5 Garden Pests That May be Eating Your African Violets

Does it look like something took a bite out of your African Violets? These popular houseplants can become victims to many different pests that will dine on their tender foliage and beautiful blooms. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen examines the five most common pests that may eat your African Violets.

Pink African Violet Flower Being Eaten by Bugs

African Violets are beautiful and popular houseplants. With their soft, fuzzy leaves and brightly cheerful flowers, they have earned their place as a longtime favorite among houseplant enthusiasts. African Violets are compact, colorful, and well-adapted to growing indoors.

But what if you notice there seems to be something wrong with your plant? The once-perfect leaves now begin to look damaged or deformed. The well-formed flowers develop spots or holes. If you notice a problem with your plant, it’s best to quickly take a closer look. The sooner you can identify the problem, the sooner you can correct it.

It is always much easier to prevent your plants from becoming infested with pests than to deal with an advanced infestation. Isolate any new plants for a few weeks before introducing them into your plant collection. After an initial observation period, if plants continue to appear healthy and vigorous, you can be reasonably sure they will not introduce any new pests to your home.

If you are attentive to your plant’s health, you will notice any changes. You will become aware of even subtle changes to your plant’s appearance and general well-being. Act quickly to correct any problems you notice, and you will have more time to enjoy your plants in peak form. In this article, we will take a closer look at five common insect pests that may be eating your African Violets and what you can do about it.

Cyclamen Mites

Cyclamen Mites taking over plant. The plant is slowly dying after being taken over by mites, and you can see them crowding on the leaves of the plant. A small pink flower is visible in the background.
These common pests can severely damage your plant.

Cyclamen mites are one of the most common pests to plague African Violets. Mites are not true insects but rather have eight legs and are more closely related to spiders. Mites use specialized mouthparts to pierce through plant tissues. Cyclamen mites can severely damage the plant not only by sucking out vital juices but also by injecting a toxic chemical into the plant, which causes the plant to stop growing.

Cyclamen mites are tiny but destructive houseplant pests. They are extremely small (1/100 of an inch long) and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

They can, however, cause extensive damage to plants. Mites have a very quick life cycle and can multiply rapidly, quickly infecting multiple plants in close proximity. Unfortunately, cyclamen mites are relatively common, and because of their small size, the first sign of trouble is visible damage to the plant itself.

How to Identify

African Violets infected with cyclamen mites will show obvious signs of distress. Unfortunately, you won’t see the mites themselves, just the effects of their presence. By the time mites have caused enough damage to be obvious, your plants will already be severely infected.

Cyclamen mites first attack the youngest and most tender leaves at the center of the plant. The first sign of cyclamen mites is usually damage to the smallest central leaves.

Outer leaves may appear normal, while the innermost leaves seem crumpled, deformed, withered, and brown. At this phase, plants will also stop blooming. You will know that something is amiss because the plant will look truly sick.

 

How to Remove

If you notice anything suspicious with your plant’s health, do not ignore it. At the first sign of deformed leaves or deteriorating health, isolate any plants that show obvious signs of infestation to prevent further spread to nearby healthy plants. Mites can be very difficult to fully control, so be prepared with time and patience.

A cyclamen mite infestation can sometimes be controlled naturally by spraying infected plants with neem oil. Another fairly safe control you can try is spraying with an insecticidal soap. There are other more chemical-based products, such as miticides, that can safely be used on houseplants.

Always be sure to carefully follow the directions on whichever product you choose. Keep your plant isolated until you can verify that the mites are gone, usually by observing that new leaves are growing in normally.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs feeding on plant leaves
This common insect is usually one of the easiest to see visually.

Mealybugs are fairly common houseplant pests. They are soft-bodied insects that usually look white and fluffy, like tiny blobs of cotton (with six tiny legs) stuck to your plant. Mealybugs are about ⅛ inch long and clearly visible to the naked eye. Mealybugs can be found on all above-ground parts of the plant, including stem, leaf, and flowers.

