It can be quite disparaging to see bugs munching away on your precious pothos. Luckily, you can easily fix the problem if you know which pesky bugs are pestering your plant. Here’s how you can identify, control, and prevent some of the most common pothos pests.
First, identify the bugs by their appearance and symptoms on your pothos. You can then blast them off with a powerful spray of water and spray with insecticidal soaps or other non-toxic sprays. Prevention begins with keeping your pothos healthy by providing ideal conditions.
Let’s dive right in.
Common Bugs on Pothos
Mealybugs are pink wingless, soft-bodied bugs that look like a white or grey cottony mass on the underside of leaves, stems, and whorls. They’re sap-sucking critters and love to feed at where the leaf meets the stem. They literally drink the life right out of your treasured pothos.
- Limited, distorted, or stunted growth
- Cotton-like mass appearing under affected leaves or leaf whorls
- Mealybugs ooze a sticky, sugary substance known as honeydew, which supports the growth of sooty mold and attracts ants
- Leaf drop
- Causes paling and chlorosis (loss of green pigmentation)
Wilted and yellowed leaves are often symptoms of undersoil infestation of mealybugs. In such a case, you may see white cottony masses running out of drainage holes when you water. You may need to tip your pothos out of the pot for further inspection.
- Swab affected areas with alcohol-containing cotton swabs to get rid of mealybugs.
- Ideally, you should hose the bugs down with a strong spray of water. Repeat this every couple of weeks until the mealybugs disappear
- For heavy infestation, you can spray with an insecticide containing pyrethrins. Be sure to follow label instructions to the latter.
- Consider spraying with neem oil, summer oil, or insecticidal soap.
Spider Mites (Tetranychidae)
Spider mites are so tiny (less than 1/20-inch long) you can’t see them with a naked eye. They’re distant relatives to spiders, so they spin small, delicate webs underneath foliage or corners of stems.
To your naked eye, they may seem like tiny white dots moving around. However, spider mites are actually red or brown.
- In the early stages of infestation, they start as small brown or yellow spots.
- Leaves turn completely yellow due to heavy spider mite infestation
- Tiny white webs on the underside of leaves
- Leaves shrivel and fall off
- Slowed, stunted, or distorted growth
Make sure the spider mites are still on your pothos. Sometimes the symptoms show up when they’re long gone. For instance, you may see brown spots, yet the colonies have already disappeared.
If you suspect your pothos has spider mites, hold a sheet of white paper below affected leaves and jiggle them gently. You will see specks that look like ground pepper falling onto the paper.
- Isolate affected pothos and prune heavily infested parts. Treat affected areas with rubbing alcohol.
- If your plant is outdoors, consider using natural predators like spider mite destroyers, ladybugs, lacewings, or pirate bugs.
- Spray using an insecticidal soap or oil, such as horticultural oil, neem oil, rosemary oil, or cinnamate
- You can use quality, non-toxic botanical pyrethrin or miticide
Scale insects are small (1/16-1/8-inch long) circular or oval, flat bugs that suck the sap out of stems and foliage of your pothos. There are actually multiple types of scales that affect pothos, but all start as crawlers.
Scale bugs usually target around the joint and underside of leaves. Once they find a good feeding spot, they no longer move and form hard, oval brown shells that look like bark.
Other symptoms include:
- Stunted leaves because they suck out vital plant sap
- Leaf yellowing
- Leaf and stem dieback
- You may spot ants and sooty mold since they secrete honeydew
- Foliage paling or chlorosis
- Affected pothos appears withered, sickly, and drooping.
- Scale insects are highly invasive and move quickly from plant to plant. As such, you should isolate your infested photos immediately.
- Gently scrub scales off the stems and leaves. Use rubbing alcohol to treat affected areas.
- In spring and summer, use an insecticide spray like neem oil, horticultural oil, etc. During winter, use a dormant oil to suffocate them.
- If you prefer a homemade alternative, use insecticidal soap
- Apply baking soda solution if it’s has attracted mold or fungus gnats
Whiteflies are winged, soft-bodied fly-like insects that don’t fly. Like mealybugs, aphids, and other bugs, they suck vital fluids out of your pothos. They’re small (around 1/12-inch long) and roughly triangular, often forming colonies with eggs underneath the leaves.
- You can spot white fly-like bugs, particularly around the veins. They scatter easily.
- Suck sap out of leaves, causing stunted or distorted growth
- They ooze honeydew that attracts ants and fungus, leaving sooty mold on leaves
- Leaves turn pale, yellow, or brown, then wilt, shrivel, and fall off
- White to tan eggs on the underside of leaves
- Get rid of as many whiteflies as possible by blasting them off with a strong spray of water. This will remove adults, nymphs, and eggs.
