Identifying and Getting Rid of Houseplant Pests

February 12th, 2013 posted by Brenda Hyde

by Brenda Hyde

Houseplants will look happy and grow like “weeds” and then something changes and they appear to be unhealthy. You could have a pest infestation! The most common being mealy bug, scale, aphids, spider mite, white fly, and sometimes soil or fungus gnats. The first step is to examine every part of the plant, especially where the leaves intersect with the stem and the undersides of the leaves. If the plant is flowering be sure to check the buds or blooms too. Here is what you could find:

Mealy bugs:

appear as white cotton-like spots. These will get in all the tiny areas of the plant once they infest, where they hide. You may notice the leaves getting pale, dropping or looking stunted as the mealy bugs suck out the juices from the plant. Cotton swabs dipped in alcohol will remove them, or a mix of alcohol and water sprayed on the plants will help if repeated every week or so. // Scale: it looks like a small hard bump on the plant. The bump is a “shell” that protects the new insects and can be picked off. It could be brown, yellow, gray, black or even white. You’ll begin to notice yellowing leaves and dropping leaves. Spray with a mixture of 4 parts water to three parts rubbing alcohol. Do NOT use hard water on scale —use bottled water instead. You can also remove with a cotton ball dampened with rubbing alcohol. Stick with it! You will need to repeat till it’s gone.

Spider mites:

These do a lot of damage in a short amount of time— mites suck the chlorophyll out of the plant-and the foliage loses color. They lay very tiny white eggs. Unfortunately, they are VERY tiny. You’ll notice the plant’s leaves curling, dropping or stunted growth. Get out a magnifying glass if you need to too! If you don’t catch the eggs before they hatch you’ll see webbing between the stems or leaves. Wipe off the webs—if it’s gotten to this stage— and the color is gone out of too many leaves, it’s best to get rid of the plant.

White fly:

You’ll find white dots in the early stages and then they start to fly–and you’ll notice them if leaves are touched because they will fly out. They rest on the underside of the leaves and will cause them to yellow. You can buy small traps to place near the plants or the rubbing alcohol sprays mentioned above.

Soil or fungus gnats

fly around and annoy you. They live in the plant soil –especially if the soil if kept moist. Once the soil dries on the top layer they can no longer survive there. They don’t live long, so usually drying out the top layer of a plant will take care of the problem.


are found mostly outdoors, but are found on indoor plants too as well, especially those that bloom. They can be black, green or shades of yellow, and can be found on the underside of plants. You’ll notice the leaves becoming stunted or funny looking as if they are deformed. The alcohol sprays mentioned should work with aphids. Spider mites like it very hot and dry—so try to keep your plants from drying out and getting too hot–mist them a few times a week and give them a “bath” a few times a month with a soap spray. (A little dish soap in a spray bottle of water). You can clean your plants by dampening a soft cloth with plaint water and wipe the surface of each leaf. You can also give your plants a “shower” to rinse them. Don’t do this to African Violets or plants with fuzzy foliage. Give your plants good circulation too–don’t crowd them. Always remove dead foliage and blooms as soon as you can. Keep your plants clean! Always use a good clean potting soil when you repot your plants. All of your tools should be clean too. Use a wire brush to remove dirt that is tough to get off, and remove rust with steel wool or light sandpaper. Spray the metal parts with a lubricant or rub very lightly to discourage rust. When repotting a plant into a used pot clean it first. You soak the pots in 1 part bleach to 10 parts warm or hot water, and then scrub the pots clean with a brush. Rinse and dry the pot before using. One more thing to look for on your plants: mealy bug, scale, and aphids secrete a honeydew on the leaf which is sticky. If you see or feel this, start looking for the pest.

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