The Q&A Archives: Houseplant Pests

Question: My hibiscus houseplant isn't doing well. The leaves look sickly, and I've noticed some little white bugs and what look like spider webs on the top. What is wrong, and what should I do?

Answer: Based on your description, I suspect you may have several pests at work. Spider mites produce fine webbing, usually on the new growth or on the undersides of leaves. They suck plant juices, causing the leaves to look discolored or stippled with tiny specks. The mites themselves are tiny and hard to see. Aphids are softbodied, oval-shaped sucking insects and tend to congregate at the growing tips of the plants. They come in a number of colors, usually greenish, reddish or brownish. Whitefly is another possible pest. These small bright white flying insects that looks like a pale version of the fruit fly and moves very fast, swarming up when the plant is disturbed. Finally, mealybugs are another common pest. These insects form cottony-looking masses in the leaf axils.

These are all common pests on hibiscus, as well as other houseplants, and (luckily) can be battled the same way by using insecticidal soap according to the instructions on the label. Be sure to reapply at the indicated intervals to control subsequent generations of the pests. In the meantime, also pick off any dried up foliage. In summer, bring the plant outdoors and hose it off frequently to help dislodge pests.

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