White Bugs on Plants? Here’s How to Get Rid of Them

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You’ve probably encountered white bugs on plants in your gardening endeavor. It’s likely, the reason why you’re here reading this post. This is something we’ve all faced whether growing houseplants such as succulents, citrus, or outdoor in tomato-related plants.

It’s even worse when you don’t have any idea what those white bugs are. Lucky for you, in this post, I’m going to share how you can identify the specific bugs and how to easily get rid of them.

You can easily establish the identity of the bug by looking at its appearance. For instance, are they fuzzy or fluffy, are they sticky or tiny, are they on top of the soil or flying around when you touch the plant. As we shall learn in the rest of this article, white bugs on houseplants could either be mealybugs, whiteflies, scale Insects, soil mites, or root aphids.

If this summary sounds like something you’d want to read about, then let’s get to it:


How to Identify and Get Rid of White Bugs on Plants

Monitoring and Identification

Generally, you should make a point to routinely check your plants for any pest present and take note of the quantity. Also, take note of how widespread the problem is from houseplant to the other. This initial activity serves two purposes.

The first one, you’ll be able to detect pest problems earlier enough and take the necessary control measures before any serious infestation or damage to your plants. Secondly, just because there are white bugs all over your plant doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Therefore, close observation helps you tell apart the good and bugs.

The most common whitish bugs on most plants are mealybugs, whiteflies, scales, and root aphids. Mealybugs and root aphids look alike since they have a fluffy and cottony appearance but the latter are found on the soil surface and around the root area.

If you touch the plant and observe flying white bugs, those are whiteflies. While the sticky whitish-looking bugs could be insect scales.

Having this information is crucial to help you do a proper identification. Next, we look at each bug and control them.


Mealybugs

White bugs on plants - mealybugs

Mealybugs are small, fluffy-looking bugs that move very sluggishly and are easily recognizable. They look like small white puffs of cotton or fluffy deposits of white powder. The adult females cover themselves and their eggs with white, waxy material, making them look cottony. You’ll realize that it’s quite challenging to control mealybugs their wax helps repel most pesticides.

When inspecting your plants for the presence of mealybugs, check the underside since they are most commonly found on the lower surfaces of leaves and in leaf axils (where the leaf attaches to the stem).

What makes these fluffy white bugs dangerous is the fact that they suck plant sap, causing stunted and distorted growth and sometimes plant death. Like aphids, they excrete honeydew, providing the opportunity for the growth of sooty mold fungi.

You’ll often find mealybugs on African violets, plants in the citrus family, Ficus, jade, gardenia, poinsettia, and other indoor plants. While most sprays don’t work on mealybugs there are several other ways to control these notorious bugs.

Let’s check them out:


How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

Improve your plant’s growing conditions – most bugs including mealybugs have a strong sense of a weak plant. Therefore, ensure your plants have optimal growing conditions to promote vigorous growth.

Discard the affected plants - Depending on the severity of the infestation, consider discarding the affected plants to avoid the spread. Not unless the plant is particularly valuable which may warrant the trouble involved.

Individually remove the mealybugs by hand or cotton swab – the advantage of regularly monitoring the plants is that you can detect and eliminate the bugs earlier. For instance, you can rub the light infestation with your hands (wear gloves) or rubbing with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol.

Use an insecticidal soap or neem oil extract – as a last resort, you may consider spraying these products. What I like about the insecticidal soap is that it’s natural and it’s also able to penetrate the waxy substance thus exposing the bugs to the insecticide.

Pro Tip: Always follow the instructions on the insecticide’s label to the T.


Whiteflies

White bugs on plants - whiteflies

Whiteflies are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to mealybugs and aphids. They are somewhat triangular-shaped and can be as small as 1/12 of an inch. These insects are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves.

Whiteflies are often described as fuzzy white bugs on plants with a powdery white appearance and resemble tiny moths. When at rest, the wings are held at an angle, roof-like over the body. The immature stage is scale-like and does not move.

They can be found indoors in USDA zone 7 and the colder regions or outdoors as seasonal outdoor pests (happens when you purchase outdoor plants from an infected source). On the other hand, in warmer areas whiteflies are a nuisance both indoors and outdoors as they can overwinter and reproduce outdoors all year round.

In most cases, whiteflies start to show up in mid to late summer when the environment is humid and warm.