- Spray in the evening with an insecticidal soap solution
- Eliminate whiteflies on outdoor photos with lacewings, ladybugs, yellow sticky traps, and other natural predators.
- Alternatively, spray with neem oil or pyrethrins
Aphids are small (1/16-1/8-inch long), soft-bodied, and pear-shaped bugs that can be winged or wingless. They can be black, red, white, or yellow.
- Aphids usually form a white colony that’s highly mobile on the underside of leaves. They easily crawl or fly from one houseplant to the next.
- Plainly visible on the stems
- They love sucking the sap out of new tender foliage.
- That means new leaves are distorted, stunted, crinkled, or shriveled.
- Honeydew attracts ants, sooty mold, and fungus gnats
- Yellowed and wilted leaves
- Wash aphids away with a powerful spray of water
- Remove heavily damaged plant material
- Hang sticky traps to catch aphids
- You can squash or knock them off with alcohol-dipped cotton swabs
- Consider homemade insecticide spray. Blend 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, 1-small onion, 1-tablespoon of non-detergent dish soap, 1 quart of water, and 1-bulb of garlic
- Use insecticidal soap, focusing on the underneath of leaves
- Use a chemical spray that boasts pyrethroids, pyrethrins, or imidacloprid
Caterpillars are essentially butterfly and moth larvae. Although rare on indoor photos, they are usually small, yellowish-green worm-like crawlers that feed on shoot tips. They create webbing by dragging photos leaves together so that they can gorge on them.
- Widespread damage of leaves
- Numerous holes in the foliage
- Frass (caterpillar feces) which look like pepper grains
- Chewed leaf tips or edges
- Webbing of leaves fastened or rolled together with silk
- Caterpillars are mostly active in spring and summer, so check for them regularly.
- Pick them (including eggs) gently off the foliage. Drop them into soapy water.
- Consider biological controls like Steinernema carpocapsae and other pathogenic nematodes.
- If none of above method works, use a systemic or contact insecticide which contains pyrethrins
Thysanoptera thrips are pale-colored, fringe-winged bugs that lay eggs on the leaves. They’re tiny (less than 1/5-inch (5mm) long), so you won’t see them with your naked eyes.
- Thrip infestation will appear as whitish to silvery streaks on the foliage.
- As they spread, streaks turn from silvery to brownish
- Growing points like shoots and new leaves become contorted or distorted
- Small brown holes on the leaves
- Thysanoptera infests the soil and the plant itself. It’s important that you treat both.
- Use an insecticidal soap that’s harmless to your pothos
- Spray with neem oil, horticultural oil, or those containing pyrethrins
- Add systemic insecticide into the potting mix
Fungus gnats are usually opportunistic pests that invade when your pothos has become heavily diseased or weakened. You’ll typically spot them after sap-sucking insects like mealybugs leave honeydew on the leaves.
They thrive in the top 2-3 inches of soil and eat fungi, plant roots, and decaying materials. Adult fungus gnats are tiny (1/8-inch long), delicate mosquito-like insects.
- Visible as black or grayish mosquito-like flies. They scatter and fly around your pothos when disturbed.
- Poor growth and loss of vigor
- Sudden leaf yellowing and wilting
- Avoid overwatering your pothos. Let the soil dry out to kill eggs/larvae
- Use yellow sticky traps to catch adult gnats
- Wash off any insects using a blast of water
- Use insecticides that contain horticultural oils, soaps, and neem
- Use chemical insecticides meant for houseplants. Spray in the garage or shower using insecticides that contain pyrethrins
Why Does My Pothos Have Bugs?
A wet and humid environment is the biggest attraction of common pothos pests. Most of them have small, soft bodies. For that reason, bugs need plenty of moisture around them; otherwise, they’ll dry out and die.
Overwatering, standing water, and moisture sources like the bathroom create wet, humid conditions. Poor aeration and close plants may exacerbate the situation.
Most pests have 6th sense or a knack for gravitating toward wet conditions. Again, they need moisture to keep themselves from drying out and perishing. That’s why they try to seek out wet foliage where they can thrive.
Wet conditions also cause root and leaf rot, plus other diseases that weaken your plant. Sickly or unhealthy pothos are usually vulnerable to pest infestations.
Too much moisture, especially during the early growth stages, is bad news for your pothos. Wet and soggy soil attracts fungus gnats that eat growing rootlets. This leads to stunted growth, allowing attack by other bugs.
Your best option is to avoid overhead watering. Don’t let your pothos stand in water or expose it to excess humidity. Don’t forget that most bugs go through moist soil at some point during their lifecycle.
You may be tempted to give your pothos a lot of fertilizer in a bid to make them grow faster. That would be a terrible idea. A huge dose of nitrogen, for instance, causes your pothos to develop thinner and weaker foliage that’s more susceptible to bugs.
