One morning when you were watering your houseplants, you noticed a few bugs you had never noticed before. You wrote this off as a coincidence until there was another bug the next day, and then two more the day after that. You know your plants originated from outside, but that does that mean they have to bring in the rest of Mother Nature too? Are your houseplants really the cause of the growing number of bugs you’re seeing in your home?
Do houseplants attract bugs? Yes, having houseplants in your home or office can bring in bugs, & the humidity some plants require is an appealing environment to insects, as is the still air and standing water. These are the most common indoor garden insects:
- Fungus gnats
- Spider mites
You may have some questions about these insects, including whether they’re harmful to your houseplants. If so, I encourage you to keep reading. I’ll explain each of those insect species in-depth as well as talk about how you might go about removing them without the use of chemicals.
Let’s get started.
Why Do Bugs Like Your Indoor Garden?
The world is a big, wide oyster to a teeny-tiny bug that’s practically microscopic to the naked human eye. Of all the many places they could go, why do they choose your home or office specifically?
Because of your plants, of course. It’s not just that bugs are attracted to any ol’ plant environment, though. The settings in which your indoor garden grows lure them in like this.
Lack of Air Movement
Think of what high winds can do to a small critter like a bug. Those insects that can fly might have to stay grounded because all that harsh air can interrupt their flight path and send them careening where they don’t want to go.
Then the insect finds a placid environment like your home or office’s indoor garden. The air doesn’t gust here, so they feel safe to settle in and make themselves right at home.
Standing water includes any lingering pool of water left after you sprinkle your houseplants with H2O. This can be water sitting on the leaves, the surface of the soil, or even the water in a saucer or container if your indoor plant happens to grow best when submerged.
Lots of insect species love standing water, and not exclusively water bugs either. It’s because bugs need moisture for their bodies to avoid drying out, as this can lead to death. In some scenarios, like if you are indeed growing a plant in water, then having some standing water is unavoidable. You’ll have to be more vigilant in keeping bugs out, because they will come into your home or office.
If bugs like standing water, then you can bet they find an environment with lots of humidity preferable as well. An indoor garden with mostly tropical plants kept warm by a humidifier will see a lot of bugs try to slip their way in.
Which Bugs Do Indoor Plants Attract?
As I promised I would, next, I want to talk about the species of insects that you might see on your windowsill or in the soil or potting mix of your indoor plants.
The whitefly is classified as a Hemiptera, or a true bug. It’s in the same group as insects like shield bugs, leafhoppers, planthoppers, aphids, and cicadas. You have more than 1,550 different whitefly species to look out for.
The reason these bugs are called whiteflies is because that’s what they look like: they’re flies, and they’re white. Whiteflies are also incredibly tiny, 1/12th of an inch on average, which can make detection difficult.
The most common place for whiteflies to hang out is underneath your plant’s leaves, where they’ll congregate. Whiteflies will stick around all year, but they’re typically more visible during daytime than nighttime.
Do you have thrips in your indoor garden? Again, it’s hard to tell due to the thrips’ microscopic size, which is less than a millimeter in some instances. Their wings are described as fringed, and, depending on the species, their mouthparts differ.
Up to 6,000 species of thrips may exist in all, some that are dark brown, others that are tannish, and some that are neon green. It’s those thrips especially that blend in very well with your houseplants.
Thrips tend to appear in the spring, just when you might open your windows to let some fresh air in. They’ll reproduce and lay their eggs in the tissue of your indoor plants. Within about five days, the eggs hatch. Luckily, thrips live for about a month, but every year, they can reproduce to create roughly 15 generations.
When your indoor garden has an invasion of thrips, you’ll see patches of white, speckles, and streaks of silver across your plant’s leaves.
The scale in the Coccoidea superfamily may date back to the Triassic period, which was well over 50 million years ago. Scales sometimes have both sexual organs so they can reproduce with themselves. The ones that are decidedly female lack limbs.
Some scales boast an armored shell, typically in a color variation of brown. They will seek dry, warm places, such as your houseplants or indoor garden. Then, like whiteflies, scales will camp out underneath the leaves of your houseplants. You might also be able to spot them on the joints of the leaves.
Another species of insect that loves your houseplants or indoor garden is the mealybug. This bug, which lacks armor, will gravitate towards warm, moist places especially.
When the female mealybug finds a plant in your indoor garden she likes, she attaches to the roots or any crevice she can find. There, she’ll drink your poor houseplant’s sap, leaving a layer of wax behind that’s powdery in texture. This powdery layer of wax is usually the home to the mealybugs eggs.
If you grow anything sweet in your indoor garden, such as orchids, sunflowers, gardenia, cacti, ferns, coffee trees, or citrus trees, then you especially have to take precautions against the mealybug.
If you’re not thoroughly grossed out yet, I still have a few more bugs to talk about.
Fungus gnats are another very small bug, about on par with a fruit fly. Fungus gnats have dark brown or black heads and bodies, lighter brown legs, and they fly too.
When fungus gnats reach your indoor garden, they’ll find organic matter near the top of the soil and lay eggs there. The average fungus gnat lays 200 eggs at a time, so you’ll certainly have an infestation to deal with once the eggs hatch. This takes three days.
