Houseplants are a beautiful addition to houses, offices, and any indoor space. They are generally easier to care for than their outdoor counterparts.
They need light, water, nutrients. As long as you get those things right, your plant will grow and thrive right?
Yes, sort of. But the one thing a lot of new plant owners don’t consider when they bring home their plants, is pests. Indoor houseplants don’t attract as many bugs as their outdoor counterparts, but they can be a challenge to deal with nonetheless.
How do houseplants get bugs?
Indoor plants sometimes get bugs from the nursery where they were grown or the store where they were purchased.
They can come in on fresh produce and flowers or through an open window or door. Sometimes they even already live in the soil you are using.
They can even come in with other bugs! Another way that they can be attracted to your indoor plants is with high humidity or improper watering conditions or lack of air circulation.
The bugs are on the plant before you bring it home
This realization never occurred to me when I was a newbie plant owner. I mean, don’t the nurseries and gardening stores treat their plants for bugs and pests?
The short answer is no, not really. Sure, if there is a massive outbreak that you can see they might, but most gardening stores and nurseries have so many plants they just can’t inspect each one every day.
The other thing to consider is that the plant may not have an active pest problem, there could be larvae on the plant when you buy it.
How can I tell if a plant I’m buying has bugs?
The easiest way is to inspect the plant carefully. Look at the leaves and the stems. Look for tiny bumps on the stems and you could have a scale infestation.
Lift the leaves and check the underside for webs or cotton masses. Webs are usually a spider mite infestation and cotton masses are a sure sign of a mealybug infestation.
There are other bugs such as aphids and white bugs that can be seen on the leaves if you look closely enough.
Even if you see no signs of bugs on a new plant, I personally think it is a good idea to treat them with an all-natural insecticide mixture or with neem oil when you bring them home.
Bugs get brought in on other produce and flowers
Sometimes pests get brought in on produce or cut flowers. It may not be abundantly obvious when you bring the produce inside but a few days later when you have aphids all over your houseplants, you will know.
Sometimes you will even find aphids on fresh fruits such as bananas. Aphids and spider mites are often found on cut bouquets of flowers. It is a good idea to keep flowers away from your houseplants just in case.
Windows and doors
This may seem like an obvious one, but your infestation could have flown through an open window or screen.
Some bugs such as spider mites and fungus gnats can fit through the tiny holes of a screen. There are coatings you can get for a screen to prevent smaller bugs from getting in, but the truth is, if your houseplants aren’t near the open window, you should be fine.
Could your soil be the culprit?
Many bugs will lay their eggs in potting soil. Fungus gnats are a common culprit for that. Often you will see them flying around near the soil in the gardening stores.
It is also possible for your leftover soil in an open bag to get bugs before you use it all. It is a good idea to store partially used bags of potting soil in an airtight bucket. I use a 5-gallon pail for mine.
Other bugs can be the host
Ants are a common culprit for bringing in other bugs. They can play host to mealybugs, scale, and aphids. The reason this happens is that ants like to collect the sweet deposits of dew that these other bugs leave when they feed on your plants. Eww! Talk about a symbiotic relationship at it’s best.
Many bugs are attracted to moist, humid conditions. The environment you live in can play a factor. For example, if you live near the ocean in Hawaii you will be more susceptible to bugs than someone who lives in central Arizona.
Are there climatic problems in my home that can attract bugs?
Yes, there are. For example, if you overwater your plants, it will lead to high humidity and a potential breeding ground for pests.
Stagnant water can also attract unwelcome pests. It is a good idea to not leave water sitting for too long in the saucers under your plants.
Lack of air circulation can play a part in a bug infestation as well. The air circulating will keep moisture down some but also it can decrease fungal growth. This makes your houseplants a less welcoming environment for bugs.
If there is no circulation in the room your plants are in, consider putting an oscillating fan on a very low setting by the door of the room, away from the plants.
You don’t want to have a draft on them, but you do want to move the air around a bit. The other thing to consider is if your plants are too close together, there will not be enough air movement. The close proximity is a sure-fire way for all of your plants to get infested if one does.
Although a bug infestation can be hard to deal with at the time, with a few simple preventative measures, you lower your odds of having one significantly. And that means more time to enjoy your houseplants and less time spent on caring for them.
Inspect your plants often and act fast once you spot any pests or signs that can be caused by pests such as damaged and yellow leaves.
Be specifically careful when introducing new plants to your home. Inspect them vigorously and apply Neem oil or diluted dishwater before you introduce them to the rest of the collection.
Last but not least make sure to neither over- nor underwater your plants as proper care is a key contributing factor to healthy plants.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.