This common garden pest feeds on plant juices by piercing through the plant tissues with specialized mouthparts. Their feeding can cause a plant to grow slowly, appear stunted, or possibly exhibit deformed leaves.

As mealybugs move around, they secrete a sticky material on the plant leaves, which may appear as a wet or waxy-looking spot. A heavily-infested plant will eventually die.

How to Identify

Because mealybugs are both visible to the naked eye and unique in appearance, they can be easily identified. They appear as small, soft, cottony ovals. Sometimes they appear still, but you can also see them moving around if disturbed.

Mealybugs can be found feeding on all above-ground parts of the plant, but often congregate in tight places. Keep an eye out for both the insects themselves and their sticky wet-looking secretions on leaf surfaces.

How to Remove

First, isolate any plants that have mealybugs to prevent them spreading to nearby plants. A small infestation is much easier to control than a large infestation. If your African Violet has a light infestation of mealybugs, you can use a cotton-tipped swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Inspect the plant carefully and remove any visible bugs with the alcohol swab. Wipe down the pot with rubbing alcohol as well to kill any eggs that may be present. Repeat this process daily for a couple of weeks.

For a heavier infestation, you may need to use an insecticidal soap or other spray. Choose a product that claims to target mealybugs and follow the directions carefully.

You will need to be diligent about spraying, however, and keep your plants isolated until you are reasonably sure all the adults, nymphs, and eggs have been removed. Be patient because this process may take a couple of weeks.

Scale Insects

Scale insects crawling on the stem of a plant in the garden. They are crawling all over the plant in groups.
This type of garden pest often appears looking like a small waxy lump on the stem of a plant.

Scale insects are very common insect pests of houseplants. These flat insects appear as small, oval, waxy-looking lumps on leaves and stems. They commonly congregate on the underside of leaves but can be found on any surface.

Scale insects have tiny piercing mouthparts that they use to suck plant juices. You won’t notice visible symptoms on your African Violets right away.

The first thing you may notice is a shiny, waxy, or wet-looking residue that is left by the scale insects as they feed. The violets may eventually start to look pale, and growth will slow. An African Violet that has been infected for a long time with scale insects can eventually die.

How to Identify

Scale insects are about ⅛ inch long and appear as flat, waxy-looking ovals. They are extremely slow-moving and don’t appear to look alive or move at all, yet they are actually insects.

If you look carefully at your violets on a regular basis, you will notice either the scale insects themselves or their sticky secretions. Aphids and mealybugs also leave behind secretions, but these pests all look distinctly different from each other.

How to Remove

Scale insects are challenging, though not impossible, to remove. The first thing you will want to do is isolate any infected plants from healthy plants to prevent spread. Be sure to wash your hands after handling infected plants so you don’t accidentally transfer pests from one plant to another.

For a minor infestation, you can use a small, soft brush, such as a toothbrush, to gently scrub off any scales you see. Dip the brush in a solution of insecticidal soap or rubbing alcohol to help kill the insects.

For a more severe infestation or if many plants are infected, you may want to consider using an insecticidal spray speficiallly for houseplants. Follow the directions on the label to ensure you are using the product properly.

Aphids

Green small aphids sucking nutrients from leaves of plant. The insects are dark green and medium colored green on a light green leaf.
These small insects are fairly easy to see with the naked eye.

Aphids are small insects that attract a wide variety of plants, both indoors and out. They do not commonly infect African Violets, but because they are so common in nature, they can easily enter a home setting and become a detrimental nuisance.

There are many species of aphids, and there are aphids that will feed on just about any species of plant. They multiply quickly and congregate in large numbers, feeding on plant juices. Aphids can be found on any above-ground part of the plant. They are about ⅛ inch long and visible to the naked eye.

