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Quick Help For Common Houseplants

Plant Bugs and Pests


In our years of experience we have heard many complaints about harmless bugs like ants, worms, rolly polly bugs, spiders, slugs etc. While they might not be attractive or pleasant they rarely pose a threat to you or your plant's health. And most growers do not use pesticide to get rid of these bugs. In a dry climate and with no food to sustain them, most "bugs" go away on their own. Plants die from improper watering, poor lighting conditions, and improper use of pesticides not worms or ants.

Proper light, water, and fertilizer keep a plant more bug resistant. So try to be consistent in your care, and check bug prone plants regularly.

The pests we have to look for, that will damage our plants are: mealy bug, scale, aphids, spider mite, white fly, and sometimes soil gnats. Most all of these pests (except soil gnats) are first noticed on tender new growth in between the leaves that join the stem, on the underside of the leaf, and on the flower buds. It is best to identify the pest you have before you begin the treatment.

Mealy bug appears in white cottony blobs and sometimes a few solitary mealy in the early stages of their residence. They nestle themselves in the nooks and crannies of your plants, where it's hard to spray. Watch out for this especially on the hindu rope hoya. Your spray will have to make contact with the mealy bug. If you have followed the steps for mealy bug treatment and they reoccur, you may need to do a soil drench or use a systemic to kill any mealy that might be living in the soil.

Scale is a slow moving, hard shelled pest that looks like a small raised bump on your plant's stem. You can pick the scale off with your finger nail. The shell protects the scale babies underneath. Scale comes in different colors like brown, white, and black. Both mealy bug, scale, and aphids secrete a honeydew on the leaf which resembles the stickiness of soda pop. If you see the honeydew look for the pest. For control of scale, spray with an oil soap, insecticidal soap, or rubbing alcohol with a small amount of dish soap mixed in. Another good method of controlling scale is to wipe, pick, or scrub off the insect. Persistence is extremely important here.

Aphids are a typical outdoor pest. They will get on your indoor plants. Mostly attacking the new growth and they are very attracted to plants that bloom (Watch the blooms). Aphids come in black, green, and yellow colors. You will usually find aphids in the summer time.

Spider mite do the most damage. They reproduce the fastest. They look like walking bits of dust. If you have a magnifying glass you can see their spider bodies. They are mostly found on the undersides of the leaves. They lay tiny white eggs which hatch weekly, and the mature adults lay more eggs. In no time they are all over the plant sucking chloriphyl out of the leaves, as a result the foliage loses it's color permanently. A later stage of infestation is seen by webbing between the leaves. This is their super highway. These webs shield the bugs from spray. Try wiping or breaking up the webs before treatment. If the entire plant is badly damaged and webbed over it might be best to throw the plant out and get a new one. The eggs are not effected by the spray so you have to make sure the spray makes contact the bug. You also have to repeat your sprayings as each new generation hatches out. Stay on a once a week spray schedule for at least three sprayings.

White fly is a mobile pest. It's eggs are seen first as white dots on the underside of the leaf. After they hatch, they become a small white flying insect. When the foliage is disturbed they fly out. Most plants are not succeptible to whitefly, but the plants they do like (hibiscus) they can kill in a matter of weeks.

Soil gnats are also mobile, but they do not kill plants. They do not bite people, but they fly around your nose and eyes. They live in soils that are kept moist and soggy. They lay their eggs in the top two inches of the plant's soil. One good control method is to dry the plant's soil out. This will destroy their habit. A soil dreanch will also kill the larva that hatch in the soil. The flying adults do not live very long.


You have a choice between using a commercial chemical labeled for the pest and for indoor use, or you can concoct your own home remedy. Either road you take is fine, just don't put it off. A heavily infested plant will be aesthetically damaged, vulnerable to disease, and difficult to cure. Know your plants and what bugs favor them so your can watch for, and treat them early.


DISH SOAP AND WARM WATER (about 1 Tablespoon per pint)

RUBBING ALCOHOL (and about 1/2 teaspoon soap)



NOTE: These home remedies are diluted with water, usually. You will have to experiment to see what works, and to see what is gentle on the plant.


You can use a systemic to curb the bug problem. A systemic is a chemical taken up by the root system, distributed throughout the plant and to the foliage. The sucking insect ingests the poison.

Another method is to physically wipe or pick off the bug. Sponges or soft brushes dipped in a soapy alcohol mixture are even more effective. Rinse your tools in hot water and let dry completely to make sure that you don't spread bug eggs from one plant to the next.

Dead bugs do not fall off on their own. It can be deceiving because their dried bodies will remain on the plant. Touching the bugs will give you an indication if they are alive. Scale, if alive are squishy and juicy. This holds true for mealy bug as well. Spider mite and aphids will walk when pushed on. And flying insects, well, they'll fly.

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