Homesteading, Gardening, and Off-Grid Living

How to Get Rid of Tiny Silver Bugs in Houseplant Soil

By: Zac Friedman

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Have you spotted some silver bugs in your houseplant soil? Don’t worry. This is a common problem for indoor plants. It’s relatively easy to treat. Even organically. In this guide, I’ll explain how to identify the tiny silver bugs in your houseplant soil. I’ll also explain how to get rid of these tiny insects and prevent them in the first place. 

The tiny silver bugs in your houseplant soil are most likely springtails, thrips, whiteflies, or isopods. These species are not harmful to humans and they most likely won’t cause extensive damage to your houseplants but you do want to get rid of them.

There are several ways to get rid of silver bugs. You could spread diatomaceous earth on the top of the soil. Alternatively, you could use an insecticide or neem oil. Other treatments include essential oil, boric acid, hydrogen peroxide, and bug traps. You can also reduce the likelihood of an infestation by allowing the top layer of soil to dry out.

How to Get Rid of Silverfish Safely and Naturally pin

What are the Tiny Silver Bugs in Your Houseplants?

There are a few different types of silver bugs that can be found in soil. In most cases, the small bugs in your house plant soil are springtails. They could also be thrips, isopods, red spider mites, or mealybugs.

How to Identify the Silver Bugs in Your Houseplants

In this section, we’ll look at the appearance and behavior of some of the most common silver bugs you might find in your houseplant soil. You can identify the species by the size, shape, and behavior of the insects.

Springtails

A closeup view of a springtail

Springtails (Collembola) are tiny bugs that live on top of the soil. They range in size from almost invisible to 2mm (1/16 inch) in length. They can be silver, brown, gray, black, or even white in color. Silverbugs have long antennae, a segmented body, and long legs. They prefer moist environments. 

These hexapods get their name from their ability to jump. You may not notice these bugs by just looking at the soil. When you disturb the soil, they will jump in all directions. Kind of like fleas. These bugs can jump a distance of up to 20 times the length of their body or several inches. The jumping behavior makes them easy to detect and identify. 

A springtail infestation is a common issue for indoor plants. These are some of the most common silver bugs. 

Thrips

These insects have long, slender bodies with short antennae. They can vary in color from black to translucent brown to cream depending on the species and the stage of the lifecycle they’re in. 

Thrips are very small insects. They are almost invisible to the naked eye. They measure 1mm in length or less. This makes them hard to see from a distance. You’ll have to inspect the soil closely to detect them. 

Adult thrips can cause damage to your plant’s leaves. Thrips hang out on the underside of the leaves to feed. They can chew into the leaves and suck out the nutrients. This can make the leaves yellow or dull in color. 

Leaf damage is how most gardeners identify that they have a Thrip problem. If you spot discoloration on your plant’s leaves, look closely and you might spot some Thrips. 

Houseplants

Mealy Bugs

Mealy bugs are insects with oval-shaped bodies and small legs. They are white or gray in color. They have kind of a scaly texture on their bodies. These bugs almost look prehistoric. 

From a distance, mealy bugs can make your plant look like it’s got a moldy spot or like it has powder on it. This is because these tiny white bugs tend to huddle together. When you get closer, you will see the individual bugs. This behavior is a great way to identify these insects. 

Mealy bugs are considered pests because they feed on the juices of houseplants. This can cause leaves to droop, turn yellow, and eventually fall off. They are also vectors for several plant diseases. 

Mealy bugs also leave a sticky residue on your plants. This residue can cause mold. Mold can attract other insects such as ants, which can cause further damage. If you spot these guys, you want to get rid of them.

Silverfish

A silverfish

Silverfish are small wingless insects. They are light gray or silver in color and have a shiny appearance. Their body shape somewhat resembles a fish. It is long and kind of oval. Their movements also have a fish-like appearance. This is a good way to identify them.

Silverfish are harmless to humans and pets but they can damage your belongings and your plants. If you notice a silverfish infestation in your houseplants, you will want to get rid of them. If you see these guys in your houseplants, chances are they are in other parts of your home as well. 

