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Tiny Silver Bugs in Houseplant Soil – How to Get Rid of Them

Woman-Spraying-Flower

If you are unfortunate enough to have unwanted house guests take up residence in your plant’s soil, you might have noticed that they appear silver, small, and kind of creepy. You’re probably desperate to get the situation under control ASAP, but first, you have to know what you’re up against.

The three most common silver bugs in houseplant soil are springtails, pill bugs, and silverfish. You can eliminate these insects with essential oils, strong spices and scents, and over-the-counter pesticides. 

In the article below, we will provide you with important information regarding what each of the three bugs is, how to identify them by their appearance and behaviors, and practical ways to get rid of the infestation and keep them from coming back. 

What Are These Tiny Silver Bugs in My House Plants?

Although house plants are less likely to be infested by bugs compared to those outdoors, it doesn’t mean they are 100% safe from these critters. 

Like outdoor plants, indoor plants can lure in many different insects that are attracted to their moist soil, warm temperatures, and easy access to their favorite foods (your beloved plants). You may already be familiar with some, like soil mites, spider mites, mealy bugs, thrips, and aphids.

While there may be many silver bug species that can live inside a home, only a few would love to consider your house plants their home. These silver bugs include:

  • Springtails
  • Silverfish
  • Pill bugs

Although any of these insects can be the creepy-crawly plant pest munching on the leaves of your indoor garden, springtails are typically the main culprit. Nonetheless, we will discuss all three in this article along with the best ways to get rid of them.

What Are Springtails?

Springtail-on-wood

Springtails are tiny white or silver bugs that thrive in soil and underneath organic matter and debris. These creatures are typically identified as insects but are actually a member of the hexapod species. 

The worst part about springtails is that this houseplant pest can live in just about any potted plant, with the ability to thrive in almost any environment. 

Not only can these little guys live in any home, no matter the type of environment you keep, but they also live in colonies with upwards of 100,000 of them in a square foot of space. 

Springtails do not have wings, which means they are unable to fly. However, they have their own way of getting around quickly when using their little legs isn’t enough.

Springtails have a spring-like appendage underneath their abdomen, which allows them to propel themselves into the air (up to 10 cm) when startled or trying to escape quickly. So, if the bugs in your plant’s soil look like they are hopping around, you probably have a springtail infestation.

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Appearance

  • 1/16 to 1/18 inch long
  • Elongated slender bodies
  • Fork-like appendage
  • Silver, white, black, and gray

Habitat

  • Leaf litter
  • Soil
  • Fungi
  • Decaying organic material

Diet

  • Bacteria
  • Mold
  • Fungi
  • Decaying materials

How to Identify a Springtail Infestation

The most obvious way to identify a springtail infestation is by checking for activity in the soil. If you see specks of silver jumping about, chances are good you have springtails living and feeding on your plants. 

While these bugs are small, they can do plenty of damage to the affected plant if they come in large numbers. 

If a large number of springtails attach themselves to your plant’s leaves, they can overwhelm it and reduce its ability to photosynthesize. 

When the infestation gets bad enough and all of the decomposing material in the soil is depleted, these bugs will turn to your live plants. If the plant is a seedling or young plant, it won’t stand a chance.

How to Get Rid of Springtails

If you are sure you have a springtail infestation, you can easily get rid of them by ridding the infested plant of excess moisture. Springtails require consistent moisture to survive and will die quickly once it dries up.

Many plant owners will use diatomaceous earth or neem oil to get rid of these houseplant pests, adding the natural ingredients directly to the potting soil. 

You should also ensure all decomposing materials and fungus are removed from the plant and kept under control.

What Is a Pill Bug?

Woodlouse-sitting-on-moss

A pill bug is an isopod related to woodlice and other forms of crustaceans. In small numbers, these houseplant bugs do not do much harm to your plants, nor are they a danger to humans or animals.

The only reason to be concerned about a pill bug being in your houseplant is the fact that you have bugs in your home. 

However, in large numbers, these decay-eating creatures will turn to your potted plants if they get desperate enough. 

These houseplant pests are night owls that love to live inside potted plants because they are drawn to moisture and safety, having the opportunity to hide until it is time to come out to the soil surface and eat. Pill bugs will dry out fast if they are not exposed to moisture constantly.

Characteristics

  • 3/4 inch long
  • Oval shaped
  • Silver, gray, or black
  • Seven pairs of legs
  • Two sets of antennas
  • Hard shell separated into sections

Habitat

  • Damp, dark areas
  • Damp houseplant soil
  • Under decomposing leaves and debris
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Diet

  • Decaying organic material

How to Tell You Have a Pill Bug Infestation

Pill bugs won’t typically cause any serious damage to plants and are rarely seen in large numbers. However, they are known to eat and kill small or ill plants by munching on their roots and lower stems. 

