An Intermediate Guide to Houseplants: Simple Ways to Deal with Pesky Pests


So, you made the plunge and bought a few houseplants. You’ve placed them and moved them around and they’re doing well. You’re feeling more cultured now, but then you notice the pests. This was inevitable, houseplants will attract aphids, ants, and other insects if you don’t pay attention. It’s happened to me before. I’ve repotted plants to discover hundreds of them gathered all around the root ball. You need to address this or else the plant will die, but don’t worry, it’s certainly fixable with some easy steps. 

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dying houseplants
We’ve all been here.

Hacks for Houseplant Pests

Before getting to pest control, it’s important to note that their presence can be a sign of an unhealthy plant. You can minimize the risk or completely prevent the problem all together with good overall care. Practice proper fertilization, keep the top soil clean and prune the plant of dead leaves and flowers, and routinely wipe dust off the leaves with a damp cloth. Make sure the plants you choose match the indoor conditions in which they will live, mostly light and temperature. Too much or too little of either will hinder the natural ability of your plants to fight off pests.

Pots that keep the soil too wet or dry will also hinder this ability. As I laid out in the previous beginner’s guide, you can experiment with these factors over time as you learn more about plant care. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t save one, take a cutting before throwing it out and start over. This game takes patience. 

The first step in saving your plant is to clean and repot. Dump all the soil and clean the root ball completely. Wash out the pot with soap and replant with fresh, clean soil. Note that this measure is only necessary if you think it’s survival is at stake. Repotting an overall healthy plant can cause additional stress that you don’t want. Whether you repot or not, it is necessary to think about preventative measures for future infestations.

A simple solution is to cover the top soil with a layer of fine sand. You can use sticky traps to snag any small flying bugs should you have them. You can also go the organic pesticide route; they make insecticidal soaps and oils that work extremely well, and only require a few occasional spritzes with a spray bottle. Be sure to spray the top as well as the underside of the leaves. Neem oil is a great solution if you want to treat bugs and fungus at the same time. If you have ants, I’ve found that sprinkling some ground cinnamon on the top soil works wonders. 

I understand all this information can make houseplants seem unworthy of the trouble, but you most likely won’t have pests issues with every single one you own. Pay extra attention to plants placed in kitchens. Wash your dishes, clean your counters, take out your trash, just use common sense. Most of my plants have been insect free for the entire time that I’ve owned them. These preventative measures are just for “what if” scenarios. This is by no means a complete list of solutions, but it will be enough to get you started.