8 Insects and Worms That Live in Potted Plants - Backyard Boss
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8 Insects and Worms That Live in Potted Plants

Insects and worms are a common sight in potted plants. Sometimes these small creatures can be helpful and provide nutrients to the soil that give your plant a boost. However, in many cases they are pests that feed on the sap from foliage and stems, draining your plant of vital nutrition.

Whenever you see an insect or worm in the soil or on your plant, act fast and identify it quickly. That way if it is a pest you can start tackling the infestation right away to give your plant the best chance of survival. Learn more about eight of the most common worms and insects you might find in your potted plants and how to control any pesky pests.

Aphids

Aphid on a flower
Image credits: Dustin Humes via Unsplash

Aphids are tiny insects! They have soft bodies and are only about 0.06 to 0.05 inches long. They can be tricky to see because of their small size and tendency to gather on the underside of a plant’s foliage. Aphids also have several different colors, they can be black, pink, brown, or yellow, but are most commonly green.

If you notice the leaves on your potted plant are sticky and the foliage is yellowing it’s a clear sign that aphids are infesting your plant. These little bugs feast on plant sap, taking away its nutrients and leaving a sticky residue behind.

To get rid of aphids, you can wipe leaves with a cotton ball or damp cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol. Alternatively, you can try spraying them with water or an insecticidal spray like neem oil. Always test these options on a small area of the plant first, to prevent damaging foliage further.

Earthworms

Person holding earthworms in soil
Image credits: Sippakorn Yamkasikorn via Unsplash

Earthworms, ‘Red Wigglers’ or Eisenia fetida are one of the most common worms you can find in garden soil. When prepping a potted plant with potting soil, it’s unusual to come across any earthworms, unless you decide to add some in. However, if you put houseplants outdoors it’s possible for earthworms to wriggle their way in.

These worms aren’t usually any worry, generally, they don’t damage potted plants. In contrast, worm compost or vermicompost can boost soil nutrients and make it easier for roots to soak them up. Plus, it can also increase aeration which is great for water drainage!

Mealybugs

Mealybugs
Image credits: Feey via Unsplash

Mealybugs are fuzzy white insects that love to attack the foliage on potted plants. They are a relative of scales, another common pest. ‘Citrus mealybugs’ or Planococcus citri is the variety that most often feeds on houseplants. This type targets succulent plants like jade plants and cacti varieties, as well as rosemary plants.

You can find mealybugs on the undersides of leaves, where they eat the plant’s sap. This stunts plant growth and can cause defoliation or leaf loss, as well as wilting, and yellow foliage. If you see any of these signs act fast, they can hop to the next plant and quickly infect your garden.

To control mealybug infestations, wash away as many as you can with warm water. Then, try using a paper towel with a bit of rubbing alcohol to kill off the eggs. Remember, rubbing alcohol could damage leaves so try this on a few spots first.

Scales

The ornamental house plant leaf was infested by scale insects on the upper leaf surface.
Image credits: DAwee via Shutterstock

A relative of mealybugs, and part of the Coccoidea family, scales are a common houseplant pest. They are typically quite small only 0.06 to 0.5 inches in size. Unlike mealybugs, adult scales don’t have legs, so they don’t usually move.

Scales feed on the sap from foliage and excrete a sticky substance known as honeydew. Aphids and mealy bugs do this as well. Honeydew encourages the growth of Sooty mold, a black fungus that blocks the leaf’s ability to soak up sunlight, preventing photosynthesis and eventually killing the leaf.

To protect themselves, scales cover their bodies with a waxy substance. This can make getting rid of them a bit trickier as the coating helps to protect them against insecticides. If you spot a few scales use a soft toothbrush with soap and water to scrap them off. Then, repeat for best success.

Millipedes

Millipedes
Image credits: Rashid via Unsplash

While millipedes might look unfriendly, they are actually a good thing! They thrive in the soil and are usually about 1 to 5 inches long. Millipedes gradually move around potting soil which is a top benefit. Like earthworms, their movements loosen the soil. Plus, they also eat up and recycle old plant material, making the nutrients accessible for roots.

Fun Fact: Even though their name, millipede suggests they have 1000 feet, most have 100 or fewer legs!

Fungus Gnats

Fungus Gnats
Image credits: Katja Schulz via Flickr

Fungus gnats are small but mighty houseplant pests. These gnats belong to the Sciaridae family, are only 0.125 inches, and fly around the plants they infect. The adults don’t actually feed on the plant, however, their larvae which are usually 0.25 inches in size may eat any fungus and the roots as well. While they rarely eat roots, you still want to avoid the possibility.

To control fungus gnats the best step is always prevention. They favor damp soil for laying larvae. So an easy solution is to keep the soil surface dry to reduce where they will want to lay eggs. To hydrate your plant, water from the bottom instead. Then, to catch the adults, hang up sticky traps.

Spider Mites

Spider Mite Close
Image credits: Egor Kamelev via Pexels

The sticky sap that plants create, attracts spider mites. You can sometimes spot their tiny webs trailing across the foliage of plants. However, since they are so small, usually you’ll notice the damage they cause first. To check if your plants have spider mites, look for fading foliage that has speckles of damage. If the infestation is large, the foliage may be turning yellow and dying off.

To tackle spider mites, spray leaves with water using a forceful spray bottle. This will rinse off some of the mites. You will need to repeat this process weekly to ensure they are all off. If this doesn’t work, try using a neem oil spray instead.

Pot Worms

Enchytraeids
Image credits: D. Sikes via Flickr

Pot worms or Enchytraeids thrive in cold damp soils. It shouldn’t be alarming if you see a few in the soil! They help maintain the balance of organic material by eating decomposing organic plant waste, fungi, and bacteria. They also improve soil aeration by creating small tunnels or pores in the soil. So if you come across a few pot worms, don’t stress, they’re the good kind!

Say Goodbye to Pesky Bugs

While some insects and worms can be helpful, like earthworms, many are harmful pests. If you see signs of aphids, mealybugs, scales, fungus gnats, or spider mites you need to intervene. Generally, washing the pests off is a great first step. Then follow up using insecticides like neem oil, rubbing alcohol, or even soap and water.

Have you encountered any of these pests in your potted plants before? How did you get rid of the infestations? Share your experiences in the comments below to help fellow gardeners heal their plants.

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