Ideally, you’d want to feed your pothos only once every two to three months during the growing period, from early spring to late summer. Use a well-balanced liquid or water-soluble houseplant fertilizer. Dilute to half the recommended concentration before application.
Robust air circulation is important for the growth and overall health of your pothos. Ample aeration helps keep humidity levels low and prevents insects from thriving.
You must also remember that aeration increases the drying of wet leaves and soil, keeping fungal growth at bay. Poor ventilation usually happens when you keep your houseplants closer to each other, making it easy for pests to hop from one plant to the next.
How to Get Rid of Pothos Bugs Naturally
You don’t necessarily need to use chemical insecticides to control pests on your pothos. They’re not only harmful to helpful microorganisms but may also be toxic to your loved ones. Instead, use the following natural and non-toxic methods:
Botanical oil sprays are effective and ecologically friendly. They are horticultural oils derived from cottonseed, soybean, or mineral oils. Spray severally in a month until you get rid of the bugs.
Aphids, mealybugs, whiteflies, and other bugs that trouble your pothos are soft-bodied. That means using a spray of insecticidal soap will do the trick. First, you must wash most of the bugs off using a strong blast of water.
Good thing you can prepare your soap spray at home. Simply blend 1-tablespoon of non-detergent dish liquid or soap with 1 cup of oil (soybean, peanut, etc.)—mix 2-tablespoons of the soapy blend into the spray bottle with 1 cup of warm water.
Neem oil kills almost every bug that affects your pothos, from aphids to fungus gnats. To prepare a spray, mix an ounce (about 2-tablespoons) of neem oil with a gallon of warm water. Spray generously over a month.
Garlic is a well-known insect repellant. To prep garlic spray, let four cloves of garlic (minced) sit for a day in 1 tablespoon of mineral oil.
Filter out the solid garlic matter and mix the garlicky oil with a tablespoon of dish soap. Add them into a pint of water in a sprayer.
Herbal Water Spray
To make herbal water spray, blend chili peppers, garlic, and chopped herbs of your choice. It could be mint, thyme, rosemary, sage, rue, or lavender. Add water and liquid castile soap.
Chile Pepper Spray
Like the herbal water spray, you should use a blender to create a smooth chile pepper spray. You can add a non-detergent soap. Paprika, ginger, dill, chili pepper, and black pepper will also work on spider mites and other bugs as they have capsaicin.
The essential oil will keep pests away. These include tea tree oil, spearmint oil, peppermint, lemongrass, lavender, citronella, cedarwood, eucalyptus, and rosemary oil. Consider adding some liquid castile soap.
Plant-based insecticides are effective and safe for indoor use. Those containing pyrethrins paralyze bugs upon contact. Carefully read the label and follow instructions.
This naturally occurring sand packed with fossilized algae can be a powerful insecticide. When the bugs come into contact with diatomaceous earth, they lose external waxy coating and therefore die from extreme dehydration.
Sticky Trap/ Flying Trap
Yellow sticky traps are effective on a variety of pothos pests, including fungus gnats, whiteflies, mealybugs, aphids, and even thrips. You can make your own by smearing sticky paper with used engine oil or petroleum jelly.
Tips to Prevent Bugs on Pothos
The best way to protect your pothos from bugs is to make sure it’s healthy and strong enough to keep off an infestation. Proper care can go a very long way.
If your pothos is weak and struggling, consider its care requirements. Remember, pothos thrives in well-lit (bright, indirect light) and humid areas.
They do well in ideal temperatures of 70-90 ºF (21-32°C) and standard, well-draining soil. You shouldn’t worry much about soil pH, as it can do with neutral to acidic conditions.
Feed your pothos once every 1-3 months during growth periods, especially in early spring through late summer or into autumn. Dilute and apply any balanced, water-soluble, or slow-release houseplant fertilizer at half-strength.
Avoid Wet, Humid Conditions
Yes, your pothos prefers slightly humid conditions. However, don’t let your plant sit in a wet, humid environment. You can do so by:
- Avoiding overwatering – let the soil dry out between waterings
- Don’t allow your pothos to sit in standing water
- Don’t overcrowd your houseplants
- Isolate Affected Plants Immediately
Most bugs can easily spread from houseplant to houseplant. Isolate the infested plant(s) until you get rid of the bugs. Also, make sure to quarantine any nearly purchased plant.
Use Pasteurized Potting Mix
When potting, repotting, or transplanting, use a potting mix that has been pasteurized.
Good air circulation allows the damp leaves to dry, the soil to dry out, and reduces localized humid areas. This is a great way to keep off diseases and bugs.
(Sources: University of California,)