Isopods (Pill Bugs)

Isopods on bark

Isopods are actually a type of crustation. They have oval-shaped bodies and seven pairs of legs. When disturbed, they roll into a ball for protection. This is a good way to identify isopods. 

They usually live in the first few inches of your plant’s soil. It is rare to see an isopod crawling on the plant itself. 

There are many different types of isopods. One of the most common that you’re likely to find in your houseplants is the pill bug. 

Isopods are generally not harmful to your plants. In fact, they can be beneficial. They help to decompose decaying organic matter and convert it into nutrients that your plant can use. They can also help to aerate the soil so your plant roots can receive more oxygen. In addition, they improve soil quality.

If you spot small numbers of isopods in your plant’s soil, you don’t have to worry about them. They won’t cause harm your plant. If there are large numbers of isopods, they can eat your plant and its roots and cause damage over time. At this point, you will want to get rid of them. 

Spider Mites

These tiny mites hide in dark places, such as under plant leaves and around the stems. They spin silk webs for protection. This is where the name spider mite comes from. 

To the naked eye, they are hard to see. They measure less than 1mm in length. They will look like dots on your plants. If you look closely, there may be hundreds of them. They are whitish or brownish in color. To inspect for spider mites, a magnifying glass can help. 

Spider mites can cause damage to your houseplants. These creatures puncture plant cells to feed. This can cause yellowing of the leaves.

Another common pest you might find is soil mites. These are similar to spider mites but not the same. 

Fungus Gnats

These aren’t really silver bugs but they are a common problem in houseplants. Fungus Gnats are small and dark in color. They are about the size of a fruit fly. 

Fungus gnats are an extremely common houseplant pest. You will notice them flying around your houseplants and near windows.

The adult fungus gnats are really just an annoyance. They can lay eggs in the soil of your houseplant. During the larval stage, these houseplant pests can cause some problems for your houseplants. They can also spread pythium. This is a type of pathogen that causes plant seedlings to rot. 

The larva feed primarily on decaying organic material and fungus. They can also feed on your plant’s roots and cause some damage. 

10 Ways to Get Rid of Silver Bugs in Houseplants

The good news is that none of these silver bugs are harmful to humans or pets. They aren’t particularly harmful to plants either. They can nibble on the roots and leaves and cause yellowing and slow down growth.

If you spot them, you do want to get rid of them. At the very least, you want to reduce their numbers. If left untreated, their populations could multiply and they could cause serious damage to your plants over time. Eventually, they could kill your plants.  

The best way to get rid of silver bugs really depends on the type of bugs that are infesting your houseplants. There are a number of ways to get rid of them. The following methods will give you some ideas. 

1. Use Diatomaceous Earth (DE)

One great way to get rid of silver bugs is to use diatomaceous earth. Diatomaceous earth is a naturally occurring, soft sedimentary rock that is crumbled into a fine, white to off-white powder. 

This powder is composed of the fossilized remains of diatoms. Diatoms are a type of hard-shelled algae. Diatomaceous earth is sourced from deposits where ancient lakes and seas have dried up, leaving behind diatom silica. This material is harvested and crushed into a powder.

Diatomaceous earth is a highly effective and non-toxic method of treating springtails, silverfish, or other silver bugs from houseplants. To use diatomaceous earth against these pests, simply dust the soil and the leaves of the affected plants with the powder. 

The fine particles of diatomaceous earth absorb the oils and fats from an insect’s exoskeleton. This abrasive action leads to dehydration and, ultimately, death of the harmful bugs.

The efficacy of diatomaceous earth is not limited to silver bugs. It is lethal to a variety of household and garden pests. These include aphids, thrips, mites, earwigs, isopods, bed bugs, and even some beetles and cockroaches. Despite its potency against insects, diatomaceous earth is generally safe for humans and pets when used as directed.