The larvae will then immediately dig into your plant’s soil to eat anything and everything decaying. Then, when the larvae become big and strong, within two weeks, they emerge as adult fungus gnats, repeating this truly vicious cycle.
Since fungus gnats can destroy your houseplant’s roots, killing the plant from the inside out, they’re hugely problematic. It’s also difficult to track them down because fungus gnats can burrow under the soil for weeks at a time.
The spider mite comprises 1,200 different species, so it’s another one of those bugs that’s quite plentiful around indoor gardens. It’s not a critter you’d particularly want to see either, as the spider mite has a red body with translucent/white legs, and many, many legs at that.
When the spider mite chooses your houseplant as its home, it will settle underneath the plant’s leaves. There it makes webs, which are a delicate silk material. The spider mite will eat your plant as well, creating holes to get deep into the plant’s cells.
Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about aphids. These are another insect that loves to drink sap from indoor or outdoor plants. Some people refer to aphids as blackflies or greenflies, but it’s all the same. This is because aphids aren’t guaranteed to be black or green, as they can be many colors and shades.
Besides sap, aphids will also happily nosh on your houseplant’s liquids, often those that contain the nutrients your plant needs to survive. If enough aphids congregate on your houseplant, it’s likely that your plant can become damaged and weak. When aphids reproduce, it’s often in huge numbers, making an infestation very common once a few take hold on or near your houseplants.
Natural Tips for Removing Unwanted Critters from Your Houseplants or Indoor Garden
So you want the above bugs gone, huh? Of course you do, and no one can blame you for that. Not only are these bugs disgusting and unsanitary, they can hurt or even kill your houseplants too.
Here are a few natural tactics I’ve used, that I can confidently recommend you try using if you ever find yourself forced to deal with the above bugs specifically.
Pro Tip 😉
For ridding your plants of whiteflies:
- Organic neem oil diluted with water (a gallon of water for every ounce of neem oil) can kill off whiteflies without chemicals.
- Inviting lacewings and ladybugs to your indoor garden also works, as they eat whitefly eggs.
- You can apply yellow sticky paper around your indoor garden as well to make it bug free.
For ridding your plants of Thrips:
- You can fight off thrips with other bugs, such as lacewings, ladybugs, and minute pirate bugs. These insects are considered beneficial, as they consume thrip larvae and eggs.
- There are blue sticky paper that I found to be another good option for thrips when necessary.
For ridding your plants of Scales:
- Those same bugs that eat whiteflies and thrips: lacewings and ladybugs, will gladly munch on larval scales too.
- You can also apply neem-based leaf shine.
- A bit of rubbing alcohol (in a cotton swab) can work really well for minor scale problems but not for large infestations.
For ridding your plants of Mealybugs:
Keep that neem oil handy for treating mealybugs, as it works here too.
For ridding your plants of Fungus Gnats:
When it comes to fungus gnats, one of the best ways to get rid of them & to keep them from moving into your potted plants, in the first place, is by making drastic changes to your watering habits, if possible.
By letting at least the top two to three inches of the soil completely dry out between the times you water your plant again, is a great way to deal with fungus gnats.
Under-watering your plant creates a completely inhospitable environment for fungus gnats in particular.
Fungus gnats don’t like dry soil. They can’t survive in dry soil. Dry potting soil doesn’t make for fertile ground, so to speak, for keeping their eggs alive, so the adults don’t lay eggs here. You can even kill fungus gnat larvae by drying out the soil, making it a win-win.
Also, avoid peat moss and other organic materials if your indoor plants are susceptible to fungus gnats, as these materials will bring them in by the dozen.
For ridding your plants of Spider Mites:
Neem oil or a dusting of Neem Powder sometimes works work for spider mites, but your best course of action for spider mites invading your houseplants is usually just to trim down any parts of your indoor plant where spider mites have been.
For ridding your plants of Aphids:
You can combat aphids by making a mixture of cayenne pepper, water, and soap.
My recipe for Anti-Aphid spray is roughly:
- a tablespoon of dish soap,
- a quart of ice water,
- and a generous amount of cayenne.
Then, spray your plants with this mix.
Cleaning the plant leaves with plain old soap and water can also work sometimes for ridding your indoor garden of aphids, as does neem oil. If you want to dislodge aphids fast, switch from watering your plants with room temperature H2O to cold water. They hate the cool temperatures!
Do indoor plants attract mosquitoes?
You’ve had enough of bugs, but you have to ask, what about the mosquito? You didn’t see it on this list, but now you’re genuinely curious about whether these bloodsuckers will get into your home or office courtesy of your indoor garden.
If you grow houseplants in standing water, there’s always a possibility you could lure in the mosquitoes, although it’s not a very high chance. Otherwise no, your indoor garden shouldn’t attract mosquitoes.
Can I spray vinegar on my houseplants?
If you’re trying to aggressively treat your indoor garden bug problem, then you might think a vinegar bath is a good idea. Indeed, the vinegar may remove some species of bugs, and it shouldn’t harm your pets or yourself and your loved ones.
However, the acetic acid within vinegar, even if it’s only five percent, could begin to degrade the cell membranes of your houseplant.
Don’t spray vinegar anywhere near your plants then. Even diluted vinegar isn’t a great idea.
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