Small & Sneaky: Are Bugs Hiding In Your Houseplants?

By:

Robin Mountjoy

January 1, 2015

Who doesn’t love houseplants? They’re easy to care for, add natural beauty to your home, and provide you with a living thing to talk to that doesn’t talk back! And you don’t need a green thumb to know that houseplants can improve the quality of the air you breathe.

But there’s a downside: pests.

Whether your plant resides indoors year-round or just during the winter months, it could be bringing insects into your home.  As we’ve said before, pests don’t like the cold, which makes an indoor houseplant the perfect winter destination for small pests. If you take a moment to examine your nearest houseplant, you might be dismayed and disgusted to find a teeming ecosystem of insects residing on its verdant leaves. These creepy-crawlies can attack your plant and migrate to other areas of your home. What’s a plant lover to do? Luckily, there are ways to eliminate pests from your favorite indoor plants, and we have some tips to share. But first, who are these stowaways?

Common Offenders

Here at Connor’s, cultural practices such as inspection, identification, monitoring, and education serve as the foundation of our pest management approach. If you’re dealing with a houseplant pest, you’ll first want to identify the unwelcome beasties in your home.

Some of the most common household plant pests are aphids, spider mites, and mealybugs. Aphids are small, soft, pear-shaped insects that can be pale green, pink, red, yellow, or black. Adults are usually wingless and measure one-sixteenth to one-quarter of an inch. Spider mites are tiny – less than one millimeter in size – and vary in color. Many species are able to spin silk webbing to protect their colonies from predators, and this is where the “spider” part of their name comes from. Mealybugs are oval-shaped and covered with a protective waxy coating that appears grainy and dusty to the human eye.

Keep Your Indoor Plants Pest-Free

If you have indoor plants, there are common sense measures you can take to avoid introducing pests into your home. Inspect your plant before you buy it or bring it indoors – if it seems like it might be infested (see below for indicators), keep it out of your house.  Many experts recommend isolating a new plant for two or three weeks in order to discern if pests are present. Each time you water your new plant, inspect both sides of the leaves and look for signs of infection. Once you’ve determined that your plant is pest-free, you’ll be able to add it to your indoor collection with confidence.

Three Ways to Spot a Houseplant Infestation

Indoor plant pests are small, so you might not notice them right away. But they leave telltale signs all over your houseplant. Your first clue might be in the leaves – leaves that are under attack by pests often appear stippled and may have a slightly bronzed look.  If the problem is left untreated, your beloved houseplant’s leaves will eventually yellow and die. A second clue is stunted growth: if pests are ravaging your houseplant, it won’t grow and thrive the way it should.  A third indicator of a pest problem is residue or dirty spots: you may notice a sticky substance on your indoor plants, or a sooty black fungus – both of these are markers of an aphid or mealybug infestation. Mealybugs can look like fur or lint when they’re clustered on your plant.

How to Nip a Houseplant Infestation in the Bud

With just a little bit of vigilance, you can manage indoor plant pest problems on your own. When you remove the pests on a regular basis, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your plants healthy. Develop a habit of inspecting your plants’ leaves when you water them. Look for signs of infection, and wipe the leaves with a wet rag, squishing the pests as you go. Wipe the upper and lower surfaces of the leaves, as well as the stems.  You can also use an ultra-fine horticultural oil when you clean your plants, but it’s seldom necessary.

Well-chosen houseplants add natural charm to your home. Armed with a bit of education and a desire to keep them healthy, you can manage any and all pests who take up residence on your favorite plants.

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