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Simple, not easy.
Basically, we’re gonna be really vigilant about keeping our plants clean and keep them clean by hosing them down regularly.
I have a post here that goes through all the various pests and treatments, as well as individual posts on the separate pests that I’ll link to throughout this post.
That post was all about the theory of getting rid of pests. This one is more about the practical side of things. Sure, spray with neem oil, but for how long? How often? What if it doesn’t work?
Two tips, before we start:
- Always assume you’ll have at least one pest on one of your plants – CONSTANT VIGILANCE
- Consistency is, in my experience, more important than the products you use
I’m going start by giving you what seems to be bad news, but actually made getting bugs on many of my (100+) plants easier to deal with.
Mentally, at least.
Once you have house plant pests, assume that you will always have them.
Sounds grim, doesn’t it?
If you always assume at least a few of your plants have a thrips or two, you’ll be more dilligent about keeping them dust-free, and giving them the odd shower.
Prevention is better than cure.
Because when it comes to house plant pest prevention, this is NOT a case of one product cures all.
My house plant pest situation
I’m currently dealing with thrips AND spider mites.
Just yesterday I had to put my Calathea Zebrina out of her misery (and into the bin) because as well as the spider mites she’d be valiantly battling for months, she had a fairly sizeable thrips infestation.
Which leads me to an important point:
Don’t be afraid to throw out any plants that are too far gone and that you don’t really care too much about
Now, my Monstera Thai Constellation had thrips bad, but she was expensive (to me, anyway). I took extra steps to care for her, which involved moving her onto my bathroom window so I could spend my showers picking off thrips.
And here’s the thing – she still has them. But the population is (FINGERS CROSSED) under control.
So, I’ve assumed I have pests. So what?
We’re gonna make a schedule to keep our plants clean. It’s easily the easiest way to keep indoor plants bug-free.
If you don’t think you have any pests, then feel free to do this monthly, but every two weeks would be better, depending on how many plants you have.
Indoor plant bugs (especially spider mites) are attracted to dust.
So you’re gonna need to get rid of it.
If you’re a bit of a hippy like me, then you may be a little averse to spraying your plants with chemicals willy-nilly.
(BTW, chemicals aren’t bad in themselves, but the ones used in bug killers aren’t…great, and I have tropical fish and bunnies to consider)
You don’t need to use harsh chemicals to get rid of pests IF (and it’s a big if) you’re prepared to make sure your plants are squeaky clean weekly.
All you need to do is thoroughly hose your plants down.
The pressure of the humble bathroom shower will blast off the majority of the adult pests (barring scale, which you can pick off with your fingernail).
If you stay on top of it, you can keep any pest populations too small to really do any damage.
Issues with regularly showering your plants as pest prevention
- It’s a ballache
Not so much the moving them to the shower – it’s them dripping water and soil all over the carpet.
- Most plants don’t like have their leaves wet 24/7
Be extra aware of black spots on the leaves, especially on new growth. I’m too lazy to dry the leaves after, but I probably should.
- You need to keep the soil dry
If it were just a case of chucking my plants in the bath and showering them, I could EASILY draw up a daily schedule. I could get, say, 10 plants in my bathtub at once when I get up, hose ’em down, leave ’em to dry, and then switch at lunchtime.
If I did it every day, with Sundays off, no problem.
Except, you know, I have to go to work. Oh, and USE my shower.
AND I DON’T WANT TO OVERWATER MY DAMN PLANTS.
I mean, you could cover the soil with cling film, but who can be arsed?
So what do I do??
I regularly shower the plants that actively have pests.
And (and this is important) any new plants I get. At the VERY LEAST keep them separate to your other plants.
The others get showered as and when I get round to them.
Small plant get run under the sink.
Does converting your plants to semi-hydroponics get rid of pests?
Once I’ve got a bit more experience with semi-hydro I’ll do a full post on this, but I’ll give you the speedy version now:
Growing plants in leca DOES NOT 100% get rid of bugs BUT it does make them easier to shower them.
You do have to be careful to keep the leca in the pot, but you can thoroughly shower the plant without worrying about overwatering. And if any does drop out, it’s not really messy – you can just pick it up and put it back in the pot.
A lot of house plant pests lay their eggs in soil, and as such can’t reproduce if your plants are in semi-hydro. The pest most likely to be assuaged by this is fungus gnats, so if they’re the bane of your life, try the leca life.
Options other than the shower
I can rarely be bothered to trail my downstairs plants upstairs to the shower, so I take them outside and hose ’em down.
If you’re reading this jealously because you don’t have an outside space, don’t be too sad.
I live in the UK, and it’s rarely warm enough for me to do this. I don’t like dripping wet plants around my house, so I can hose my plants down outside if it’s
a) warm enough (almost never) but also
b) not sunny, because I want them to dry outside but not burn
My garden faces west, so the sun beats down on it from noon onwards (on the two days of the year that it’s sunny).
