the base of your plants, and get ready to see how many of those suckers are actually flying around your home. Try not to get grossed out when a week later the trap is mostly brown with dead gnat carcasses. Just toss it in the trash and put in a new one. For the larvae, (baby gnats that can't yet fly), I personally use Systemic Granules by Bonide. On the back of the bottle is a chart that tells you how much to use based on the size of the pot. This is a chemical, and meant to be sprinkled on your soil, and then watered in. Repeat every 6-8 weeks and you will notice a huge reduction in gnats. These granules are also great as a preventative for other unwanted pests potentially feeding on your plants.

Wow, that link seems a bit long and unnecessary, but here we are.

Spider Mites, Aphids, and Thrips

Now, moving on to spider mites, aphids, and thrips. I treat them the same, even though the look and attack are very different.

If you notice leaves yellowing at an alarming rate, check the undersides of the leaves closely. Spider Mites are VERY tiny and usually look like little specks of white or light red dust. If left long enough, you can check in the crooks of the plant where the leaves meet the stem and check for any fine webbing. If left for a LONG time unchecked, your plant will look like it’s been left in a haunted house on Halloween. Now, that is an infestation that is unmistakable.

As far as thrips go, they are generally brown/black longer bodied pests with wings milling about on the undersides of the newest plant growth. They suck sap from the plants and love to leave little brown spots and blemishes in their wake.

Aphids on the other hand, come in many different colors such as bright orange, white, black, green, even gray, and are easy to see because they congregate all over the stems. They are also sap suckers, but they generally cause rapid leaf death rather than just a spot here and there.

Whichever you may have, treating them all is the same. If you see these, immediately quarantine the plant. I've found it is best to completely separate your infected plants from the non-infected ones. Put it in time out!

Start by washing off the plant's leaves. Either place your plant in the shower and spray with lukewarm water, use a hose, wash it in the sink, or simply use a wet paper towel to wipe the leaves down. Once it’s cleaned off, if you used a method other than the paper towel, let the plant drip dry. Then I take my favorite pest spray called Insecticidal Soap by Garden Safe and spray the tops and undersides of the leaves, the stems, and the top of the soil. I let that drip dry out of the sun so the chemicals don’t burn the foliage, and repeat once a week for about a month or until they are gone. When they are gone and you don’t see them anymore, you can return the plant back to its usual home.

Scale and Mealybugs

Next, we have Scale and Mealybugs. Both of which are easy to see and very identifiable. They both usually appear in clusters, except Scale generally appearing in a dark round shape with hard shells on their back, while Mealybugs are fuzzy and white. Once identified, these do not get easily knocked off or removed. Try taking a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol (which kills on contact) and attempt to remove each one until you can’t see any more. Then take the plant and treat it using the same Insecticidal Soap by Garden Safe, mentioned above. In the future weeks, every time you treat the plant, check for adults, and use more rubbing alcohol to remove them before respraying.

Hopefully, this has been helpful to minimize your pest worry, and make an easy job of getting rid of them. My advise is not to get overwhelmed, because once a pest is identified, it really takes only about 5-10 minutes to clean it up.

Keep in mind:

  • Any plant that has some type of pest, make sure to check other plants that may be near them as well.

  • Try to take care of and water your plants with the pests, last. You wouldn’t want to transfer any of those sticky pests to other plants in your collection.

As always, these blogs are simply my opinion. I have a thriving collection of 89 plants and counting, and these are tips and tricks and products I’ve used and loved along the way. At the end of the day, you can do your own research and feel free to let me know if you ever find anything you think works better! The plant journey is an ever learning one.

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