It is important to note that diatomaceous earth must come into direct contact with the insects to be effective. Diatomaceous earth also works best in dry conditions. If you spread it on wet soil, the powder can absorb moisture, which may reduce its bug-killing properties.

After you water your plant, wait for the top of the soil to dry out before you apply it. You will need to apply it again every time you water. One way to avoid this is to water your plants from the bottom (bottom watering).

There are two types of diatomaceous earth: food-grade and filter-grade. For household pest control, always use food-grade diatomaceous earth. It is safe for use around pets and children.

Diatomaceous earth is an efficient and environmentally friendly option for dealing with a bug problem in houseplants. It’s a natural material.

As an alternative to diatomaceous earth, you can use baking soda. It’s not quite as effective but it does work. Baking soda works the same way as diatomaceous earth. It dries out the insect’s exoskeleton and they die. 

2. Use an Insecticide 

Another way to treat silver bugs in houseplants is to use an insecticide. If you decide to do this, be sure to use an insecticide that is specifically designed for indoor use. This is important to ensure the safety of both the plants and your household.

Products with active ingredients like pyrethrins or synthetic variants such as permethrin are preferred due to their efficiency in eradicating a wide range of pests while being less harmful to humans and pets. 

Apply the insecticide according to the instructions on the bottle. Try to target areas where silver bugs are present, including under leaves and around the pot’s base.

These insecticides function by impairing the nervous system of the silver bugs. Be careful not to overuse these chemicals. Overuse can lead to pest resistance and environmental impacts. 

You have to be careful with chemical treatments so you don’t harm yourself or your pets. Some chemical pesticides are pretty harsh. You don’t want them in your home. I recommend you try natural treatments first. If they don’t work, then use an insecticide. 

3. Use Neem Oil

Plant-based pesticide alternatives like neem oil or insecticidal soap are also effective options. These can be a safer and more environmentally friendly option for treating an infested plant.

Neem oil is a natural insecticide extracted from the seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica). When it comes to treating silver bug infestations in houseplants, neem oil acts as a potent biopesticide that can disrupt the life cycle of these pests. 

It is particularly effective when applied as a foliar spray on the leaves and stems of infested plants, where silver bugs are known to live. The compound in neem oil, azadirachtin, interferes with insect hormone systems. It makes it harder for silver bugs to grow and lay eggs. 

It serves as both a repellent and antifeedant. This helps in reducing the number of these pests. Regular application at the recommended concentration and frequency can protect houseplants from silver bug damage while being safe for the plant and the environment.

4. Allow the Top Layer of Soil to Dry Out

Try not to water your plants too frequently. Allow the top 1-2 inches of soil to dry out completely between waterings. This makes your plants less habitable for silver bugs. 

One great way to keep the top layer of your soil dry is to use a bottom watering technique. Bottom watering is a watering method where water is supplied from the bottom of the container rather than the top. This technique allows the roots to absorb moisture upwards.

To bottom water your houseplants, start by placing your potted plant in a saucer or sink filled with a few inches of water. Ensure that the pot has drainage holes at the bottom. The water level should be high enough to allow the plant to wick up the moisture it needs but not so high that it reaches the top of the pot. This way, the top layer of soil stays dryer. 

Check out this guide to bottom watering for more info.

5. Use Strong Smelling Spices or Essential Oils

Potent spices such as cinnamon and clove can be used to repel insects. Simply sprinkle a bit of spice around the plant’s infested soil. 

Essential oils, such as peppermint oil, can also work well to repel bugs. Pour a bit of oil around the surface of the soil. You only need to use the essential oil around the affected areas. 

6. Use Soapy Water

As an alternative to insecticidal soap, you can use soapy water to treat for silver bugs. Mix a couple of tablespoons of regular dish soap in a gallon of water, put it in a spray bottle, and spray your plants.

It’s important to note that some plants are sensitive to soap. Before doing this, it’s a good idea to do some research on your specific plant. 

7. Use Bug Traps

There are a number of different types of bug traps on the market. Some work better than others. Sticky traps can work well.

