How to Grow: Houseplant Pests

Learn about controlling pests on your houseplants indoors.

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Mealy-bugs(india)

One cold morning at breakfast, I was swatting small, black flies from my potted amaryllis and thinking, insects are opportunists. Even in winter, these bugs find a way to survive.

House plants are the perfect host for certain insects. The pests live in a controlled environment with food, but without predators or harsh weather. So let’s look at the top three houseplant insects you’ll find, if you look hard enough.

Mealybugs and scale are two insects found on woody indoor plants such as hibiscus, ficus and Dracena. These small pests attach themselves to plant stems and leaves and suck plant juices. With a small infestation, you hardly notice the damage. What you probably will notice is the sticky honeydew they excrete as they feed. It drops on tables, chairs and floors making a mess. The toughest type of scale to control are the hard shelled types. Usually they’re brown or black colored. If you have a few scale insects, simply flick them off with your fingernail. For larger infestations, smoother the scale with a horticultural oil spray. Move the plants into a warm garage or basement to spray.

Mealybugs are like soft-shelled versions of scale. They have white, cottony growth and can be sprayed with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. But for just a few mealybugs, dab them with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. They will shrivel right up.

Fungus gnats are those black flies I mentioned earlier on my amaryllis. They actually are living in the potting soil and aren’t harmful to your plants. They’re a nuisance, though. You can repot plants with fresh potting soil or drench the soil with gnatrol. This form of Bacillus thuringiensis or B.t. kills the larvae in the soil. It’s safe for pets and children.

And now for this week’s tip, forget cut flower roses, get your sweetheart a miniature rose plant for Valentines Day. They will continue to flower indoors until spring when they can be transplanted outdoors. They’re a better symbol of everlasting love.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio

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