Speaking of pests, finding pests on your houseplants is a rite of passage in the interior horticulture industry. Not only can they damage the leaves of your plant, but pests can also prohibit new growth from flourishing, and when left unchecked can kill the plant entirely. Fungus gnats, mealy bugs, and mites are some of the most common pests.
1. Fungus gnats: Fungus gnats live in soil. They eat plant roots and are attracted to light, which often results in them flying around a laptop or phone screen. Although they are not the same, at first glance fungus gnats somewhat resemble fruit flies. Because they fly, fungus gnats can easily spread to other plants nearby, so it is important to treat not just the affected plant but all of those around it as well.
2. Mealybugs: If you see small fuzzy round spots on the leaves or stem of your plant, it is most likely mealy bugs. Mealy most often live under plant leaves or on the stems, and in some cases live in the soil depending on the type. They form cottony nests where they are feeding and will consume the sap of a plant. They secrete a sticky honeydew that can encourage growth of sooty black mold on plants. Mealybugs thrive in warmer temperatures and prefer tropical plants with softer stems and thicker, fleshier foliage that they prefer to feed on.
3. Spidermites: Mites appear as tiny white dots on leaves and cause damage directly the leaves as they consume the sap. Signs of mites include discoloration or fading of leaf color, particularly on the undersides of the leaves. You may even see holes in the leaves. Mite populations can spread quickly and they are enhanced by dry and hot conditions.
The first step in pest management is prevention. Regular cleaning of your plants leaves with a foliage spray will help prevent dust build up and can eliminate any hidden larvae before they hatch. Neem oil is an excellent option for cleaning foliage as well as treating and preventing infestation. If you find yourself with pests on a plant, isolate that plant immediately. Any active pest infestation can be helped by using a small amount of rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to remove any visible bugs. Next, spray your plant thoroughly with neem oil (or a similar insecticidal spray for indoor use from your garden center) and wipe the leaves clean and dry. This will remove any insects and help hinder larvae growth. Spray and wipe your plant once per week until your infestation has subsided.