How to get rid of thrips on houseplants

Thrips can be one of the most infuriating pests for both indoor and outdoor gardeners. There are more than 6,000 species around the world, and gardeners who find themselves in the midst of an infestation often wonder how to kill thrips – or else, how to get rid of them with organic pest control methods – and if their indoor plants are safe.

A small black thrip
Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock

What are thrips?

Thrips are a rather common pest that can infest your greenhouse, outdoor garden, and indoor plants. They’re very small — adults only reach up to 1/25 of an inch in size — and can be tan or black. Their damage is twofold, from active to residual once they’ve been removed. Thrips cause destruction by scraping at various parts of a plant, including the leaves, fruits, and flowers. Damage from thrips is the worst in a hot, dry climate.

How can you tell you have a thrip infestation?

Once damaged, leaves can turn pale or silvery and will eventually die, which is less than appealing to any home gardener and their success. If you’re at a nursery picking out a plant, the hope is that they won’t have been damaged by thrips. But if they are injured, you’ll be able to tell because parts of the plants will be discolored, scarred, and/or twisted. Thrips, unfortunately, feed and infest in large groups. When disturbed, they will fly away, but not before causing damage to many of your plants.

What gets rid of thrips?

The first step to managing or preventing an outdoor/greenhouse thrip infestation is garden maintenance. Thrips will spend the winter months buried in the garden soil, emerging in the spring to lay their eggs. Because females don’t need to mate to reproduce, they start laying as soon as they burrow out of the ground. This is why it’s a good rule of thumb to clean up any plant debris (fallen leaves, broken stems, etc.) as soon as possible.

One of the places thrips lay their eggs is inside the plant stems, so you’ll want to consistently monitor and check your plants for any sign of damage before the whole garden becomes infested. It may also be beneficial to remove any weeds or tall grasses that are around your garden, as thrips could infest those before moving onto your plants — and you likely won’t realize it before it’s too late.

It’s also important to inspect any plant you decide to bring into your garden, regardless of where it’s from. If a plant is infested with thrips and you don’t realize and plant it into your garden, it could cause much more destruction than it’s worth. This is also the main barrier to preventing thrips indoors. Remove any plant debris from falling leaves, and inspect any plant before bringing it into your home.

Thrip damage on a plant
Tomasz Klejdysz/Shutterstock

How do you get rid of thrips naturally?

Along with the above ways to prevent thrips, there are also ways to get rid of them naturally without using any harmful pesticides. One option is to plant certain flowers that attract a thrips’ natural predator. These insects are often beneficial to your garden, helping to cull and prevent future thrip infestations.

If you have a small infestation, you can combine the above tricks with wiping the thrips off the infested plants with a simple spray of water. If possible, isolate the infected plant. For heavier infestations, you can also find insecticidal soaps, which are made from natural plant oils, can be used on plants to smother the thrips. Getting rid of them naturally could be a bit trickier with larger thrip populations, so you may also have to resort to a short-lived, minimally toxic insecticide to lessen your thrip count.

Can plants recover from thrips?

Thankfully, unless the infestation is extension, your plant should recover. Be sure to separate the infected plant from others, so its leaves don’t touch and potentially spread the infestation. All you have to do is continue with the treatment and check the plant every day, making sure to wipe down the leaves.

In extreme cases, when the thrips have completely taken over, the best thing to do is to completely bag up the plant, seal it off so the thrips can’t escape, and dispose of it. It’s always sad to see a plant go, but better that than letting the infestation spread.

Can thrips infest your home?

Thrips typically infest homes when brought in on plants, whether temporarily before planting in a garden or with the purpose of potting a houseplant. That’s why one of the first barriers to controlling/preventing an infestation is to inspect every plant before bringing it into your home. If it shows any sign of damage, it’s better safe than sorry. You don’t want them infecting the rest of your plants.

Thrips can be a very tricky infestation to control, but luckily there are natural measures you can use to rid them from your plants. Natural insecticidal soaps can be used both indoors and outdoors, and remember the tips and tricks to help prevent an infestation in the first place.

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