Did you know that houseflies are excellent at discovering sweet treats because they find sugar with their feet? Indoor pests are pesky but resourceful. Bugs are a major challenge for everyone who keeps house plants or grows vegetables indoors.
Indoor plants have the advantage of being shielded from the wilderness and thus from many pests. However, this is also a serious disadvantage. After all, you have fewer resources at your disposal to fight problems indoors. Spray-on insecticides are out of the question because they can be harmful to children and pets. Even a powerful shower with a garden hose isn’t always possible.
Here’s an overview of common indoor pests and a few ways you can get rid of them. Carefully understand what you’re growing inside your home, and hopefully, this advice can help alleviate some of your pest frustrations.
Common Signs of Indoor Pests
Perhaps you’re initially faced with the problem of not knowing whether or not your plant is suffering from an undesirable guest. Usually, however, there are very clear signs of indoor pests.
- Various discolorations of the leaves
Any new color on the leaves of your plant could be a sign of a parasite. Some viruses and fungi can also cause discoloration. Don’t be confused with yellowing, though, if you haven’t watered for a few days.
Also, deformations of the plant parts indicate that something is not as it should be. Some infestations cause leaves to roll up or ulcer-like bulges to develop.
- Sticky and filmy
A sticky film on the leaves or small droplets or puddles of a sticky substance is usually honeydew. This is a sugary solution that many plant suckers excrete.
- Bumps or knobs
Dark knobs, either singly or in a cluster, are mostly small insects, such as aphids, that have made themselves comfortable on the plant.
Delicate cobwebs or threads that are sometimes only visible after the plant has been sprayed with water are clear signs of an infestation of the spider mite. Of course, an ordinary spider can also simply have built a web between the plant parts. In that case, don’t panic. Spiders are nearsighted, and most are totally harmless.
Small swarms of pesky bugs take off whenever you water or touch the plant? That sounds like fungus gnats.
- Strange deposits
Black, soot-like deposits on the leaves indicate a fungal infestation. In most cases, it’s nothing that will damage the plant in the long term. However, it thrives where there is also honeydew—the sticky, sugary substance that other pests excrete. These black marks are also unsightly, especially if the infestation is already advanced.
Remove Plant Pests Safely
Removing indoor pests safely range from shaking them off to exterminating them with various chemicals. Not all of them are always useful. Each task needs the right weapon but always use common sense when eliminating pests in your home.
Some pests are persistent. Depending on the pest infestation’s intensity, it is sometimes sufficient to cut off the affected areas or remove the pests by hand. This is usually the gentlest kind of control for the plant and the least harmful for vegetables, children, or pets.
Most Common Houseplant Pests
Aphids are found on the underside of plant leaves. They like to attack the leaf veins on the bottom.
Characteristics of the infestation: You’ll notice small bugs that mostly sit on the leaf’s underside and suck the sap of the plant. They can be transparent-greenish to almost black and are usually found in groups. They excrete honeydew, which is a sticky liquid that usually also wets parts of plants.
Consequences: Young leaves are often noticeably damaged: they can wither and become curled. The honeydew excreted by the aphids can cause sooty mildew (fungus) infestation and attract other insects such as ants.
Control: If logistically feasible, you can try to wrap the trunk in plastic and keep the entire plant underwater for a day. This “drowns” the aphids. Before doing this, remove all visible bugs with a strong water jet (like a showerhead) and dispose of heavily infested parts of the plant.
Alternatives to this are sprays such as solutions with soft soap. Neem oil can also be applied to the affected areas.
Fun fact: in the wild, aphids are “milked” by ants around the honeydew.
- Spider mites
Spider mites are found on dead leaves.
Characteristics of the infestation: The mites themselves are often difficult to recognize. The infestation is most likely visible through the delicate threads the spider mites spin. One problem with this is that some species of spider mite do not produce these threads at all. This can mean that the infestation is only recognized after a lot of damage has been done. Affected leaves show spots or patterns, and discoloration and curvature also occur.
Consequences: If the infestation is pronounced, the leaves die, which in the long term leads to plant death. Also, not to be underestimated is the possibility that the infestation could spread to other plants in the same area.
Control: Controlling the spider mites becomes difficult because usually, a handful of the indoor pests survive. One way to counteract the infestation is free the plant from the pests with a strong water jet, and make sure that you spray on the leaves from below). Then, if possible, wrap the whole plant in plastic film and leave it to stand outside or shielded from other plants for at least 10 days.
It’s best to remove parts of the plant beforehand and dispose of them. Use caution, and don’t just throw them in the garden, but instead in a sealed garbage can or burn them straight away. You should also seriously consider disposing of heavily infested plants entirely.
- Scale insects
Characteristics of the infestation: Scale insects leave behind small brown knobs on stems and leaves. The adult insects adhere to a spot and then stay there. They also secrete honeydew, which can wet the leaves as a sticky liquid.
Consequences: Early stages of the infestation do not show any severe damage to the plant. But once enough scale insects have feasted on your healthy indoor plant, the leaves change color, become curled, and finally fall off completely.
Control: If the infestation isn’t too bad, you can simply scrape the scale insects off the leaves and stems. But this can also backfire if the females are already carrying their eggs, which cannot be seen with the naked eye, especially not when they are spread over the entire plant. It can make more sense to sprinkle the signs with an alcohol or soft soap solution, ideally twice a day. This should cause the problem areas to become brittle and dry, eliminating the indoor pests.
An alternative is oil tinctures, used to hermetically seal the signs and thus suffocate the insects. In this case, too, the use of systemic insecticides makes sense because the bugs suckle on the plant and are incredibly persistent. If the infestation occurs regularly, the specialists at Bug Out Pest Control advise you to change the potting soil, as some of the scale insects also find their habitat there.
Characteristics of the infestation: These unsavory stowaways form a white, cotton-like mass around them. That’s why they’re called mealybugs. The mealybug lays eggs in the white mass, smearing it all over the plant. It looks a bit like mold.
Consequences: As with the other indoor plants, the mealybugs also cause lasting damage to the plants. In addition to their parasitic overuse, they distribute a substance that inhibits the growth of the plant. As the infestation progresses, the leaves begin to wither and die. The excreted honeydew also does its part to attract more insects and provides your plant with a suitable breeding ground.
Control: Usually, only systemic insecticide can help. Before doing this, it’s best to destroy parts of the plant that are badly affected. Introducing neem oil into the plant soil is always worth a try. If that doesn’t help, you can use chemical agents. In any case, isolate affected plants from the rest of the indoor flora.
Fighting Pests with Professional Help
Indoor plants are especially delicate and should be treated as such. If you’re nervous about removing pests from your home on your own, call on the experts at 317-777-5005.
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