Just because your plants live indoors doesn’t mean they are not susceptible to insect infestations. If you notice that your little date palm has sprouted new tiny “cotton balls” all over it, you most likely have an infestation. Here’s how to identify the five most common houseplant pests and tips on how to get rid of them.
Warning: These bugs have a high creepiness factor when viewed up close!
Image: Thomas Shahan via Flickr
Description: These bugs are pear or oval shaped. They are tiny: about 1/4 inch and wingless. They are typically green, but they can be yellow, black, brown, pink, gray or white. Aphids cause damage by sucking the sap from the plants. They are often found in large groups and are only noticeable when they shed their outer skin and droppings.
Treatment: Most commercially available insecticides will kill aphids. For a more environmental approach, try insecticidal soap or horticultural oils. They are less harsh and will easily kill aphids. If you do not want to use chemicals at all, you can try blasting the bugs off with water from a hose or using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.
Image: Melanie Cook via Flickr
Description: An oval, soft-skinned scale type bug with a fuzzy wax coating. They can grow up to 1/4 inch and like to hang out on the undersides of leaves, on leaf axils and branches. They reproduce quickly and will completely cover a plant in a short amount of time, eventually killing the plant.
Treatment: If the bugs are isolated on a stem or leaf, remove the infected part of the plant. Alternatively, you can pluck the bugs off of the infected area or use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol. If the entire plant is covered, use a horticultural oil. Repeat with the oil until the majority of the infestation is under control and then use the cotton swab treatment to get any stragglers.
3. Spider mites
Image: Lucis via Flickr
Description: These tiny spiders are cousins of the common spider. They are 1/16 inch and are pale yellow or green. They hang out on the undersides of leaves, where they spin fine webs for protection. You know the infestation is bad if you see webbing on the upper surface of leaves. Spider mites cause leaf loss by sucking the chlorophyll from the plant, eventually causing the plant to die.
Treatment: You can try the water blast treatment if the infestation is not too out of hand. For a bad infestation, thoroughly wet the leaves of the plant to dislodge the mites and then spray the plant with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Keeping the plant misted often will help discourage spider mites.
Image: Gilles San Martin via Flickr
Description: They can have soft or hard, oval bodies that are brown, green, white, gray or black. Soft scale may be as large as 1/4 inch, with hard scale up to 1/8 inch. Mature scales adhere to stems and the undersides of leaves. They destroy the plant by sucking the sap. The plant will yellow and weaken; becoming susceptible to disease.
Treatment: Scales are a tough one. Because the mature scales have a hard outer shell, many insecticides will not penetrate them. The insecticides will get rid of the soft-shelled newly hatched scales. For the mature bugs, use the pluck-and-cotton swab method.
Image: Lisa Brown via Flickr
Description: A tiny, white moth-like insect that likes to hide under leaves. The tiny whiteflies are difficult to control due to their ability to fly from plant to plant. Both nymphs and adults suck the sap, causing yellowing and leaf drop.
Treatment: Start by removing the yellowed, diseased leaves. In order to eradicate whitefly, a couple of methods need to be employed. To get rid of the adult whiteflies, use a sticky trap (similar to fly paper) available at a garden center. To get rid of the eggs and nymphs (babies), you can apply insecticidal soap or neem oil (a natural oil used as an insecticide).