When you add in caveat c) not windy, we’re down to a window of, oh, one day a year?
Tiny plants can be run under the kitchen/bathroom tap (that’s a faucet, for my American friends).
My boyfriend is DESPERATE for me to try wholly submerging my plants into one of the aquariums (aquaria?), because the fish will love to eat the bugs.
I’m not yet sure how to stop soil from falling in, but I guess I could try with some of my plants in water.
What if I have a bad pest infestation?
If you have plants that are infested, you need to be hosing them down twice a week, and I’d recommend using some sort of bug killer, to make you feel better as much as anything.
I recommend neem oil, though I’m hoping to try a systemic bug killer if I can find a good one in the UK. This one from Bonide is recommended by a lot of people in the US. I’m currently trying this one. We’ll see.
The most important thing is to be consistent for a very long time.
On Mondays my spidermitey or thripsy plants are sprayed with neem oil diluted in water. I spray them thoroughly, making sure I hit the underside of the leaves, and then I leave them (sitting in the bath) for about 20 minutes.
Then I hose them down with water.
This may reduce neem oil’s hormone-fucking-up affects, but neem oil can also suffocate bugs, so the damage is most likely done. It can also burn your plants (though I’ve never experience this).
I repeat on Thursday but I use castille soap (Dr Bronners) diluted in water.
I accidentally added a bit too much (not sure how much, but waaaaay more than a teaspoon) so the plants are soapy when they’re sprayed. Again, I leave it for 20 minutes and then hose those mfs down.
There is no secret to showering plants without getting the soil soaked. It’s a case tilting your plant away from the shower spray at an angle of about 45 degrees and hoping the soil doesn’t get wet. It will a bit. Try not to worry.
Random things I’ve learned about house plant pests that I’ve only learned from experience
- Blasting your plant with water is pretty much as effective as most sprays
Like birth control, a lot of bug killers are 99% effective if used properly. But some plants are impossible to thoroughly spray – Hoya carnosa compacta and a lot of succulent comes to mind.
There are just many crevices.
But the physical power of the shower blasts them away. No, it doesn’t kill the eggs, but if you’re consistent, pests will struggle to thrive.
- They 100% disappear, and then come back
Like I said, assume you always have pests.
I’ve just bought a magnifying glass (this one, if you’re interested) because I’m cool like this, and my jade plant was dying (still is tbh) and it was only yesterday that I notice webbing.
They’re just part of the deal, I’m afraid. Forever. Unless you are extremely vigilant, never buy new plants, never leave your windows open and sterilise your clothes and body before entering your home.
- House plant pests were NOT good for my mental health
If you have a lot of plants, pests are just something you’ll have to get used to. Having pests does NOT make you a bad plant parent. It took me a long time to accept that.
Pests made me feel out of control, which sucked.
I mean, I don’t feel in control now, but I know that thrips are pretty much indestructible. A couple of rounds of neem oil won’t touch them. Pest prevention is part of my routine.
This mental technique is strange, but it really works for me – if I have a plant that has been killed by pests, I try to think about how nice a time the pests had doing it.
Sure, it sucks for me and my plant, but we’re only two living things, whereas literally hundreds of spider mites had a fucking swell time.
- Not all house plant bugs are made the same
Thrips THRIVE on Monstera, but you can wipe them off rubber plants once and never see them on it again.
Similarly, you can have a decent population of thrips on a Monstera deliciosa and not see any ill effects (though plz plz keep on top of them – populations can explode overnight), but a couple on your Adansonii and it’ll look like it’s had all the life sapped out of it and drop all its leaves.
- Beneficial bugs are great, but do your research
In August I released 50 ladybird larvae, and they did a great job monching thrips babies.
But it was too hot, and I didn’t get enough. Realistically, I’d need to release 500, and since 50 costs like £15…no thanks.
Maybe when I have all my plants in one greenhouse, but it’s not practical in high summer in a small, hot, home office. I’m pretty sure they all died of heatstroke.
It was really bad timing – they arrived on the hottest day in the UK. Literally any other day in all of human history and they would have been ok.
Yes, I feel terrible. I gave up cheese for animals and then sent 50 ladybird babies to their doom (I think).
At least they died with full tummies.
I will not be doing it again unless they all start emerging from their chrysalises soon. I have hope.
- All that stuff about certain pests liking certain conditions means fuck all
My house is dark and damp.
There shouldn’t be spider mites.
There fucking are.
Millions of the bastards.
There is no guaranteed way to get rid of house plants pests without also killing your plants (and possibly not being great for you).
But we don’t need to get rid of them 100%. We just need to keep numbers too low to do much damage.
Yes, it sucks, and it would be great if they’d just piss off, but pests are just trying to live their lives.
And when you think you’ve got rid of them all, MAKE SURE YOU KEEP CHECKING YOUR PLANTS.