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Houseplant Pests: Identify, Treat and Prevent

Kenna loves helping others take care of plants, both indoors and out. She wrote an orchid care booklet—a companion piece for workshops.


Keep Houseplants Healthy

Having healthy, lush, and vibrant indoor plants is a luxury to the degree they need tender loving care. Making sure they are pest-free is part of keeping them healthy. Here are some easy yet effective steps to keep your plants free of pests.

Spider mites, mealybugs, thrips, aphids and scales are the most common insects to find on an indoor plant.

Insects on Houseplants

Depending on what you see when you look at your indoor plants tells you whether or not bugs infest your plants. How you care for your indoor plants can make all the difference in their growth and effect on the environment.

One of the most common mistakes in caring for indoor plants is improper cleaning, resulting in insect infestations. Indoor plant owners wait until their plants show signs of infestation before they realize their plants are not clean. By then, it’s too late.

Flying Insects on Houseplants

Insects are a common cause of a plant’s demise, and a clean plant prevents the attraction of insects. Dirty means impurity and bugs like impurity.

A clean plant is a happy and healthy plant, making photosynthesis's absorption of light rays more possible. Photosynthesis is a process that helps the plant to grow by converting sunlight to carbon dioxide from the air and water to form sugars and starches.

Consider doing a surface cleaning at least every other week with a deep cleaning every three months as needed.

Insects on Indoor House Plants

Inspect for insects one plant at a time.

Take one plant at a time. A good rule I follow is to start with one plant at a time. There is no need to get overwhelmed with "all the plants need my attention."

I know the value of taking a good look at my plants for insects before I even start cleaning any of them. Cleaning dirt or dust off an infected plant spreads the insects to other plants.

Spider mites, mealybugs, and scales are the most common insects on an indoor plant.

When I help someone with infested houseplants, I notice the loss of leaves, dry leaves, molting leaves, fine cobwebs, white cotton fuzz, spots, or noticeable discoloring in the foliage. These are indications of the infestation.

Insects on My Indoor Plants

The above video shows me inspecting my houseplant for insects. As you can see, I don't have any because I take good care of my plants.

Notice how I check under the leaves of the plant. Under the leaves is where the pests like to live and feed on the plant.

Since I don't have any pests on my indoor plant, I can clean the plant. The cleaning will be easy. I can wipe the leaves off with a clean, dry cloth.

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Spider Mites

Spider mites cause discoloration of the leaves by sucking the sap and contents from the leaves. The stain is generally yellowing. It starts at the tips of the leaves and moves in toward the center. Look closely. Don’t be deceived. If you don’t see any insects, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.

Spider mites are the most miniature of pests. You hold a piece of white paper beneath a yellowing, speckled leaf. Tap the blade with your finger and notice if tiny dots the size of a period hop off.

They hate water and being wet. Experts suggest routinely spraying under the leaves with water, where spider mites lay their eggs, is an effective control method comparable to garden chemicals.

You need to be vigilant and look for changes in the leaves (molting or drying.) It would help if you acted quickly. Once the Spider mites fine cobwebs form on the plant, you have a severe problem. It will take some doing to handle the situation.

Mealybugs - Tiny White Insects on Houseplants

Mealybugs are obvious. Their little white cotton balls contrast clearly against the green plant. If you have tiny white cotton balls on the plant and are positive it is not a cotton plant, the plant has mealybugs.

If you have mealybugs, you turn your leaf over, and you see the buggers.

If you have mealybugs, you turn your leaf over, and you see the buggers.

Scales - Tiny Black Insects on Houseplants

Scales are the size of a pinhead. The small-dark-shelled insects are seen mostly found on ferns or ficus trees. They are hard to remove from any plant. If not removed when first noticed, scales will form a sticky sap, infecting other plants.

Getting Rid of Insects on Houseplants

Remove the Insects

Your plant has insects and is not very happy. You have to treat your plant right away. There is no other way to resolve the problem. Luckily, you have a solution – a treatment.

The treatment will cause the insects to flee and force them off the plant. So, find an appropriate area for the plant to be treated. Insects jumping off for safety onto your carpet or furniture or other indoor plants is not an effective means. The perfect place is outside in the shade (avoid extremely hot or cold weather.)

By going outside, you can use a hose. Spraying the plant with forceful hose water can remove about 85 percent of the bugs. But, be careful not to hurt the plant by spraying too hard. Use your judgment. Be kind to your plant. If some insects continue to stay on the plant, you’ll get them with the solution used in the treatment.

White Insects on Houseplants


You must make sure you watered the plant before starting the treatment. The treatment contains alcohol, and it dries out plants. The water sustains the moisture in the plant and flushes out the procedure.

Treating Spider Mites and Mealybugs

Mix a solution of isopropyl rubbing alcohol/water (30/70) in a bowl or bucket. Dip a clean, soft cloth into the solution. I use the Fiberomance Ultra-Soft Microfiber Cleaning Cloth, which is lint-free. The fabric is soft and gentle on my plants. I strongly recommend using this cloth.

Gently rub off all evidence of the bugs. Spider mites, remember, are microscopic, making it difficult to determine if you have removed all of them. It's a good chance the treatment removed them.

But, you should double-check in about one week to make sure all evidence of the Spider mites is gone.

With mealybugs, you take the clean cloth with the solution and thoroughly wipe away their cotton fuzz. Like the wicked witch of the west, mealybugs melt away from the treatment. Once the fuzziness is gone, the mealybugs are gone.

Controlling Scale Insects on Houseplants

Treating Scales

Scales are different breed of bugs, and they have a hard shell, which they breathe through. The alcohol/water solution cannot penetrate their hard surface. The alcohol/water solution cannot penetrate their hard shell. But, a compelling product called Mother Earth Monterey Horticultural Oil, a lightweight oil, suffocates them.

Pour the oil onto a clean, dry cloth and wipe the plant where you see the scales. The effectiveness is considerably noticeable as the scales will readily come off and onto your treated cloth. Continue adding the oil and wiping the conspicuous scales from the plant until all are visibly gone.

If the infestation is severe, you will need to use more than one cloth. The cloth needs to be dry, so rinsing off the treating cloth and using it repeatedly does not work.


Kill Insects on Houseplants


Double-check and make sure you removed all evidence of bugs. Now, they may come back, so precautions go into place. Plants treated for Spider mites need to be sprayed with the alcohol/water solution every three days after treatment for about a month to make sure they are gone.

If the cotton fuzz comes back, you still have mealybugs. Retreat your plant as often as you need to ensure the bugs are gone. The scales have come back if the pinheads show up. Retreat the plant with Volk oil, be vigilant, and be aware. The insects are known for coming back.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Kenna McHugh


Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on April 21, 2020:

Thelma, you are welcome, and I am sure your plants will be happier, too.

Thelma Alberts from Germany on April 21, 2020:

Thank you for this very informative article. Now I know what I have in my plants and how I can get rid of these mealybugs and spider mites.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on October 07, 2018:

Hi Jessie, The reason you have ants in your houseplants is that you have other pests on your plants that are generating a honeydew type of excrement. Ant bait and mild soap are the best ways to get read of the ants. The good news is they are not living in your houseplant but have a trail leading to your plant. Find the trail, set the bait out, and get rid of the other insects on the plant per this article. The mild soap is to clean up the ant trail. Good luck and let me know how it goes.

Jessie on October 06, 2018:

Thank you for this article. I enjoyed reading it. The photos are very helpful. I was wondering if you have any information on how to handle ants on houseplants.

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