Whether you have one houseplant or 100, if they become infested with pests, you’re in for an adventure. Plant pests can jeopardize the health of your entire collection, and the task of getting rid of pests is hard work.
We spoke with several plant experts and influencers who shared stories of their worst plant infestations and how they resolved them. Hopefully their unfortunate incidents will help you deal with any pesky bugs that may find their way into your plants.
Types of Plant Pests
First, there are many types of plant pests. The most common pests for indoor plants usually include, but are not limited to, spider mites, mealybugs, thrips, and scale.
A Previously 'Majestic' Monstera
Who: Ciara Benko, @thejungleupstairs
“The majestic Monstera in the corner of my bedroom was my pride and joy. After four years of tending to her, staking her, consistently wiping her leaves and giving her my undying love, she had grown to tower over six feet tall. But last summer, I noticed some white powder on the underside of her leaves, and that was my first introduction to my arch nemesis: mealybugs.”
How Ciara Got Rid of Mealybugs
Mealybugs look like little cotton or white powder on your leaves, so if you notice them, you should wipe down the leaves immediately and spray with a product such as neem oil. This is what Ciara did and, “they returned with a vengeance," she said.
After their return she tried “spraying them down with a mix of rubbing alcohol and water.”
“One Sunday afternoon, I spent FOUR HOURS wiping the plant down from top to bottom. But with mealybugs, if you miss just one, they bounce back almost immediately. The only way I could fix this was to chop the plant down, propagate the healthy leaves, and toss out the infested root ball—so that’s what we did!
"I honestly got a little choked up as we started chopping down vine after vine, but now— four months later—I’ve planted the healthy leaves back in soil and we have a whole new plant!”
A Fiddle Leaf Fig With Multiple Pests
Who: Kev, @theplantpapi
Pests: Mealybugs and spider mites
Kev had to deal with pests on one of his first big plant purchases, a fiddle leaf fig (which is already a finicky plant).
“One day I was sitting on my couch and I noticed a few white spots on my plant. Me being a novice, I thought I had a special plant with variegation on my hands. As I paid more attention, I noticed that the spots were moving. I went closer to my plant and saw these small fuzzy bugs.” After some research, he discovered the plant had mealybugs.
How Kev Fought His Plant Pests
He took his fiddle leaf fig outside, sprayed it down with a hose, and then sprayed it with neem oil. "I took him back inside and sprayed him down every other day. I then began to look into the crevices of the plant to make sure I sprayed those down too. I then saw some webbing and even smaller bugs; I had spider mites!” Kev decided to leave his plant outside until it got too cold. He’s waiting for it to grow back stronger than ever.
An Infestation on Most of a Collection
Who: Kyler Hurley, @plntdude
"My first real pest problem, and I mean real pest problem, (not your typical annoying fungus gnats problem) happened about a year into my plant parent journey. I returned from a two-week work trip to find that most of my plant collection (including my prized monsteras) had been infested with thrips.” Thrips can be one of the worst pests, as they can quickly stunt plant growth and cause leaves to drop.
How Kyler Fought Thrips
“To eradicate, I rolled up my sleeves and started performing triage. I immediately moved all of the infected plants to my shower for a mandatory quarantine. I then sprayed the plants religiously with a neem oil solution (eight ounces water, one teaspoon neem, two drops of dish soap) and let sit for a few minutes. Then I showered the foliage down with torrential force to knock off as many bugs as possible. I repeated this process a couple times a week for two weeks. Eventually I won the fight with minimal casualties. Nowadays I meticulously check for pests like it’s my job. Thrips are no joke!”
A Two-Year Battle for an Umbrella Tree
Who: Sarah Gerrard-Jones, @theplantrescuer
Known on Instagram as The Plant Rescuer, Gerrard-Jones is no stranger to fixing up plants.
“Luckily there are many options for pest control, but be prepared for some of the options to take time. You'll need to work hard and be patient. There isn't really a quick fix. An infestation can take months to deal with or even years in the case of my Schefflera tree.”
When she first started rescuing plants ,she never thought to check them for pests before doing so, which led her to unleash pests into her home without realizing it. “A beautiful, big Schefflera (also known as the umbrella tree) came home with me, infested with scale."
How She Got Rid of Scale
"After two years of trying to get rid of them, I decided enough was enough. The tree was becoming increasingly unhealthy, and the scale just kept on multiplying. So I took the drastic decision to chop it down (see video below). I had nothing to lose. The tree was going to die from the infestation, so I figured it was worth the gamble."
"I'm happy to report that the schefflera has grown lots of new leaves, and there is no sign of scale at all!”
Sarah recommends doing this only as a last resort, adding that she recommends using a "horticultural soap (spray the plant every three to five days to keep the infestation under control) or biological control—releasing predatory mites or specialist ladybirds which eat houseplant pests.”
Thrips on a Fiddle-Leaf Fig
Who: Shelley Caruana, @shelleys.indoor.jungle
Shelley from @shelleys.indoor.jungle has been battling thrips on her fiddle leaf fig for awhile. “I tried neem oil, wiping down, showering. But they always return. What's worse, adults fly, so even quarantining is a pain."
How She Got Rid of Thrips
"I finally managed to get rid of them using Resolva. It's an insecticide, so ideally you're not using this outside as it can be harmful to bees. I also still make sure to wipe leaves daily and check foliage constantly, even when it seems the pests are gone, as there can be dormant eggs. I do like to repot my plants that have been infested, and when buying new plants from nurseries, I check them THOROUGHLY before bringing them home. I also usually leave new plants away from my other plants for a few days, until I'm certain there's no pests.”