Both the adults and their immature forms feed by sucking plant sap. Whiteflies cause damage similar to that of aphids. When you touch through the leaves of whiteflies infested plants, they will flutter around for a while before settling again.

If you don’t take the necessary control measures, your plants may be stunted, leaves turning yellow, and with heavy infestation – plants may die. Like aphids, whiteflies excrete honeydew, which makes leaves shiny and sticky which encourages ants’ infestation and the growth of sooty mold fungi.

You can use some of the strategies used to control aphids such as ants control to deal with whiteflies problem. We also have an elaborate guide on how to control the whiteflies. Therefore, instead of repeating it, let me drop the link here instead – how to get rid of whiteflies at home.


Insect scales

Most gardeners are not very familiar with insect scales. This is because they are less common than mealybugs, whiteflies, and aphids. Two species of scales may appear on your houseplants. The armored scales and soft scales both appear whitish to creamish color or even black.

An armored scale secretes a waxy covering that is not an integral part of its body. The covering can be scraped off to locate the insect living beneath it. In contrast, the waxy covering that a soft scale secretes is an integral part of its body.

Adult insect scales are small and immobile with no visible legs. They are flat and look like fish scales stuck on the plant’s leaves. Like mealybugs, the soft-bodied scales secrete honeydew which causes sooty mold problems on plants.

When inspecting your plants, you’ll usually find them on stems and the undersides of leaves, but you may find them on the upper surfaces as well. If not controlled, they will sack the sap of the plants dry.


How to get rid of insect scales

Individual scrap the scales with a flat and sharp object – this may only apply to an early infestation when the numbers are not much.

Throw away heavily infested plants – adult scales are often protected by a shield of waxy covering making their control a nightmare especially if the plant is heavily infested. The best approach is to discard all the affected plants.

Spray with natural insecticides - For most indoor and outdoor plants, you need to spray with products containing neem oil extract or canola oil which will help control adult scale insects by smothering. Their crawlers are susceptible to many insecticides, such as insecticidal soap, neem oil extract, and canola oil.


Root Aphids

Root aphids are also known as Pemphigus species are often misidentified as mealybugs due to their waxy covering. In reality, they’re smaller than mealybugs and are mostly white.

The adult root aphids look like the usual aphids you find on the leaves except most are pear-shaped and have shorter antennae and legs.  Most root aphids have cornicles, or “tailpipes”, protruding from the end of the abdomen, like their aboveground counterparts.  

They don’t move as fast as their upper plant counterparts but they’re easily spread from one container to the next through container drainage holes during watering.

As the name, suggest these are found around the root zone of plants, and when the infestation increases, you may find them on top of the houseplant soil. Root aphids feed on the plant roots and if you don’t take action, the plants may begin to turn yellow, wilt, or die in severe cases.

These wingless “crawlers” do not move as quickly as their aboveground counterparts but can still spread from container to container through the drainage holes: they can either crawl from pot to pot or be carried by irrigation water. They can also be transferred in growing medium debris or on equipment.


How to get rid of root aphids

When it comes to root aphids, the main source of infestation is other infested plants. Therefore, you should isolate infested plants as soon as you spot them. Furthermore, since the sprays don’t necessarily help (check out the resources section at the end of this article to find out why this is the case) you need to pay attention to the following:

  • Keep in mind that prevention is the best control strategy.
  • Clean and thoroughly disinfect old container pot planters before reusing them.
  • Avoid reusing old potting soil instead make a point to get a fresh mix for each plant.
  • Don’t let irrigation water flow to other container plants as much as possible.
  • Thoroughly wash equipment before using them.

If follow these simple guidelines, root aphids won’t be a problem.


Conclusion

You’ve just read how to identify and get rid of white bugs on plants. The reason why it’s crucial to do an accurate identification is that each insect requires a different control strategy based on the appearance.

You’ve also discovered, that the best strategy to manage pests on your plants is prevention. Therefore, it’s important to pay attention to cultural practices such as proper feeding regime, good watering practices, using commercial pot mixes instead of garden soil, clean, and disinfect your pots.

But, you can also use natural recommended insecticides as a final resort.

Do these things and you won’t have problems with those nasty bugs ever again. While at it, don’t forget to have fun – you deserve it! Let me know your thoughts in the comments.


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