How to Keep Outdoor and Indoor Plants Safe from Insects

When it comes to the animal kingdom and the circle of life, insects play an important role in a variety of ways. But when it comes to growing and maintaining healthy plants, they can often cause more harm than good.

If you have a bug problem, you want to get rid of them for good, but don’t want to do any additional harm to your garden.  

Keep reading for information on pesky pests and how to safely get them out of your outdoor and household plants.

10 Insect Problems & Solutions for Healthy Outdoor Plants  

The following 10 bugs from Rodales Organic Life are some of the most destructive to your garden, but don’t worry, we have solutions for you to use.  

  1. Aphids
Pest: These tiny, pear-shaped critters have long antennae and two tubes projecting rearward from their abdomen. They usually hang out on fruits and vegetables, flowers, ornamentals, and shade trees throughout North America. Aphids suck plant sap, causing foliage to distort and leaves to drop; the honeydew they excrete on leaves supports sooty mold growth; and their feeding spreads viral diseases. Honeydew is essentially what the bugs excrete after ingesting the plant sap. It is high in sugar and tends  


Solution: To control aphids, wash plants with a strong spray of water; encourage native predators and parasites such as aphid midges, lacewings and ladybugsto take care of them. When feasible, cover plants with floating row cover. You can also apply hot-pepper or garlic-based repellent sprays; or for severe problems, apply horticultural oil, insecticidal soap or neem. Neem oil controls caterpillars and other pests, including whiteflies, leaf miners and thrips. It may also kill beneficial insects such as bees and earthworms, however, so use it sparingly.  


  1. Cabbage Maggot
 Pest: These maggots stick to cabbage-family crops, especially Chinese cabbages, and can be found throughout North America. They tunnel in roots, killing plants directly or by creating entryways for disease organisms.  


Solution: To control these destructive creatures, apply floating row covers, set out transplants through slits in tar-paper squares and avoid first generation infestations by delaying planting.  

  1. Caterpillars
 Pest: Caterpillars are soft, segmented larvae with distinct, harder head capsule with six legs in the front and fleshy false legs on rear segments. They can be found on many fruits and vegetables, ornamentals and shade trees.


Solution: These pests can be shaken off the plants or you can spray the foliage with neem oil.    

  1. Cutworms
Pest: Cutworms are fat, 1-inch-long, gray- or black-segmented larvae that are active at night. They are found on most early vegetable and flower seedlings and transplants throughout North America. Cutworms chew through stems at ground level; they may completely devour small plants in May and June.  


Solution: For control, use cutworm collars on transplants, delay planting or hand pick cutworms curled below soil surface.  

  1. Colorado Potato Beetle
Pest: Adults are yellow-orange beetles with ten black stripes on wing covers. They can be found on potatoes, tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and petunias throughout North America. These beetles defoliate plants, reducing yields or killing young plants.  


Solution: To control, apply floating row covers, use deep straw mulches, hand pick them off, attract native parasites and predators, or spray with neem oil.  

  1. Flea Beetle
Pest: Flea beetles are small, dark beetles that jump like fleas when disturbed. They hang out on most vegetable crops and are found throughout North America. Adults chew numerous small, round holes into leaves (most damaging to young plants), and larvae feed on plant roots.


Solution: Try applying floating row covers or repel the pests by spraying plants with garlic spray or kaolin clay.  

  1. Tarnished Plant Bug
Pest: These are fast-moving, mottled, green or brown bugs that have forewings with black-tipped yellow triangles. They can be found on many flowers, fruits, and vegetables throughout North America. Adults and nymphs suck plant juices, causing leaf and fruit distortion, wilting, stunting and tip dieback.  


Solution: Keep your garden weed-free in the spring. Apply floating row covers or spray young nymphs with neem oil.  

