Types of houseplant bugs: Who they are and what to do about them

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While having the correct light levels and watering properly are two of the most important steps in growing healthy indoor plants, houseplant growers also have to constantly monitor their plants for signs of pests. There are many types of houseplant bugs, and arming yourself with a little information goes a long way toward preventing or eliminating an infestation.

Preventing houseplant pest infestations

Certain houseplants are definitely more prone to pest issues than others, but houseplant bug problems are often prevented by following a few simple steps.

  1. Carefully inspect all new plants before bringing them into your home. Many types of houseplant bugs piggyback their way into your house from the nursery where the plants were grown. Before buying new plants (or taking in “strays” from friends and family), be sure to examine the plant from top to bottom, looking on leaf undersides, along the stems, and even in the soil for signs of the common houseplant insect pests I’m going to introduce you to below.

    always inspect for houseplant pests

    Carefully inspect new houseplants for pests before you bring them home from the garden center.

  2. Even if you think a new plant is pest-free, it may have pest eggs or young pests that you can’t yet see. Before putting any new houseplants with ones you already have, put it in solitary confinement in a separate room for a few weeks. Watch it carefully for signs of houseplant insect pests and only put it in close contact with other plants after it’s been confirmed to be pest-free. You can also place a few yellow sticky cards just above the top of the plant. Many pest insects are attracted to the color yellow, and they’ll quickly get trapped on the card. Check the card every few days for any insects. If you have some on the card, you probably have many more on the plant itself.
  3. Before moving them back indoors, do a “detox” on any houseplants that have spent the summer outside. While most houseplants love to be outside during the warmer months, they often come back inside with several different types of houseplant bugs hitch-hiking on them. The day before moving houseplants back indoors, spray the entire plant – including the lower leaf surfaces and stems – with a sharp stream of water from the hose, using a spray nozzle that emits a forceful spray. This is often all that’s needed to dislodge any pests before moving the plant inside.

    Many types of houseplant bugs can be dislodged with water.

    Check all leaf surfaces carefully for signs of pests. You’ll need to use a sharp stream of water from the hose to dislodge them, not a hand sprayer.

  4. Keen observational skills definitely allow you to control many types of houseplant bugs before their populations explode. Examine plants weekly throughout the year, checking for both the insects themselves and signs of their damage.
  5. Another sign that indicates you may have one of several different types of houseplant bugs is the presence of a sticky substance on the plant itself, or on the surface of the table or floor beneath the plant. This shiny, sticky substance is called honeydew, and it’s the excrement of several different pests, including almost all of the houseplant pests mentioned below. The presence of honeydew is a clear sign of pest issues.

Types of houseplant bugs

The warm, consistent temperature of most homes is ideal for rapid pest breeding. Plus, without ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and other beneficial insects in your home to keep pests in check, houseplant insect pests can go from numbering just a few to an all-out infestation in no time flat. Here are five of the most common types of houseplant bugs and what to do about them.

Fungus gnats:

Adult fungus gnats are super annoying. These minuscule black flies are the classic example of a nuisance pest. When an infested plant is disturbed, a cloud of tiny flies lifts off the soil. Mature gnats life for about a week, and although they’re a pain, they don’t damage your plants. Neither do the larvae, who largely feed on the fungi that naturally grows in potting soil. Because the eggs and larvae need water to survive, fungus gnat infestations are frequently the result of overwatering. A simple reduction in watering is often all that’s needed to control this common houseplant pest. But, if that doesn’t do the trick, a product like Gnatnix will definitely take care of the problem.

Types of houseplant bugs

Fungus gnats are tiny but very annoying. Their larvae feed on the fungi living in potting soil.


Another of the more common types of houseplant bugs, scale is sometimes difficult to spot. There are many different species, each with a unique appearance, but the most common houseplant pest scales look like little bumps and are found along the stems and on leaf undersides. Scale insects often have a hard, shell-like covering that makes them difficult to spot and control. They can be gray, black, brown, or even fuzzy. Most scales leave behind the honeydew I mentioned above, so if you see a shiny glaze on the plant, check it for scale. When it comes to houseplant bug problems, scale is probably the most difficult to control. I like to wipe them off my plants with a special cotton pad (like these) soaked in isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Physically wiping the pest off the plant multiple times over the course of a few weeks offers the best control. But, another option is to use an organic, neem-based pesticide. Take the plant into a garage or outdoors to apply it, and be sure to follow label instructions.

Common houseplant pest called scale

Scale is a houseplant pest that’s difficult to manage.


This common houseplant pest does not survive freezing winter temperatures, so it’s typically troublesome outdoors only in southern regions. But, whiteflies are one of the most problematic types of houseplant bugs because when they’re indoors, the insects are protected from freezing temperatures and their populations can grow quite rapidly. Whitefly issues frequently originate via a plant purchased at an infested greenhouse, which makes a careful inspection of any new plants extra important. These tiny, white, moth-like flies are found on leaf undersides and will quickly fly off the plant when it’s disturbed. Since whitefly reproduce so rapidly, their sap-sucking behavior can leave plants wilted, and with stunted growth and yellow foliage. Whiteflies are readily trapped by placing yellow sticky cards just above plant tops. Applications of insecticidal soap and horticultural oil are also effective. Since all three of these products work best when they contact the insect pest directly, try not to disturb the plant when applying, and be sure to cover both upper and lower leaf surfaces.

