Indoor plants are an invaluable part of the home, often removing toxins from the air while providing greenery and life to an interior. Unfortunately, just as plants are afflicted by pests in the garden, houseplants are often infected with bugs. It is important to be able to identify and remove houseplant bugs before they threaten the life of the plant.
The most common types of houseplant pests include whiteflies, spider mites, thrips, mealybugs and scale. Aphids, while primarily a problem outdoors, can also get indoors and feast on indoor plants. Most indoor plant pests are quite tiny and often appear in patches on the undersides of leaves or moving around on new growth. Thrips are black, while mealybugs and scale are often white and oval shaped. Spider mites are easy to identify, as they are tiny red spiders. Aphids may be a range of colors, from red to green or white, and whiteflies are small, white flies.
Symptoms of an insect infestation include, besides the presence of insects, stunted growth, spotted leaves and curling or wilted foliage. Sucking insects such as thrips and aphids drain moisture out of the leaves, causing them to yellow and brown before dying prematurely. A severe infestation of red spider mites will cause a houseplant to look as if it's covered in a red, rusty dust. Flowering plants may cease to bloom, as their new buds are damaged by aphids. Many bugs will excrete a sticky substance that attracts black mold, causing unsightly dark spots on the plant.
Natural methods can be used to treat a houseplant that has been infected with bugs. Larger insects such as mealybugs can be plucked off by hand, and some people find a portable vacuum to be effective in removing whiteflies. Mild infestations of spider mites and aphids can easily by removed by taking the plant outdoors and spraying the bugs with a controlled stream of water. Unfortunately, seriously infested plants are often not worth saving, as they may infect other healthy plants before their treatment is finished.
You can help prevent bugs from attacking your houseplant simply by keeping your plant in good health. Follow the care requirements of your particular species, and adjust accordingly if the plant isn't getting the right amount of light or water. Check new plants for whiteflies and mealybugs, as these bugs are usually introduced into the home on a plant by accident. Keep new houseplants away from existing, healthy plants until you are sure the plant isn't infected.
Use insecticides only as a last resort, as some harsh chemicals may release harmful fumes into the home. Buy what you need, as you need it so you don't have an excess of poison in your home, and always keep insecticides in their original containers so you have access to dosage information. While most houseplant insects are completely harmless to humans, thrips may nip you.