Skip to main content

In today’s fast-paced world, fewer professionals have the time or space to raise a garden like their parents and grandparents probably did. But they still want the benefits of having greenery around, even if it’s not home-grown, money-saving vegetables. Unfortunately, not being able to eat their plants is the least of their worries.

With any new hobby or hobby, there are challenges – known and unexpected. And one of the biggest problems for people with houseplants is the subsequent infiltration of pests.

You think you’ve found the perfect, healthy plant at the store and you’re bringing it home. But soon you find out that the latest addition to your collection wasn’t so wholesome, but is actually covered in creepy critters or other bugs lurking beneath the surface.

Leaves wilt, new growth is lost, and some plants even give up and embrace death from stress. Soon your once prized plant room will now look like a graveyard.

Mistakes are part of becoming a better gardener. To learn by doing, you must allow yourself to fail. It is often one of the most rewarding and cathartic aspects of the hobby. Here’s a guide to common houseplant pests, their remedies, and careful strategies for those who need a little help or prefer to excel the first time.

Preventive care

When it comes to parasites, the best defense is a good offense. Preventing a bug from taking over is much easier than dealing with it. There are many ways to mitigate the risk of pests.

Examine all new plants for signs of insects before purchasing. Insects can and will quickly spread to nearby plants. Suppose any newly purchased plant has bugs lurking somewhere. Quarantine them away from your collection for about six weeks, and treat and check them regularly for pests.

A healthy plant is more resistant to insects, so do your best to ensure that your plant’s individual needs are properly met. Stressed plants are easier targets for pests.

If you like to reuse jars, always clean them with insecticidal soap and sterilize them in vinegar or a rubbing alcohol bath, depending on the type of jar. Terracotta pots have a porous surface providing the perfect shelter for harmful microorganisms.

Outdoor plants are very susceptible to pests. If you regularly bring an outdoor plant indoors for the winter (typical for succulents in colder regions), inspect the plant and treat it accordingly. Quarantine it like you would a new plant from the store.

Regularly inspecting your leafy friends for changes can prevent an outbreak before it becomes too large to handle.


Ants generally do not feed directly on potted plants, but are instead attracted to a gentle excretion of other common pests called honeydew. For this reason, ants are usually a sign that you have bigger problems, and they are likely to get worse without intervention.


With all pests, you have two options: control with chemicals and pesticides or look for natural alternatives. The best way to exterminate ants is to bait them with poison ant traps while treating the plant with insecticidal soap. You can create a mixture of 1 liter of water to 1-2 tablespoons of insecticidal soap and submerge the entire pot and soil. Some people prefer to remove the plant from the infected soil, immerse the roots directly and repot with a clean pot and fresh soil.

Natural remedies involve strong-smelling substances that repel ants, such as citrus fruits, coffee grounds, cinnamon, cloves, etc. Store-bought natural solutions consist mostly of essential oils, which work well and smell great.


Scale insects are tiny, off-white insects that are quickly spotted and extremely common in store-bought succulents. You might find them congregating around the base or underside of leaves. They like to feed on new growth, which causes deformities, so say no to succulents that exhibit an abnormal, lumpy growth pattern.


Scale insects can be persistent and produce a white wax that makes them resistant to pesticides. In the event of a severe infestation, you can expect to treat plants daily for weeks, and you may ultimately decide to discard a plant before risking healthy plants.

Wipe off mealybugs with a cotton swab dipped in 70% or less alcohol (any higher amount may damage plants). Then spray the plants daily with rubbing alcohol, carefully applying to the undersides and crevices between the leaves. Some species feed on roots, so an insecticidal soap bath and repotting may be in order. For outdoor plants, neem oil is an effective natural mealy bug remedy when applied regularly.

spider mites

Spider mites are common in plants that are kept indoors year-round. They’re tiny, so you’ll probably notice their thin webbing first. They suck the sap from the plants, which leads to small dots on the leaves and discoloration. If you see one, it will look like a small reddish black dot.


Many can effectively manage spider mites with water, spraying hardy plants directly to destroy their webs and drive away the mites. You can also spray plants weekly with insecticidal soap or neem oil extract to control mites. Be sure to apply carefully and expect systematic treatment.


Aphids are small and usually green, but can be pink, brown, black or yellow. They are between the size of scale insects and spider mites, and adults may or may not have wings.

These types usually feed on the undersides of leaves or new growth, but can also attack roots. They cause deformities like scale insects and discoloration and spots like spider mites. Fortunately, they are easily distinguished from other bugs.


Treat aphids like scale insects or mites. You can remove visible aphids with an alcohol cotton swab before treating regularly with insecticidal soap, neem oil or 70% rubbing alcohol. Just like the other insects on this list, expect to repeatedly treat the plant surface for aphids, as it’s not a quick fix. You can also try adding imidacloprod granules to the plant’s soil, which will indirectly cure it.


This guide summarizes some pests that your plants are likely to attract, but there are many more. Note that the handling of these bugs is broadly similar, so mastering their handling is likely to result in whatever you encounter. If you are unsure about using a specific chemical, the bottle should include a list of the insects it is effective against as well as the types of plants it has been tested for safety on. Finally, remember never to be discouraged by gardening mistakes; instead, grow from them.

Today’s breaking news and more to your inbox