  1. Scales
Pest: Adult females look like hard or soft bumps on stems, leaves, or fruit; males are minute flying insects; and larvae are tiny, soft, crawling insects with threadlike mouthparts. They can be found on many fruits, indoor plants, ornamental shrubs and trees throughout North America. All stages of this pest suck plant sap, therefore weakening plants. Plants become yellow, drop leaves, and may die, and the scales excrete honeydew onto foliage and fruit.  


Solution: To control this pest, prune out infested plant parts, scrub scales gently from twigs with a soft brush and soapy water.  

4 Insect Problems & Solutions for Healthy Indoor Plants  

Just because you have plants indoors doesn’t mean they are immune from insects and pests. Take a look below for some of the most common indoor plant bug problems from Garden and solutions that are safe to use inside your home.  

  1. Mealybugs
Pest: Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that resemble tufts of white cotton. Usually they go unnoticed until they are adults, because that's when they produce their white cottony covering. They are also extremely adept at hiding on a plant. They are sucking insects, piercing the stems and leaves to ingest their nutrient rich sap. Affected plants are often sticky as mealy bugs produce honeydew. to attract a black powdery fungus called sooty mold, which feeds on these sugars.  


Solutions: Heavy infestations of mealy bugs can distort new growth in plants. Small infestations can be controlled by handpicking or by dabbing them with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Mealy bugs suck out the plant juices, often stunting or killing the plants. When mealy bugs’ numbers are large, ants may be found feeding on the honeydew excreted by these pests.  

  1. Spider Mites
Pest: Spider mites are among the most serious houseplant pests. Left untreated they can multiply rapidly, causing injury, defoliation and plant death. They’re not true insects, but are more closely related to spiders and ticks. These mites are oval shaped and yellowish or greenish in color. They’re difficult to see clearly with the naked eye, measuring only 1/50th of an inch. Magnification can reveal amber-colored mite eggs, whitish cast skins, and black fecal specks. To verify spider mite presence, place a sheet of white paper under discolored leaves. Tap the leaves, and then watch for tiny moving creatures on the paper. They make their way indoors in summer and sometimes hide on Christmas trees and greenery in December.  


Solution: Try washing with insecticidal soap or plant oil extracts (at least two applications sprayed once every 5 -7days are usually necessary).  

  1. Fungus Gnats
Pest: Adult fungus gnats are small (1/16 - 1/8-inch-long) insects you may see flying around houseplants or resting nearby; they are frequently mistaken for fruit flies. The legless, worm-like larvae live in damp soil and are scavengers with habits similar to springtails, causing little or no damage.  


Solution: They thrive in over-watered soil; water your plants thoroughly, but let the soil dry as much as possible without letting them wilt.  

  1. Cyclamen Mites
Pest: While not true insects, these mites are more closely related to spiders and ticks. They inhabit protected portions of plants, especially young tender leaves, buds and flowers, but they are not as common as other pests previously described.   These mites are extremely small and semi-transparent; it’s impossible to see them without magnification. They spread by leaf-to-leaf contact and by hands and clothing. Infested leaves are stunted, brittle and often hairy; flower buds may be deformed and streaked. Sometimes injured leaves, buds and flowers may turn black. Stems of infested ivy plants are often leafless or have small hairy leaves. African violets typically have small, cupped hairy leaves in their centers.  


Solution: Throw away infested plants (simple enough).  

Keeping Yourself and Plants Safe  

Maintaining healthy plants outdoors or indoors is important, but so is keeping yourself and family safe at the same time. All of the solutions we shared are meant to keep your plants viable while getting rid of the pests in question. Check out our other blog posts for more information about keeping your indoor and outdoor gardens healthy, and visit our locations page to find a store near you!  

About SummerWinds Nursery: SummerWinds Garden Centers is a leading high-end retailer of garden and nursery products. Headquartered in Boise, Idaho, SummerWinds operates retail nurseries in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, and in Silicon Valley, California, making it one of the largest independent retail nursery companies in the west. SummerWinds appeals to both the serious and casual gardeners, with a broad selection of premium gardening products and a friendly and knowledgeable staff.