Tips to Get Rid of Houseplant Pests: Fungus Gnats, Mealies, and Thrips, Oh My!

Houseplant Pests

If you have plants, you likely have houseplant pests, too. And even though you did not mean to bring the pests home, you might feel as though you are stuck with them.

Fortunately, there is a way for you to enjoy your houseplants and mitigate the pests issue.

But, it does take time to get rid of houseplant pest issues entirely.

One of Us One of Us

Ever since the beginning of social distancing, many of us are stuck inside looking for a new hobby.

We set out and kept busy learning to keep indoor plants alive, and the next thing we knew, we had 45 new plants vying for prime spots at our windows.

We started hanging our plants with lovely hangers and even learning how to macrame our own plant hangers. Now, it’s a current and ongoing obsession if we are honest.

All was well for quite some time until we noticed the stickiness from aphids and a large number of fungus gnats flitting about like they owned the place.

Household pests were on the verge of ruining this fantastic oasis, and something needed to be done.

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Unwanted Company in Your Houseplants

Household plants are a beacon of hope for bugs and pests. Indoor growing conditions for plants are very appealing to nuisances.

Bugs really like the air circulation, or lack thereof, because high winds destroy small flies.

Also, higher levels of humidity, standing water, and moist soil are havens to some pests.

Say Hello to My Little Friends

You are not inviting all the common outdoor bugs into your home if you have plants.

But there are some common houseplant pests to look for.

Spider Mites

If you notice your leaves have little light-colored dots and the leaves begin to fade to bronze color, you might have spider mites.

You have to look very close to see spider mites scurrying about on your plant, sucking the sap out of the leaves.

After a while, you notice webbing on your leaves and stems, which tells you the population is booming.

You could handle spider mites with an insecticide from a store or one that you make yourself. Another option is a predatory mite, which is all discussed below.

Aphids

Aphids are little pests that travel quickly from plant to plant and feast off the sap from plants. They like new growth, and they go for the fresh green stems making your new foliage look rough.

If the infestation is bad enough, you may see the aphids clustered over the stems of new growth.

You might also notice your plants are sticky, or if you have a hanging plant, there might be sticky residue under the plant.

Also, ants really like this sticky residue, called honeydew, and when you see those ants, it should confirm your infestation of aphids.

You can wash aphids away with a decent stream of water. You might also try using fragrance-free dish soap to make a weak mixture and spray your plant’s leaves on top and bottom.

Neem oil and insecticides are also great options for safely eliminating aphids. Also, you could wipe the leaves with rubbing alcohol, but not all plants like rubbing alcohol.

Fungus Gnats

Fungus gnats are horrid little flies that love the soil in your houseplant pots.

These flies love the moisture in the top couple inches of your plants.

You could dry your plant’s soil out by delaying watering them.

However, if you have plants as we do, they dramatically die if you vary from their watering cycle. Some plants are fussy like that.

You can help prevent fungus gnats by adding pea rocks or sand to the top of the soil because that makes it harder for them to get to the soil.

Also, castile soap mixed with water will kill the larvae, as does a fungicide.

Thrips

Thrips are the color of hay, and they love the underside of houseplant leaves. These houseplant pests love the juices from plants.

This pest is tough to see because they are so small, and as the thrip population booms on your houseplants, you may notice silver streaks on your leaves. As the infestation gets worse, you may see brown streaks.

Manage thrips with neem oil or an insecticide spray.

Whiteflies

Whiteflies are tiny whiteflies that infest your plants and do damage, all while inviting even more pests to their party.

Also, whiteflies suck on your plants and flowers’ sap, which causes that part of your plant to die off. Eventually, whiteflies can kill your houseplant.

The honeydew created, just like aphids, attracts ants and fungal diseases, which can further damage plants.

Neem oil usually works to eliminate whiteflies, as does a weak concoction of water and dish soap. Also, consider sticky traps or an insecticide.

Mealybugs

If you think you have whiteflies, but you notice they do not fly around when you disturb the leaves, you have mealybugs.

Mealybugs have a white powder wax over them, and they go for the sap inside the leaves.

Also, this is another pest that secretes a sticky honeydew that brings its own set of problems.

A full-on infestation of mealybugs is challenging to manage; in some cases, you may have to say goodbye to your plant entirely.

Fortunately, mealybugs are local to the plant and will not spread to the other houseplants.

If you catch the infestation early enough, you can try going after the bugs with rubbing alcohol. Also, an insecticide is effective.

Preventing the Infestation When You Bring Home a New Plant

Bringing home a new houseplant is fun. However, instead of getting your plant home and immediately setting it up with its new friends, you must ensure the plant does not have its own infestation waiting to damage your other plants.

Inspect new plants

Take a good look at your new plant. You want to look for bugs, eggs, and webs.

Be sure to inspect the underneath of the leaves where pests like to hang out and feast. And be careful to look at new growth, too.

Quarantine new plants

If you are like us, you may already have a staggered approach to introducing new plants, so you do not have to explain that, yes, you bought a new plant because leaving it at the store to feel neglected was just not an option for you.

Since you are hiding your plant habit and later pretending the plant “has been there the whole time, what are you even talking about,” take the time to quarantine your new friend to ensure you did not bring any extra “friends” home.

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It’s tricky tricky tricky

This quarantine and inspection process is essential because bugs can hide.

As you quarantine your plant, you have time to watch for bugs as they grow into adult pests, which means they will be easier to see.