How to Get Rid of a Pill Bug Infestation

A vacuum cleaner is a great tool to assist in removing pill bugs from your house plants. Simply suck them up from the pot, soil, or your plant’s leaves.

These bugs, like the springtail, cannot live without moisture or decomposing matter to eat, so eliminating these things from your home will deter pill bugs from inhabiting your indoor garden space. 

Have you heard of the orange method? It just might be a good solution to your pill bug problem!

Lastly, you could always choose to leave the affected plant alone. In small numbers, these guys are harmless and won’t cause any damage to you or your plants. 

What Is Silverfish?

When people think of silverfish, they typically think of the tiny bugs that cower in the corner of your bathroom or hide underneath your sink. If this is what you think of, then you would be right.

Silverfish are tiny creatures that like to live inside homes where it is moist and humid, leading to infestations in and around kitchen and bathroom areas. But this isn’t the only place they like to call home.

These creepy yet harmless plant bugs will also set up shop inside your house plants if left alone. 

These pests are difficult to get rid of because they are well-known for eating just about anything, from your pantry items to your house plants. They will nibble on vegetables, leaves, decomposing materials, and more. 

Characteristics

  • Silver, light-gray color
  • Looks like a fish
  • 13-25 mm long
  • Metallic shine
  • Flat oval bodies
  • Wingless
  • Soft scales

Habitat

  • Can live in most climates
  • Thrive in dark, damp areas
  • Commonly found in basements, bathrooms, kitchens

Diet

  • Paper
  • Proteins
  • Clothing
  • Fabrics
  • Vegetables
  • Woods
  • Carbohydrates
  • Just about anything

How to Tell You Have a Silverfish Infestation

The most apparent sign of a silverfish infestation is simply seeing these little critters crawling across your plants. They can be inside the pot, creeping around the plant soil, or walking along the leaves, especially on larger plants.

You can also tell you have a silverfish infestation if you see tiny nibble marks in your plant’s foliage or their poop trails that look like small black peppercorn pieces. They also leave small yellow stains after urinating in any area. 

Silverfish will also leave signs they have been munching on your house plants, leaving shedding skin in their wake. These pests will shed their shells throughout adulthood. 

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How to Get Rid of Silverfish

One of the quickest ways to get rid of a silverfish infestation is to dry them up using diatomaceous earth. Using food-grade diatomaceous earth is an idea for sucking moisture out of any bug it touches, getting rid of most insect infestations.

You can also use baking soda to get rid of silverfish in the same way you would use diatomaceous earth. 

Ways to Get Rid of Bugs in Your House Plants

Above, we listed a few specific ways to get rid of silverfish, pill bugs, and springtails individually, but there are options available that will usually work for almost any type of pest infestation in house plants.

Here are a few great ways to kill any bugs infiltrating your plants, along with tips to keep them from coming back.

  • Strong smelling spices – Strong smelling spices such as cinnamon and clove will repel most insects from wanting to come anywhere near your house plants. Simply sprinkle a little all around the plant soil.
  • Essential oils – Essential oils are another great natural way to ensure insects won’t bother your indoor foliage. 
  • Cedarwood shavings – Cedarwood has a nice strong smell that most insects hate. Spreading some of these wood shavings into your pot will help deter bugs from hanging around.
  • Bug traps – You can buy bug traps at most stores online and in person. These typically have one sticky side bugs will get stuck to when walking across it. 
  • Diatomaceous earth – As mentioned above, diatomaceous earth is a natural way to kill insects on your house plants. This powder substance naturally sucks the moisture out of the bugs, dehydrating them quickly.

Call the Exterminator

Typically, you won’t need to call in the professional bug killers for these insects if they are only few and far between. However, if your home is full of any of these plant-eating annoyances, the only option might be to call an exterminator.

Silver Bugs at a Glance

SilverfishSpringtailsPill Bugs
Silver, bluish silver, white, or gray
Teardrop shape
Length: 12-19 mm 
Moves like a fish
Tail with three bristles at the end
Long antennas
Wingless
Nocturnal 
1-3 mm long
3 pairs of legs
Short antennas
Wingless
Silver, gray, black, or brown
Jump high like a flea
¼ – ⅝ inches long
Two sets of antennas
Silver, slate gray
Oval shaped
Soft scale shell
Can roll up into a ball
Wingless
7 pairs of legs

Summing Things Up

Whether harmful or not, having bugs crawling around your home and on top of your favorite plants is less than ideal for anyone. Being able to identify which bug infestation you are dealing with makes it so much easier to get rid of the little critters for good.

Review the characteristics described above to determine whether your tiny silver guests are silverfish, springtails, or pill bugs, then follow the recommendations to eliminate them and keep them from coming back.