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Houseplant patrol: Keep on scouting, keep 'em clean

March 9, 2021
Dying aloe plant with white cottony bugs on it.
Mealybugs literally sucked the life out of this young aloe plant.

As our days lengthen and warm up, we turn our thoughts to gardening outdoors. However, remember that your houseplants can still be under attack from insects and diseases.

I came across a mealybug clan on my aloe plant. Mealybugs are sucking insects and really did a number on this little aloe (now compost).

The good news is there are things you can do to prevent such a fate for your houseplants.

White cottony insects on a dying green plant.
Adult mealybugs on aloe plant

Scout for insects

Scout or check plants for signs of insects a few times a week. Look on and under leaves, on stems and around buds or flowers.

Insect signs include:

  • webbing
  • black specs (insect feces), and
  • honeydew, a sticky shiny substance that sometimes becomes black with sooty mold.

More recommendations and details can be found on Managing insects on indoor plants.

Clean plant leaves and soil

  • Clean your plants by washing them with a spray nozzle in a sink (or shower for the bigger plants).
  • Dust on leaves not only reduces light to the leaf surface but also attracts insects like spider mites.
  • Remove debris on the soil surface. Dead leaves and flowers can create some dandy insect habitat and hiding places.
  • Remove debris from soil, from inside plant saucers and around the plant on the tabletop or floor.
Large green leafy plant in a shower stall.
Wash larger plants and plants with many leaves in the shower.
Large leafy plant in a sunny room.
The plant is brighter, more vibrant after a good cleaning.

Author: Julia Weisenhorn, Extension educator, horticulture

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