Mar 6, 2024 - News

How to prevent and treat pests on houseplants

A mealybug seen on the lip of a plastic planter of a houseplant.

The mealybug that still gives me nightmares. Photo: Kristal Dixon/Axios

Kristal here. I noticed a mealybug coming out of the soil of my monstera adansonii last week — and expeditiously tossed the plant in the trash.

  • Treating mealybugs isn't for the weak, as they are extremely hard to get rid of.

The intrigue: The plant had been in my home for a few months and hadn't been exposed to any new plants, so it got me thinking: Where exactly do these pests come from?

  • I reached out to Julie Campbell, an assistant professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, who gave me the lowdown on common pests that plague houseplants.

What they're saying: Pests, such as mealybugs, thrips, spider mites, aphids and fungus gnats, can come into your home via potting soil or a new plant.

  • "Pests in general are everywhere," Campbel says, adding they can also come through doors and windows and attach themselves to plants. "It's kind of ubiquitous and you just have to have the right conditions to hit a plant."

What are these "right conditions?" Hot, humid and moist. Plants that thrive in these conditions, such as ferns and calatheas (and, in my experience, monsteras and alocasias) are more susceptible to pests.

  • Plants that have more dense foliage also attract pests, Campbell tells Axios.
  • Like me, Campbell says she throws away anything infected with mealybugs because their protective coating makes them harder to kill.

How to prevent pests: Make sure you learn a plant's watering routine and lighting needs so you can ensure it remains healthy.

  • Providing too much or too little light, water or fertilizer can weaken a plant, making it an easy target, Campbell says.
  • The professor also recommends bottom watering your plants, as well as grouping plants with similar watering and lighting needs together.
  • Also, when you buy a new houseplant, keep it separate from others for at least two weeks to ensure they are clear of pests.
  • I make it a habit to inspect my plants weekly, add systemic granules to the soil and spray insecticidal soap when needed.

💭 Kristal's thought bubble: I've been obsessively monitoring the plants that were near the one infected with mealybugs, hoping they have been spared. Wish me luck!

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