These traps capture silver bugs with an adhesive substance that sticks to their legs. This prevents the insects from walking away from the trap. 

8. Use Boric Acid

It’s also possible to treat for silverfish and other silver bugs with boric acid. You can spread a thin layer of it in areas where you have seen the bugs. You can also use a spray bottle to spray your plants with borax.

If you do this, be sure to dilute the boric acid to 0.5-5 mg per liter. If you use too much boric acid, it can harm your plants. 

9. Use Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide can kill small bugs in your plant soil. Mix one part 3% hydrogen peroxide with 3 parts water and spray the solution on your plants. This will repel bugs.

Be sure to dilute the hydrogen peroxide. If you don’t, you could harm your plants. 

10. Use Horticultural Oil

Horticultural oil is a pesticide that is sometimes used to control insects and treat some plant diseases. Horticultural oil can be either petroleum or vegetable based. Mineral oil is commonly used.

You must dilute the oil and then spray it on your plants. Read the label for the proper dilution. 

Tips for Getting Rid of Specific Types of Silver Bugs

  • Springtails: Springtails prefer moist soil conditions. You can get rid of a springtail infestation by keeping the top of your plant’s soil dry. To achieve this, you can bottom water your plants. Diatomaceous earth can also be used to treat springtails.  
  • Thrips: You can reduce the number of thrips by taking your plant outside and spraying it down and giving it a pressurized spray. You will need to do this multiple times. Be careful not to damage your plant when doing this. If your plant isn’t strong enough to endure a pressurized spray, using an insecticide is a good alternative. 
  • Mealy bugs: A great way to get rid of mealy bugs is to dip a q tip in rubbing alcohol and rub it on the back of each bug. This will kill the bugs. Eventually, they will just fall off of the plant. If you have a large infestation, this would be too time-consuming. Instead, you could use an insecticide or neem oil. 
  • Isopods: If you spot a few isopods in your plant’s soil, it’s best just to leave them there and let them do their job. They are beneficial for the soil. If you simply don’t want them in your plants, you can pick them out and place them outside. If there are too many to pick out, you can use diatomaceous earth to treat for them. This will dry them out and kill them. 
  • Spider mites: You can treat spider mites by taking your plant outside and spraying it with a pressurized spray. You will need to do this multiple times to get the infestation under control. Try to do it once per week. Alternatively, you could use an insecticide or natural alternative. 
  • Silverfish: The best way to get rid of silverfish is with diatomaceous earth. This will dry them up and cause them to die. You can also treat silverfish with baking soda. Use it the same way you would use diatomaceous earth. It works the same way by drying them out. 
  • Fungus Gnats: Sticky traps are the best way to deal with these presets. Yellow sticky traps can trap the egg-laying insects in the adult stage. Spices and essential oils can also be used to deter them from laying eggs in your plants. You can also treat them with neem oil. 
houseplants in the kitchen

How do Silver Bugs Get Inside?

Silver bugs usually find their way into homes in search of moisture and food, which are abundant in many indoor environments. These insects are attracted to damp, high-humidity conditions. They can often infiltrate through cracks, crevices, vent pipes, and openings in the home’s exterior. 

They could also hitch a ride on items that you bring inside. Maybe you leave some plants outside during the summer then bring them inside during the winter. You could bring silver bugs in with you. They commonly live in soil, leaf litter, bark, moss, etc. Inspect your outdoor plants before bringing them inside. 

Once inside, silver bugs seek out areas that satisfy their need. This quest typically leads them to houseplants, where they not only find nutritional content from the soil and plants themselves but also the favorable humid conditions that potted plants often provide. Indoor potted plants are a breeding ground for little silver bugs. 

Outdoor conditions can also influence the migration of silver bugs indoors. Extended periods of excessive outdoor moisture or intense dry spells can drive silver bugs to seek refuge inside homes where the environment is controlled and more consistent. 

These little bugs don’t like soggy soil. After a heavy rain, they may try to come inside. They also don’t like dry conditions. During the hot summer months, they may try to come inside. The onset of colder temperatures may also prompt silver bugs to move indoors in search of warmth and resources.

