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Let’s just jump right in. Thrips are the most persistent and annoying houseplant pest I’ve dealt with in my many years of plant parenthood. There, I've said it. Yes, even more annoying than those pesky fungus gnats that fly right into your face.
I used to think they were gone for good, pat myself on the back for a job well done and then, a month later, notice another leaf showing that tell tale sign of thrip damage. Here’s a few pics that illustrate these signs to help you identify these little, highly destructive bugs:
See the tiny white bugs? Those are thrips in their larval stage. Dang it. Houseplant Care Kit to the rescue!
Example of leaf damage on my monstera.
First step is to identify the pest. Thrips come in many shapes and colors, over 6,000 actually, but they all have similar life cycles. They not only damage plants, but they can introduce diseases too. The trail of destruction is quite impressive considering how tiny they can be! But the trail they leave behind is quite unmistakable. Look closely for yellow and brown spots, those dark spots are their poop left behind to cause scarring and discoloration on the leaves. Nice, right?
Sometimes you’ll even see the tiny larva walking around that damaged area and occasionally you will see the adults. Some adults have wings which make them even more destructive as they can travel. I’ve noticed they prefer to set up homes in my monstera, avocado, philodendron, and alocasia more than any other houseplant.
Here is a visual of the one type (there are thousands) of thrip and it’s life cycle. Hope this helps you imagine the pest you’re up against. (Image curtesy of HortiNews)
Ok, now that you've confirmed your plant has thrips, take a deep breath. It's ok, it happens to us all.
Go ahead and move your plant so it's not close to any other plants and be sure to check all other plants for signs of thrips before beginning treatment so you don't have to do it all over!
Get cleaning! If your plant is mobile enough to transport to the shower or outside with a hose, do it, it makes these first few applications easier. If you have a large houseplant and cannot move it to the shower or to a hose, here’s the next best thing and what I tend to do if I’m feeling lazy. Place a towel or newspaper under the plant to soak up any mess.
Next, grab a freshly mixed up batch of our Sacred Leaf Tonic (remember to shake up your concentrated bottle first then add a 1/4 teaspoon to spray bottle of 16 ounces water) and get spraying! Go nuts friends and no worries if you get it on your hands, it's completely non toxic and actually good for your skin! Completely coat the front and back of the leaves, stem, and topsoil. The first time we apply heavily, we like to give the entire plant a rinse. If you don't have a hose or shower option, grab a clean towel/paper towel and soak with water to wet then gently wipe the leaves clean.
Next, mix up a batch of our Sacred Soil Tonic (1/4 teaspoon to 16 ounces of water) and give your plant a health soil drench. Be sure your plant is out of any direct sunlight after these treatments. The natural oils in Neem, Soapnut and Jojoba act a bit like sun tan oil on our skin and can invite unwanted sunburn!
Repeat this process again in a few days. Then you can move on to spraying and drenching once a week for a few months. Yes, I know, it's a lot, but well worth it, I promise! Our tonics work their magic over time not only by battling the actual insects, but by boosting your plant's own natural immune system. For more on that, head to our 'What's Saponin' blog post here
Remember to coat all the surfaces of your plant including the topsoil as thrips spend some of their life there too. After a month or two, you should be thrip free! However, I cannot stress this enough, you must be vigilant! Every time you water check the leaves. Even a few months later. It’s good plant parent practice to check the leaves of all your plant friends to make sure everyone is healthy and pest free.
You got this!! We're always here to encourage or help you too! You can send us an email anytime and we'll do our best to respond quickly.
Karina & the Sacred Elements Team
A manual that will lead you to connect with the natural world, and encourage you to make it a daily ritual.
You’ll find Karina’s signature plant life imagery, sensory guided experiences and meditations, plant care tips, step by step guidance to create your own sacred space, and ways to live more sustainably.
*20% of the proceeds of every Sacred Elements Guidebook sold will go to organizations that supporting small, independent farmers and educate children to grow their own food.