Aphids are a common houseplant pest that is closely related to mealybugs, white flies and other scale insects. These insects are in the suborder Sternorrhyncha, known for their anatomical structure with mouths that are in a more rearward body position. About 5,000 distinct species of aphids have been identified so far. Some infestations can be effectively identified and treated, while others tend to be more persistent. Many of these species have evolved in relation to specific plants and vegetables, such as potatoes, beans, cabbage, and many types of citrus fruit. It’s also common to find aphids on houseplants.
How to Identify Aphids on Houseplants
Aphids are bigger than many houseplant pests, usually around 3 millimeters. These bugs can be almost any color, but most varieties are green, black or white. Depending on the species, they are likely to live primarily on the backs of leaves, stems, flowers, or roots. Depending on the color, location, size and extent of the infestation, you may be able to identify aphids on houseplants with the naked eye. Woolly aphids are easily confused with whiteflies. These are different insects, but both species are susceptible to the same insecticides and predator bugs.
Another common way of identifying aphids is a sticky coating of honeydew, which aphids secrete when feeding. This honeydew can also lead to mold growth or attract other insects, which inflict even more damage to houseplants. Most aphids are wingless and spread slowly, but advanced infestations will produce adult aphids with wings that can spread to nearby plants. Left untreated, aphids on houseplants are also likely to cause plant growth that is stunted, deformed, or discolored.
Aphid Pest Control and Treatment
Aphid control can start with something as simple as a cold spray of water to dislodge as many of the bugs as you can from the plant leaves. Do this in a sink or other safe and then replace the plants. You can also lay down yellow or blue sticky paper next to the plant to trap even more of these pests. You can follow this up with repeated treatments of insecticidal soaps and oils in the weeks ahead. Finally, you can introduce ladybugs which love to prey on aphids to control and prevent future infestation.
Some types of aphids are notoriously difficult to get rid of completely. Root aphids can live and breed on the roots first, only emerging from the soil in advanced stages. These aphids may require repeated treatments to control this type of infestation.
How to Prevent Aphids on Houseplants
Preventing aphids starts with routine houseplant care to promote a strong, healthy plant. Remove dead growth. Neem oil and many other insecticides can be applied as a preventative treatment as well as pest control. There are also a number of preventative home remedies. Both catnip and cayenne pepper are natural aphid repellants. Flour dusting works by drying out the bugs and can be used for both prevention and treating active infestations.
Cost-Benefit Analysis of Treating Houseplants for Aphids
Because aphids are slow to spread, it’s usually worth trying to treat an infestation, especially if it’s a favorite houseplant. With multiple treatments, you can at least save the houseplant even if the aphids are a chronic problem. For larger plants with localized signs of aphids, you can also cut off the affected growth. If you’ve detected an advanced infestation or if you’re worried about the health of nearby plants, the best solution may be to throw the plant away and start a new houseplant. Not sure if your houseplant pests are aphids? Learn more about identifying and treating pests with our complete guide on houseplant pests.