The Art of Pest Control

Created: 29 Mar 2018 / Categories: Pests

You work hard to make sure your plants get everything they need to grow big and strong. You water when you should and give each plant exactly the light it needs. So why do your plants have pests? An infestation can happen to even the most diligent of gardeners, but there’s no need for alarm. In this article you while find the tools and tricks necessary to handle common pests and keep your plants healthy.

First off, you’re going to need some supplies. The arsenal below contains all the items you need to effectively treat and remove indoor pests safely and without harmful chemicals.

1. Spray bottle

2. Rubbing Alcohol

3. Toothpick / chopstick : Optional, but handy for picking off scale bugs, but you can use your fingers.

4. Neem Oil : Find in Bulk or Health Food stores.

5. Castile Soap : Dr. Bronner’s, Green Beaver, etc.

6. Gloves : Optional, but bugs can be sorta gross.

7. Cloth or Paper Towel

8. Sticky trap : Available at most hardware/ home supply stores

9. Fresh Soil

General Prevention

Ideally, our plants wouldn’t get pests in the first place and there are some things you can do to prevent an infestation before it even starts:

  • Wipe down leaves regularly with slightly soapy water. In addition to keeping pests away, this helps your plant photosynthesize efficiently.
  • Avoid overwatering. Excellent advice in general, but letting the soil dry out in between waterings prevents gnats and other pests from taking up residence in your soil.
  • Spend time examining your plants. Grab some tea and take a few minutes to check out the condition of the leaves, stems, and soil. This way you can catch an infestation before it gets out of hand.
  • Separate any infested plants from the others. All 4 of the most common type of pest travel from plant to plant.


Brown Scale is 1 mm - 4 mm in length, and typically presents as a brown oval bump on the stem or leaf of the plant. Brown Scale feeds on sap, and may go its entire adult life without moving from its spot on your plant. Brown Scale secretes a sticky clear “honeydew” that drips onto plants and creates shiny patches. Ugly, but helpful in identifying scale.

The first step in removing scale is removing the actual insects. Using a toothpick and a soapy cloth, remove the insects from the stem and leaves of the plant. Pay special attention to the underside of the leaves and the nooks along the stem. Once all the bugs have been removed, take some time to scrub off the shiny residue with a mixture of warm water and castile soap. The residue may seem harmless, but it can lead to mold if left on the plant. Finally, treat any areas that had pests with a quick swipe of rubbing alcohol to discourage insects from returning.

Keep a keen eye out for scale on plants with large stems and hardy leaves. They can be found on most plants, but prefer those with plenty of sap to feed on. Numbers can climb quickly, so the best prevention is to catch a scale infestation early. Once you have caught and treated the problem, regularly clean and spray your plant with a mixture of 1 Tbsp Neem Oil to 1 litre of water. You got this!


Mealybugs are small, white, soft-bodied insects that belong to the same family as scale bugs. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to scrape these ones off the plant. Surrounding the mealybugs is often a fuzzy, sticky, white mess that makes finding the insects easy.

The removal of mealybugs is much the same as removing scale. Use a soapy cloth to clean the bugs off of the plant, and follow with a quick wipe of rubbing alcohol. Be extra careful to check leaf ridges and folds in the plant.

Mealybugs are excellent at multiplying, so it’s best to catch them early. Mealybugs are also persistent, so you’ll need to check the plant and spray it with neem oil regularly. Completely removing the insects may take multiple treatments, so be thorough.


Fungus gnats are simultaneously the most obvious and stealthiest pest on the list. Very similar in appearance to fruit flies, the gnats present as buzzing, black insects flying around the plant. Though they fly, fungus gnats lives most of their life in the soil at the base of a plant. You may be able to find the larvae if you dig around, but nobody really wants to do that.

Once you’ve isolated which plant has produced these annoying little creatures, it’s time to get rid of them. You can often make the flies temporarily disappear by simply letting the soil dry and catching the remaining gnats with a sticky trap. This is a temporary solution, and the gnats will likely return when the soil is moist again. For a permanent solution, you need to change your plant’s soil. To start, gently lift the plant and roots out of the pot. Brush off as much of the soil as you can, as gently as possible. You may also run the roots under water to remove any remaining soil, but this can be traumatic to the plant, and should be used only as a last resort. Once your plant is prepped, compost the old soil and clean out the pot with dish soap and water. Return the plant to its pot with new, clean soil and catch the flying gnats with a sticky trap.

The best prevention for fungus gnats is always to provide even moisture and let the soil dry slightly between watering. Keep an eye out for gnats in pots that have automatic watering reservoirs, or plants which are being watered heavily from the bottom.

Special Note: Fungus gnats are mostly harmless to adult plants, but can be detrimental to seedling development.


You may not be aware you have spider mites because of their size. The actual insects are only 1/50 of an inch, and are either red or white in colour. Rather than looking for the critters, the easiest way to identify a spider mite infestation is to look for the signs they leave behind. A plant plagued with spider mites will have a gauzy almost web-like covering on certain portions (This is how the pest got its common name). You may also find rust-coloured spots on the underside of the leaves.

Removal of spider mites is fairly straightforward. Break out the Neem oil mixture we discussed in the Scale section and give the whole plant a good spray. Don’t forget the top of the soil and underneath all the leaves. Once you’ve sprayed everything, go ahead and give the whole thing a really good wipe down with a cloth.

Regular cleanings with the Neem oil mixture are very effective in keeping away spider mites. Spider mites also prefer dry conditions, so keeping humidity up is also a good deterrent.

Now you’ve got all the information you need to fight the good fight and keep your plants free from harmful pests. Good luck!