Any houseplant infected with aphids will start to appear sickly. Leaves may wilt and appear somewhat limp. Leaves may also look pale or slightly deformed, particularly around the edges. Plant growth may slow, plants may stop flowering, and if left untreated, aphids can kill an African Violet.

How to Identify

Aphids appear as tiny greenish, pinkish, or brownish insects. They are oblong and have 6 tiny legs. You will see them scattered loosely on leaves and stems, but also congregated in larger clusters. They will move when prodded and may occasionally be seen wandering around the edges of the pot as well as on the plant itself.

Aphids leave behind a sticky secretion on leaves which appears as shiny-looking wet spots. Mealybugs and scale insects also leave sticky secretions, but aphids look distinctly different, like tiny smooth-bodied insects, usually gathered in fairly large numbers.

How to Remove

At the first sign of aphids, isolate any infected plants. Aphids are highly mobile, so it’s entirely likely that if you have one infected plant, you probably have multiple infected plants.

For a minor infestation, dip a cotton-tipped swab in either insecticidal soap or rubbing alcohol. Use this swab to dab at each insect you see. You can also use insecticidal soap or other houseplant insecticide to spray infected plants.

Continue a daily inspection for a couple of weeks. Each day, remove any insects you see and wipe down the pots with rubbing alcohol to remove any eggs. You will want to be sure that each stage of the aphid life-cycle is disrupted to prevent them from immediately reinfecting your plants.

American Cockroach

American cockroach crawling all over plant and eating the leaves. The bug is light brown with a black head, and green foliage is visible behind the insect.
Cockroaches can also eat indoor plants.

Although we don’t like to admit it, many homes have either occasional or frequent visits by cockroaches. The American cockroach is a large insect that, despite its common name, is actually native to Africa and the Middle East. Cockroaches are extremely common and widespread, mostly nocturnal, and notoriously difficult to control.

Cockroaches will eat a great many things, including African Violets and other tender houseplants. They seem to prefer the more tender parts of the plant, such as new leaves and flowers, although they may nibble on any living part of the plant.

Unlike the smaller insect pests listed here, cockroaches have larger chewing mouthparts and will create physical holes in your plants rather than just quietly sucking juices.

How to Identify

The American cockroach reaches an adult body length of about 4 cm long. They have 6 legs and are typically a rusty brownish color. An adult American cockroach has wings and can fly short distances, but is more likely to scuttle across the floor, hiding in dark corners, behind boxes, and other reclusive locations. When disturbed, they run quickly to a new hiding place.

Cockroaches nibble directly on tender parts of the plant, but it’s unlikely you will ever see one in action. Cockroaches are active mostly at night and will run away when disturbed by bright lights and movement.

You will, however, see evidence that roaches have been around. There may be visible black nuggets of cockroach frass (excrament) around your plants. You will also notice that it appears something has been nibbling around the flowers and leaves of your plants.

How to Remove

If you have cockroaches eating your plants, you also have cockroaches living in the dark corners of your home. There are a variety of traps and poisons that are designed to rid cockroaches from the interior of a house.

You will most likely want to try ridding your entire house of roaches, which means you will need to place many traps throughout your home.

If you prefer a more targeted approach, you can add sticky traps and poison bait to the tray or area around your houseplants. If you know the roaches are frequenting that area already, adding traps nearby is likely to attract them to the traps as well. Sticky traps will physically capture roaches on site, and poison bait traps will kill them more slowly after they have left your plant area.

Final Thoughts

The best way to deal with pests is to prevent them from finding access to your plants. Isolate new plants until you can verify they are pest-free. If you do find yourself with an insect pest, isolate infected plants, identify the pest, and treat it using a targeted method.

Keep pots and tools cleaned to prevent cross-contamination, and keep infected plants separate until you are sure the pest has been eradicated.

It may not be possible to always protect your plants from every variety of harm but being alert and aware is a good start. Then you will have more time to enjoy your beautiful African Violets.

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