How to Get Rid of Bugs in Plants

Look for spots or holes to detect insect damage to plants.
Look for spots or holes to detect insect damage to plants. (Image: Lilies and bugs image by asPagurus from

An insect or pest infestation can severely damage your plants--indoors and out. There are several ways to get rid of bugs in plants. Some methods are more environmentally-friendly than others. Choose the method that best meets your needs. Wiping off the bugs may be acceptable if the problem is limited, but if you have a large infestation, it may be impractical.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears
  • Cotton balls
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Soapy water
  • Cloth or sponge
  • Insecticide

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Cut off affected leaves and stems. If bugs are heavily infested in a particular part of the plant, and are causing that part to die or wilt, pruning that section will reduce the infestation. Aphids often attack the inner canopy of trees. Prune those areas out and throw them away. This will thin the tree growth. Depending on the plant you have, some will regenerate despite excessive pruning and others will be disfigured. Many perennials, such as tulips, can handle being cut back excessively because they will regenerate and sprout again next season. Shrubs like crape myrtle, however, shouldn't be cut across the top because it will result in sparse regrowth. Selective pruning, which means the removal of certain branches through the canopy, is a better idea.

Dip a cotton ball in rubbing alcohol. The solution has some insecticidal effect and will get rid of aphids and mites. Make sure to wipe the undersides of leaves, too, because aphids tend to populate those spots.

Wash broadleaf plants with soapy water and a cloth to get rid of scales, mealybugs, aphids and other small insects. Broadleaf plants have leaves with one main vein running down the middle, and smaller veins coming out of the main one. Combine one gallon of water with 1 tsp. of mild detergent. Repeat the washing if the bugs return. This method can work for up to several months.

Spray plants with a high pressure hose. Pressure spraying will knock mites, aphids, mealybugs and thrips off the plants. Repeat as often as necessary.

Apply insecticide spray. Get one that targets the specific bugs you're dealing with, and make sure the solution is safe for use on the plants you have. If using the spray outdoors, make sure there is no wind or it will land on unwanted areas. Move the nozzle around the entire plant, making sure to target the undersides of the leaves as well as the tops. Follow the application instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Tips & Warnings

  • Buy healthy plants from reputable dealers.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when using insecticides.
  • Keep new plants separate from others for 30 days to make sure they are not infested with pests.
  • Look over plants on a regular basis to make sure they don't have pests.
  • Throw away plants that are severely infested if they are easy to replace.


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