Whiteflies are houseplant pest insects

Whiteflies are tiny, white, moth-like flies that collect on leaves of infested plants.


Though they’re small in size, aphids can cause big problems. Of all the types of houseplant bugs discussed here, aphids are the ones I encounter the most frequently on my own houseplants. Tiny and teardrop-shaped, aphids can be black, green, red, yellow, or brown. Sometimes they have wings and sometimes they don’t, but they’re most often found grouped together on new growth or on the undersides of leaves. As they suck plant sap through their needle-like mouthparts, aphids cause deformed and stunted plant growth. Small infestations are easily wiped off of plants with a soft, plant-friendly cloth soaked in water, but as with all types of houseplant bugs, when there’s a big infestation, other measures may be warranted. Aphids can also be controlled organically with hot pepper wax, horticultural oil, or insecticidal soap. Be sure to apply these products so they come in direct contact with the aphids themselves for the best results.

Aphids are common houseplant insect pests.

Aphids use their needle-like mouthparts to suck out plant juices.

Spider mites:

There are many types of houseplant bugs, but spider mites may just be the ones with the biggest “heebie jeebie” factor. Actually, these guys aren’t bugs at all. Instead, they’re close relatives of spiders. These teeny-tiny houseplant pests cause major issues, not just for plants but also for the homeowner facing the infestation. Though you can barely see them without the help of a magnifying glass, once you know they’re in your house, it’s hard to get them off your mind. Spider mites spin a fine, silky webbing, and collectively, they can cover the entire plant with it. If you look carefully, you’ll see tiny specks crawling around on the webbing; those are the mites themselves. But, before you toss your spider mite-infested ivy or palm plant into the garbage, there are a few steps you can take to get this common houseplant pest in check. First, take the plant outdoors or into the shower and “wash” it off with a spray of water. Spider mites are tiny and are easily washed off the plant. Be sure to rinse both upper and lower leaf surfaces. Then, after the plant has fully dried, use a light-weight horticultural oil to smother them. Reapply the horticultural oil every 10-14 days for two more applications for the best control.

Spidermites on houseplant

Spider mites are small in size, but they’re big on giving houseplant owners trouble.

Though there are a handful of other indoor plant pests that may occasionally prove problematic, these five types of houseplant bugs are by far the most common. But, by following the five preventative steps featured at the beginning of this article and using the suggested mechanical and organic product controls, you’ll be able to keep most of these little buggers from causing any real issues. Remember, arming yourself with a little information goes a long way toward growing healthy, pest-free houseplants.

More posts about growing healthy houseplants

houseplant pest identification guide
Which types of houseplant bugs have you faced? How did you control them? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

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20 Responses to Types of houseplant bugs: Who they are and what to do about them

  1. Cynthia Clinton says:

    I would like to purchase the new Master Gardeners book . I do I go about doing this?

  2. Trixie says:

    I have an insect that I cannot for the life of me identify. I have a Monstera deliciosa and about a month or two ago I noticed that the newly emerging leaves were turning yellow/brown on the leaf margins and they were curling under. I initially thought it was a watering problem but, upon inspecting the curled underside of the leaves, I noticed white slender (almost miniscule) insects moving around. I was thinking it might be thrips but, in my past experience with this insect, they have always been brown, not white. It’s definitely not spider mites, whitefly or scale. I am stumped. I have tried spraying the entire plant with a spray made of water with a few drops of dishsoap and rubbing alcohol, but they keep coming back. I finally decided to take cuttings of the plant and move the potted remains outside. I immersed the cuttings in soapy water for 15+ minutes, in the hope of eventually rooting them and starting ‘fresh’ plants… but the bugs appeared again!! If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. Thanks!

    • Interesting. I’m guessing they are nymphs of either thrips or whiteflies. The nymphs of both of those insects look quite different from the adults and are typically pale in color. Instead of the homemade mixture you used, I suggest using horticultural oil and making sure you get it on both the upper and lower leaf surfaces. Two applications, timed about 14 days apart should do the trick to smother them.

    • Trixie says:

      Thank you! I think you are right that they are likely the nymphs of thrips. After I posted my question, I carefully inspected all my other houseplants and noticed that they are also on my Christmas cactus (which had been dropping leaves) and most of my prayer plants. I have isolated all the affected plants and will treat as you suggest.