You can also force plants out of the soil, where some like to hide, by submerging the pot in a bucket of water.

You want to make sure you do not wash over the top of the plant, but the soil absorbs water through the drainage holes.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, drain the pot well.

Now is an excellent opportunity to spray the leaves top and bottom and the soil’s surface with one of the suggested insecticides and fungicides.

If you are uncertain about the soil, take the time to re-pot after carefully removing all the old dirt and planting in fresh soil.

Now That the Houseplant Pests Are Gone

Now that you know how to prevent pests in the first place, you must keep monitoring to eliminate as many opportunities as possible for future infestations.

Stopping new houseplant pests in their tracks

You could have a perfect score for handling new plants, so you do not bring houseplant pests home when you shop for a new plant.

However, infestations happen, so you must remain vigilant.

If you see the warning signs of a new pest colony, have the necessary tools on hand to prevent pests from going out of control.

Insecticides and fungicides

If you have pets and do not want to spray a chemical, but you are concerned about spider mites, aphids, and thrips, you want a spray that uses botanicals.

If you need a spray that is an insecticide, fungicide, and miticide that still qualifies as organic, try Garden Safe Fungicide3.

When you use a pest control spray, do not be shy. Pests will try to hide, so you must spray the tops and the bottoms of the leaves. Also, do not forget the lower leaves and the top of the soil.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous Earth is a powdered sedimentary rock that is effective in killing a whole lot of household pests.

If you sprinkle Diatomaceous Earth over the top of your plants’ soil, it will kill the mites, fungus gnats, flies, and ants.

Wear a mask and gloves, and do not rub your eyes when you work with this substance.

Incidentally, it is excellent for killing flea infestations, too.

Sticky traps

Sticky traps are a fantastic way to trap flying pests such as fruit flies and fungus gnats. You peel off the cover, and the sticky traps attract the flying pests with their yellow color and trap them.

We can confirm it is very gratifying to wake up and find your sticky traps a graveyard for pesky fungus gnats.

Carnivorous plants

Carnivorous plants are an option for some pests.

However, you must be careful because carnivorous plants could develop their own infestations, yet they are not as easygoing when it comes to insecticide sprays or homemade options.

For instance, Pitcher Plants and Venus Fly Traps will eat up fungus gnats and become victims themselves.

However, we can confirm it is very gratifying to see these two plants eating their way through the fungus gnat population.

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Another option for fungus gnats is Butterwort.

Butterwort is a live sticky trap that fungus gnats find irresistible. The Butterwort has shimmery leaves, and when the bug lands, it gets stuck on the sticky fluid.

The flying bug dissolves into food for the Butterwort, making it a beautiful graveyard of fungus gnat destruction.

Homemade sprays for houseplant pests

There are plenty of homemade options for sprays, and research shows their efficacy. The spray recipes usually include neem oil mixed with water and applied to the leaves and the soil.

Also, homemade sprays made with concoctions of onions and garlic along with neem oil is useful.

Predatory bugs for houseplant pests

It may seem counter-intuitive to bring bugs into your home on purpose, but many friendly bugs feast on your pests.

For instance, predatory mites, Galendromus occidentalism, will hunt down and devour spider mites. Also, these friendly mites have no interest in chowing on your plants.

Plus, you only need 1 friendly mite for every 10 unfriendly mites. When they eat them all up, your friendly mite will provide continued control if your spider mites come back.

Ladybugs are another option for predatory bugs. When you look at ladybugs, you typically do not think them to be particularly dangerous, but the ladybug is the bringer of death to many household plant pests.

Ladybugs are beneficial for consuming aphids, but they will eat any soft-bodied bugs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Houseplant Pests

We dug up answers to a couple of common questions regarding houseplant pests.

Which houseplants resist pests naturally?

Several plants are more pest-resistant than others. That said, plants are not 100 percent immune from pests.

Snake plants are a good option. Plus, snake plants handle low light and neglect rather well. It has tough skin, making it not pest-friendly. Although snake plants are not suitable for pets and kids, keep them up and out of the way.

Jade plants are another option for natural pest resistant. For the same reason as snake plants, keep them up and away from kids and pets.

Dragon trees are from Africa, and they are drought tolerant and pest resistant. The plant likes low light and invites neglect while still thriving. Also, it’s toxic to pets and kids, so keep them away.

Chinese evergreen is a tropical plant that is pest resistant and does well in low light. However, like the rest, it is toxic to pets and kids.

Do houseplants harbor or attract pests?

House plants do both.

When you buy a plant from a store or nursery, it may already have an infestation.

Also, houseplants are an oasis for some pests, and they attract them, as well.

Therefore, it is vital to quarantine and treat your plants before bringing them inside or near your other plants.

Also, ongoing maintenance is necessary.

I’m All About That Plant

We love plants. We do not, however, appreciate the houseplant pests that love our houseplants.

Fortunately, there are several ways to handle this problem.

Your first line of defense is preventing an infestation in the first place. New plants should be inspected separately. In some cases, the soil needs replacing.

Once you are sure your new plant is free from bugs, you may move it to meet the new family.

However, your work is not done yet.

It is vital to watch for houseplant pest infestation and be proactive about preventing out-of-control infestations.

How did you handle your houseplant pest situation? Answer in the comments.


About the Author

A teacher by trade, Victoria splits her free time between freelance writing, her camping blog, and (frantically) guiding her teenagers into becoming functional adults.