6 Common Houseplant Pests—and How to Get Rid of Them

You may have a certified green thumb, but that won't keep bugs away from your plants. Follow these guidelines to identify and eliminate the most common houseplant pests.

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  1. The Culprit: Aphids


    What you'll see: Stunted plant growth, curled or distorted foliage; tiny green, brown, or black insects on undersides of leaves.

    Management: Wash the bugs away with a stream of water, or knock them off with your fingers or a cotton swab. Spray on an insecticidal soap, such as Safer Brand Insecticidal Soap, or make your own by mixing a mild dish detergent in a weak concentration with water. As an alternative, try neem oil.


  2. The Culprit: Mealybugs


    What you'll see: Stunted plant growth; white, cottony appearance on stems, undersides of foliage, and nodes (where the leaf or bud attaches to the plant's stems).

    Management: Quarantine your plant. For less-afflicted plants, remove individual mealybugs by handpicking, washing, or wiping them off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Wash with a mild soapy water solution using a soft brush or cloth to help dislodge the bugs.


  3. The Culprit: Mites


    What you'll see: Webbing on foliage and stems, distorted yellow foliage; tiny, light-colored arachnids.

    Management: Heavily infested plants should be thrown out. The most effective controls include washing and increasing humidity around the plant. Small plants can be repeatedly washed with a jet of water from a shower or kitchen sprayer to force off mites and eggs. Bifenthrin, found in many houseplant insecticides, can also be effective for spider mite control.


  4. The Culprit: Scales


    What you'll see: Poor or stunted plant growth; oval or round brown insects on stems and leaves.

    Management: You can usually rub the scales off with your fingers; wear a rubber glove if you don't want to touch the scales. For minor infestations, simply prune off the affected leaves. A cotton swab dipped in alcohol and brushed onto the scales will kill them; the alcohol dissolves the waxy coating that protects the pests. Be sure to repeat every two to three days.


  5. The Culprit: Thrips


    What you'll see: Distorted and discolored foliage and flowers; extremely tiny insects, ranging in color from white to tan to dark brown.

    Management: Wash thrips off with a fine spray of water every few days. Use an insecticidal soap made for indoor plants, and spray every two to three days for about a month. Another option: Neem oil sprays will cause thrips to stop feeding and eventually expire.


  6. The Culprit: Whiteflies


    What you'll see: Leaves often turn yellow, appear dry, and drop prematurely; tiny insects with yellowish bodies and whitish heart-shaped wings, typically found in groups on undersides of leaves.

    Management: Isolate the affected plant; remove pupae by hand or with streams of water, and vacuum up adults (dispose of bag immediately afterward); place yellow hanging sticky traps nearby.


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