How to Prevent Silver Bugs in the First Place and Keep Them Away

As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. There are a few steps you can take to prevent silver bugs from infesting your houseplants in the first place. If you’ve already had an infestation and treated for it, you should also take these precautions to avoid another infestation. 

Keep the Soil Surface Dry by Bottom Watering

Keeping the soil surface dry makes your plants less habitable for bugs. The best way to keep the surface of the soil dry is to bottom water your houseplants.

This can be a good way to manage silver bug issues. It won’t get rid of them but it will reduce their numbers substantially.

Reduce the humidity indoors

Bugs like humid places. Keeping the air inside your house on the dryer side will prevent springtails and other types of silver bugs from entering your home. 

There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the humidity inside your house. Dry clothes in the dryer or outside. Turn on the bathroom fan while showering. Open windows for better ventilation. These will all reduce moisture in your home.

If you have a humidity problem in your house, you can run a dehumidifier. Alternatively, you can place some moisture absorbers around your house. 

Avoid overwatering your houseplants

Try to water a little less frequently. This will keep the soil dryer. It will also help to reduce humidity in your house. These conditions are less likely to draw silver bugs. If the soil in your house plants is always moist, it will draw insects. 

You should monitor your plant’s health if you do this. You don’t want to underwater. Your plants will be fine as long as the soil near the roots remains moist. When the top inch or two of soil becomes dry, it’s time to water. 

Cover the soil

Using a soil cover or topper makes it harder for silver bugs to get to the soil. It also helps to preserve moisture so you don’t have to water as often.

There are a number of materials you can use as a soil cover for your houseplants including bark chips, pebbles, moss, crushed glass, sea shells, etc. 

One of the best materials to use as a soil cover is cedar shavings or cedar mulch. Cedar contains natural oils that repel insects. It also gives your home a pleasant woody smell. 

Remove decomposing materials and fungus 

If there are any decomposing materials or fungi growing in your houseplants, remove them from your houseplants. These materials can draw insects because they are food sources. 

Seal off any places in your home where bugs could enter

Look around your house for any places where bugs could potentially enter. Walk around the inside and the outside of your house. Look for holes or cracks in the siding or foundation and gaps or poor sealing around windows and doors. Check for open doors and windows. If you like to leave your windows open for ventilation, be sure you use window screens to keep bugs out.

Seal off any places that bugs could enter. This will help keep bugs out. It will also make your home more secure and more efficient. 

Clean up outside

Remove any materials that could attract insects near your home. For example, if you have a compost heap, a pile of leaves, or a pile of mulch sitting next to your house, move it somewhere else in your yard, further away from your house. 

Any type of decomposing can attract insects. When the insects are near your home, they can easily migrate inside.

You also shouldn’t leave anything leaning up against your house. If you have lumber or gardening tools leaning against your home, move them into a shed or garage. Insects can crawl up and find a way inside. 

Care For Your Plants Properly

Give your plant the appropriate amount of water. Make sure light conditions are optimal. Give your plant some fertilizer from time to time.

This all helps to strengthen the plant’s natural defenses. When your plants are strong and healthy, they are more likely to survive any insect attacks. 

Final Thoughts

Dealing with tiny silver bugs in your houseplant soil is usually pretty easy. The first step is to make sure your indoor gardening practices discourage the moist conditions that attract these pests.

When small infestations occur, choosing the right insecticides and applying them regularly can protect your houseplants from damage caused by silver bugs. Diatomaceous earth and neem oil are great natural and environmentally friendly treatment options to try. If those aren’t working, apply an insecticide. Also, try to keep the soil surface dry.

Remember, consistency in your pest control methods and environmental adjustments plays a crucial role in keeping silver bugs at bay. By following the tips outlined in this guide, you will create an unwelcoming environment for insects.

Have you had to deal with silver bugs in your houseplants? Share your experience in getting rid of them in the comments below!

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