    • Darci says:

      Hey Trixie,

      I am dealing with the same problem at the moment. The horticultural oil helps with the leaves, but NOT the soil. Take a flashlight and peak at your soil and see if you notice them there as well. I’ve recently purchased diatomaceous earth and forked it into the top layer of soil and it seems to be working. I’m also using plant spray made by doctor doom, it’s in a green Aerosoles container and I’ve been spray bombing my plants in garbage bags, tying them up and leaving them for 24-48 hours. For a couple that hasn’t even worked with all three treatments so I removed the plants from the soil and put my containers outside (we have snow) to kill what’s in the pots. Then I rinsed my plants roots with water and placed them in a jar of water instead of soil. If these little buggers keep coming back, I will be getting rid of ALL the soil I have in my plants and water root them to get rid of these guys. It’s been a battle since April with these guys and I don’t want to lose anymore plants. I’ve lost 8 so far. So try to be on top of them as much as you can because it can get out of control very fast. I hope this helps you with your plants.

  3. I see little white bugs in my soil when I put water on my cactus plant. Can someone tell me what to do? I don’t want to toss it out. It’s the only plant that I’ve keep alive

  4. alexis says:

    I have a problem with tiny little white-ish bugs in my houseplants soil. I have lost every plant ive had for the last 4 years. I’ve tried neem oil, spray pesticides, dish soap spray, and nothing works. Any other suggestions?

    • Without seeing them, I’m guessing it’s fungus gnat larvae. When you see them, repot the plant with fresh, sterile potting soil and follow the tips in this post for fungus gnat control. Covering the top of the soil with fine gravel will help, too.

  5. Digant Patel says:

    What is this? And how to get rid of this ?

    • Looks like you have an aphid infestation going on. The white flecks are the empty exoskeletons that these insects shed as they pass from one lifestage (instar) to the next. The small, green, live aphids are present on the fruit in the photo. Control with the measures suggested for aphids in this article.

  6. Catherina Filazzola says:

    Hi there I have a problem… I’ve been trying to look at pictures to see what type of past I have lurking in my house plants, but I cannot figure it out as The Pests are in my soil and not on my actual Leaves of the plants. They are white very small and they are calling in and out of the soil and I’m trying to look at pictures to compare them as I said but I’m having a hard time doing this… do aphids Actually go in the soil as well? Or am I dealing with another pest altogether?

    • Hi Catherina – You could have fungus gnat larvae in the soil (as mentioned in the above article) or perhaps another small soil-dwelling insect that may or may not be feeding on the roots of your plants. I would suggest that when spring arrives, you repot the plants, using a new, sterile potting mix formulated for houseplants. Use clean pots and try to remove as much of the old potting soil from the plant roots as possible when making the transfer. Another option is to place a product like GnatNix (mentioned and linked in the fungus gnat section of this post) on top of the soil. Aphids do not go into the soil; they feed on plant sap from the leaves and stems, so that’s definitely not what you have.

  7. Tammy says:

    I have a house plant that I take outside in the summer months, I believe it’s a Jade plant.
    The problem I’ve been having is, once I brought it in several months ago I’ve noticed these black flies around the plant and in the soil that I can’t get rid of. I just changed the dirt and rinsed the roots along with spraying the leaves with water. I put new soil in the bottom and left the plant to rest on top to allow to dry out for the day before I put the rest of the soil in pot.
    I’ve placed the plant in another room to dry roots because I don’t want the black flies to make home in the new soil.
    Will this do the trick of getting rid of these black flies? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I’ve tried almost everything I came across in the internet and can’t rid them.
    I’ve attached a picture of both the plant and the black fly.
    Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

    • HI Tammy – Looks like you had fungus gnats in your soil. Swapping the potting soil like you did often eliminates the problem. However, if they should happen to return, cut down on your watering and use GnatNix (link to purchase is in the description of fungus gnats in this post).

  8. Ashley says:

    Hello i don’t really know what’s going on with my plant .so I grew a plant from a pineapple its been a couple of months started small and is growing beautifully i water once a week and let the water run threw but to day when i was running the water threw i noticed alot of little tiny black bugs all over the soil jumping idk what to do my fiance whats me to throw out my plant is there Amy way of saving it?

    • Hi Ashley. Congrats on growing your pineapple! That’s cool. You definitely don’t have to throw it away. Just take it out of the pot, remove as much of the soil as possible (outdoors or in the garage somewhere) and rinse off the roots carefully. Then repot the plant in brand new potting soil and a clean pot. That should get rid of the soil gnats that have infested your soil. Also, you probably don’t need to be watering a pineapple once a week. Cut back on the watering and allow the soil to dry out between waterings. That will help, too. Good luck!

  9. Mudit says:

    I find these small black tiny balls on my plant pot after every 2 or 3 days. These are particularly found on top surface of soil of the curry tree plant. Any help would be of great support. Thanks in advance

    • Not sure what those are, but they don’t look like an insect. Is there a tree or another plant growing over the place where you keep this pot? Perhaps the tree is dropping seeds or debris? Could also be some type of insect excrement, again falling from an overhanging plant or maybe even on your curry tree plant itself. Hard to tell

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