Even with the best care, plants can still fall victim to various pests and soil mites. They may be small but, given the chance, many pests can ruin your precious indoor plants by inhabiting the potting soil, leaves and stems of your indoor plants.
Tiny white bugs in soil are one such undesirable occurrence. They can enter your home on new house plants that you have just bought, so when buying, always check for soil mites on leaves, stems and flowers. Pests like spider mites are difficult to spot with naked eye, so recognizing the symptoms and taking the necessary action is crucial to keep your plants pest-free.
Let’s find out how you can identify tiny white soil mites and how to keep them at bay.
- Identifying Tiny White Bugs in Soil
- Spider Mites
- Scale Insects
- Fungus Gnats
- Vine Weevils
- Pest or Disease- How to Tell the Difference?
- Getting Rid of Tiny White Bugs
- Natural Insecticides
- Other Ways of Removing White Bugs
- Prevention is Better Than Cure
Identifying Tiny White Bugs in Soil
The first thing you want to do before you endeavor to fight off unwelcome pests is to identify them. Otherwise you might be using a wrong weapon to defeat the enemy.
Whiteflies are white, winged, sap-sucking insects very easy to spot even when they are still young and small. They occur on the leaves, often beneath them, and cause distorted leaves and buds, as well as stunted growth. Nymphs and adults both excrete honeydew which further leads to black sooty mould.
To cure the affected plants, use sticky traps and hang them near the plants. Alternatively, spray the flies with a dilute soap-based solution.
Stand the affected plants outside in summer where beneficial insects will help to control them. As the last option, use a pesticide.
Related: Best Potting Soil for Indoor Plants
Spider mites are tiny sap-sucking insects that produce a mottled appearance on plant leaves. The foliage loses its color and may fall off, while heavy infestations can kill the plant eventually.
To deter spider mite infestation, dispose of the affected parts of the infested plants and bin severely infested ones to prevent the pest spreading.
Mist the plants regularly to reduce attacks, but this won’t solve the problem in the long run. Use a pesticide if the problem gets more serious.
Scales are sap-sucking insects that cause distorted and weak plant growth and secrete sugary honeydew, which can lead to sooty mould. Scales occur on stems or beneath the leaves and are up to 1 cm in length. Their eggs are white and waxy.
First, dispose of the affected parts. Apply dilute solutions of soap-based products or methylated spirits with a brush, making sure you have tested a small area first to make sure it won’t harm the plant. Throw away heavily infested plants as well as dead plants.
Related: Best Soil Moisture Meters
These are annoying bugs, whitish or greyish-brown in color that usually fly around the plants and run over the compost in seed trays. They don’t really stick too long and feed on the plants, but are a nuisance nevertheless.
Fungus gnat larvae are white maggots with black heads and feed on decaying leaves or roots, sometimes seedlings, but very rarely mature plants.
To prevent gnat pest infestation, use sticky traps to catch the fungus gnats and a drench of the nematode Steinernema feltiae to control the larvae.
Eelworms are microscopic nematodes not visible to the naked eye, but can cause severe damage. They look like tiny worms and feed on the plant’s fluids and cause distorted leaves, often with yellow blotches. The stem tips and buds may turn black and die.
Eelworms can infect stems and bulbs, leading to similar symptoms in the foliage, yellowish swellings and specks on the leaf undersides.
Save your plants by removing affected plant parts as soon as you spot them. Only buy firm, healthy looking bulbs from reputable suppliers and inspect for any soil mites. There are no chemical products you can use to treat stem and bulb eelworms. Dispose of dead potted plants.
Related: Does Potting Soil Go Bad?
Mealybugs are sap-sucking pests that look like tiny white woodlice and cause distorted or stunted growth. You will first see a fluffy white substance between the leaves, stems and under the foliage. This fluffy white substance hides the tiny white bugs or their orange-pink eggs.
Mealybugs also secrete honeydew, which can cause sooty mould and attack the roots.
Check for mealybugs before buying. If you notice mealybugs, remove affected parts or apply dilute solutions of soap-based products or methylated spirits with a brush. Before you do, check that it won’t harm the plant by applying it on a small area.
Alternatively, use pheromone lures to trap the adult males and disrupt breeding. Dispose of heavily infected plants.
The most common indoor caterpillar is the Tortrix moth caterpillar. It binds leaves together with fine white webbing, causing them to dry, turn brown and fall off. Other caterpillars eat holes in the leaves and they are usually lurking beneath the leaves.
Pick off caterpillars or press the affected leaves together to kill the insects. If the infestation is more severe, use a pesticide and ventilate the room afterward.
Related: Can You Reuse Potting Soil?
If your plant has collapsed and you haven’t overwatered or underwatered it, vine weevil grubs could be the culprit. Vine weevils grubs are tiny white bugs found in the compost of plants that have spent time outside. They mulch on the plant’s roots, bulbs or tubers, causing it to suddenly wilt.
Drench the compost with an insecticide or biological control in late summer or early fall to kill any grubs. If they have eaten most of the roots, the plant isn’t likely to recover.
Pest or Disease- How to Tell the Difference?
Sometimes the white coat on the plant may lead you to think it is the work of soil mites, but that it is, in fact, a disease.
Powdery mildew, for instance, produces a white, powdery fungus on leaves, stems and flowers. It is caused by lack of water and poor ventilation. To cure it, check that you are not underwatering and remove affected parts. Ensure the air is well ventilated and apply a fungicide in severe cases.
Among other causes of plant diseases are overwatering, underwatering and poor ventilation, so make sure that it isn’t the case of disease causing bacteria.
