Tiny White Bugs in Houseplant Soil – Identification and What to Do

Several types of insects can be found in houseplant soil. These insect pests can be a nuisance and sometimes damaging to the plants. Identifying the specific type of insect around your houseplant is important for effective control.

Tiny white bugs in houseplant soil could be fungus gnats, root aphids, springtails, thrips, or root mealybugs.

Most pests in houseplant soil are known to feed on the plant tissues causing deformities, stress, and even death of the plant. 

However, it’s worth noting that a small number of bugs in the soil is not necessarily a cause for concern. Some insects are beneficial, as they help in improving the soil’s structure

Tiny white bugs in houseplant soil

What are the tiny white bugs in houseplant soil?

If you discover some tiny bugs in your houseplant’s soil, carefully inspect the plant and the soil to identify the pests and take appropriate measures to control them. The following are common pests that live in houseplant soil:

Fungus gnats

These are small, mosquito-like insects commonly found in houseplant soil. Some species of fungus gnats are gray to black in color, while others appear orange or yellowish. Female fungus gnats lay small, oval yellowish-white eggs on the surface of moist soil.

Adult fungus gnats don’t usually cause harm to the plant, but they can be a nuisance as they love flying around lights.

The University of California Statewide IPM Program, however, explains that fungi gnats’ larvae feed on root hairs which may stunt plant growth, or cause death, particularly in seedlings and young plants, explains.


Springtails are small, shiny wingless insects commonly found in soil and leaf litter. They get their name from the spring-like mechanism on their abdomen, which they use to jump from one place to another.

Springtails are generally harmless to plants and beneficial, as they help break down organic matter and improve the soil structure. The addition of springtails in the terrariums helps in preventing the problem of mold growth.

They are commonly found in moist, humid environments and are often attracted to areas with piles of organic matter, such as compost and houseplant soils. While they do not typically cause damage to plants, they can be a nuisance in large numbers.

These insects are typically a temporal problem, and they completely die or disappear when moisture levels in the soil are reduced. The University of Minnesota Extension advises against using pesticides on springtails as it is ineffective in controlling them.


Thrips are tiny, slender insects that are often found on plants. Their color varies from whitish to dark brown or black. They have wings and are able to fly easily from one plant to another. Thrips feed on the tissues of plants, sucking the sap from the leaves, stems, and flowers.

They cause serious plant damage, including discoloration, scarring spots on plant tissues, and reduced growth. In severe cases, these pests can weaken or kill a plant. Thrips are common in warm, humid environments and are attracted to a wide range of plants both indoors and outdoors.

Several species of thrips act as vectors for many plant diseases. Explains Missouri Botanical Garden. It is important to monitor your plants and provide a control strategy before these pests get a chance to spread. They are very difficult to control when in large numbers.

Root mealybugs

Root mealybugs are small, sap-sucking insects with a waxy, white, or grayish appearance and are usually found in clusters in the soil. Root mealybugs feed on the plant’s sap, which damages the plant, including stunted growth, yellowed leaves, and wilting.  

These pests are common in warm, humid conditions and are attracted to a wide range of plants, including cacti. When potted plants are watered, root mealybugs sometimes crawl out of the drainage holes and infest plants nearby, explains NC State University Extension.

To control root mealybugs, it is important to carefully inspect the roots of your plants regularly and take appropriate action. It can be difficult to get rid of mealybugs that infest plant roots as they are not easy to detect.

Root Aphids

Root aphids are small, whitish insects that feed on the roots of plants. They are common in succulents and other houseplants. These pests feed on root tissues of the host plant resulting in leaf yellowing, stunted growth, and wilting.

Root aphids can be misidentified as root mealybugs because they are covered in white wax.

While root aphids don’t easily move around, they can spread from plant to plant through the irrigation water that drains from the holes in pots.

These pests typically hide under the root ball, making it difficult to spot and control them. The Michigan State University Extension also points out that root aphids have a waxy coating that prevents direct contact with an insecticide.

How to get rid of tiny bugs in houseplant soil

There are a few things you can do to get rid of the tiny silver bugs in your houseplant soil:

1. Remove the top layer of soil

Gently remove and dispose of the top layer of the plant’s soil. Then, replace it with fresh, sterilized soil. This may help solve the problem of pests that dwell in the soil’s upper layer.

2. Use an insecticide

Several insecticides are specifically designed to use on houseplant soil. Get one from a nearby pest control or garden center and apply it to your houseplants carefully, as directed on the product label. I recommend you try neem oil or insecticidal soap.

3. Use a natural remedy

Mix water and rubbing alcohol in equal parts and spray it on the plant to kill insects. Rubbing alcohol in high concentrations may harm the plant, so dilute before use. Neem oil and agricultural oils like neem are also effective when applied as a drench on the growing media.

4. Keep the soil moist

Some insect pests are attracted to wet conditions. Keep the soil moist and avoid overwatering. Keeping the soil a little dry can help to discourage them from nesting and laying eggs in the houseplant soil.

5. Implement cultural controls

By keeping the plant healthy, you discourage pests from attacking them. Water the plants properly but don’t overwater them. Fertilize as needed and minor the plants on a regular.

6. Repot the plant

Remove the plant with the tiny bugs from the soil and chop off any damaged roots. Then, repot the plant in fresh, sterilized, well-draining soil. If you are repotting a cactus, make sure to use a cactus soil mix and a pot with drainage holes. This will prevent the problem of root rot.

Final Thought

Tiny white bugs in houseplant soil are likely to be pest insects that may damage or kill your plants. To get rid of these pests, it’s important to identify them and take appropriate action, such as isolating the infested plants, applying insecticides, repotting the affected plants, or improving cultural care.

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