Getting Rid of Tiny White Bugs
If your plant becomes infested with soil mites, you will be able to treat it with an insecticide, either chemical or natural in most cases. Natural products are derived from plants or other natural substances, so it is always advisable to use them to get rid of white bugs in soil.
Using the least toxic method is one of the key principles for integrated pest management. It focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems through a combination of cultural, physical or chemical tools. Let’s find out more about each of them in order to keep plant soil, plant leaves and plant roots free of white bugs.
Insecticides are sold in two forms. The first one are concentrated liquids that must be added to water before being used to eliminate soil mites and treat an infected plant. The second one ready-to-use aerosols.
Malathion is one of the more general insecticide that controls whiteflies and mealybugs. It can be sprayed when diluted and watered directly into infected soil. However, it can damage some sensitive plants, so read the label directions carefully.
Insecticides may contain deadly chemicals. So use them with care.
Few Useful Tips on Using Insecticides
- Don’t mix different types of insecticides.
- Never put insecticides into ordinary bottles.
- Avoid spraying in windy weather and in the house.
- Never keep diluted insecticide for more than 24 hours.
Certain insecticides such as pyrethrum, rotenone, neem oil and insecticidal soaps are based on natural, organic matter designed to kill soil mites. They are most suited to whiteflies, mealybugs and spider mites that dote on potted plants. Rotenone is also helpful on caterpillars and beetles.
Generally, apply insecticides every 14 days until a pest disappears, but follow the directions on the product. Conduct the application outside, not in the house and consult your local garden store for additional advice.
Pyrethrum is a natural and very safe, environmentally friendly insecticide. It is effective against a wide array of pests, including fungus gnats and white bugs, and can be often used on edible crops right up to the day of harvest. It is often combined with neem oil or insecticidal soaps to make a more effective, low-toxicity spray. These combinations are ideal for scale insects, spider mites, aphids, thrips and other leaf-feeding pests.
Dish Wash Soap
Another option is to dissolve dish soap in water in order to control soil mites. It will remove tiny insects and get rid of soil mites without the use of chemical pesticides or chemical insecticides.
Before you use detergents and dish soaps, try using insecticidal soaps. Mix 5 tablespoons of pure liquid soap with 1 gallon of water. Spray as required on tops and undersides of leaves, stems and soil surface.
Neem oil is ideal for powdery mildew. It also helps to control houseplant bugs such as scabs, whiteflies, scales, turtle mites and spider mites from the compost pile. It is a broad-spectrum insecticide, miticide and fungicide that kills eggs, larvae and adult insects.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Combining one ounce of apple cider vinegar with three ounces of water and spraying the plant leaves with it is a short-term way of getting rid of any soil mite, but spraying too often will do the plant more damage than good.
Other Ways of Removing White Bugs
Sticky traps are especially good for trapping whiteflies and can help you monitor the level of infestation.
Denatured alcohol can be used to remove scale insects and mealybugs. Just apply a few drops of it to get rid of the tiny bugs.
If many of your plants are suffering from the same problem, try a biological control. These natural products are available by mail order and work by introducing natural predators and essential nematodes to attack the pests.
Use non-chemical practices whenever possible. These include products such as dishwashing liquid, mineral oil and rubbing alcohol.
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Bacillus Thuringiensis is an organic pesticide that makes pests feel sickly when they ingest it. Two strains are commonly used as natural pesticides: Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki and israelensis.
The former is useful for controlling caterpillars, budworms and webworms, while the latter helps to control fungus gnats, whitefly and other soil mites harmful to the plant’s health.
Be aware that sunlight degrades Bt after a few hours so use all the mixture at once, preferably late in the day. Place the substances where the bugs will eat it. Conduct the treatment every 7 to 10 days until no longer needed. Stick to the label directions when using this and other natural pesticides.
If pest infestation is more serious, you want to check both the plant’s soil health and plant’s roots. If it is littered with fungus gnat infestations or other insects, you want to get rid of old potting soil and replace it with a fresh potting mix.
Same goes for compost, dead organic matter that easily gets visited by pests. The reason for this is that old soil doesn’t drain that well and pests easily establish themselves there, which is especially the case with outdoor plants.
Remove all the decaying matter, dead leaves, dead insects and carefully inspect the plant for other harmful insects and plant diseases. Use a fresh potting mix. After repotting, ensure moist soil.
Related: Plant Repotting Guide
Prevention is Better Than Cure
When buying, check that your new plants aren’t affected by any white bugs in soil or diseases. Observe the leaves, stems and flowers and look for insects crawling on the compost, which is decaying organic matter. Check plants’ roots if possible and check for white bugs in soil. Never purchase dead plants.
Here are some preventive measures to take to keep the houseplant soil free of soil mites:
- Isolate the new plant species for a week just in case and watch carefully. Don’t integrate it with others until you are sure it is free of pests.
- Keep your growing areas neat and clean. When you discover an infestation, clean the entire area thoroughly.
- Although open windows and doors give the pests the chance to go inside, your plant needs fresh air. What you can do is give your plants a healthy check every week and pick them off if you spot them. Look for the symptoms too, because sometimes the infestation is so mild that you cannot notice it easily.
- If you happen to spot any tiny white bugs, isolate the plant to prevent the problem from spreading. Identify the ailment and take appropriate action to control tiny white bugs in soil as soon as possible so they wouldn’t harm plants.
Following these simple steps will minimize the risk of waking up to see a dead plant in your collection, or white soil mites lurking around the plant and keep both your house plants and you happy.