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Banish tiny silver bugs in houseplant soil (organically)

No matter how attractive an indoor plant, it tends to lose a little appeal if it’s teeming with creepy crawlies!

If you’ve spotted tiny silver bugs in your houseplant soil, let’s talk about what they are and how to tackle them. Don’t worry, they’re quite common and easy to treat organically.

Tiny silver bugs in houseplant soil - springtails

Tiny silver bugs in houseplant soil are almost certainly springtails

Quite a variety of pests can afflict houseplant soil, from thrips to isopods, red spider mites to mealybugs.

But if your soil bugs are tiny, silver and appear on top of the soil, springtails (Collembola) are the most likely candidate.

Springtails range in size from barely visible to 2mm (1/16 inch) long, and get their name from their impressive jumping ability. 

Clustered on the soil’s surface, they look like unassuming dots. But you won’t miss them when they’re startled, as they dramatically leap into the air en masse!

Identify the tiny silver bugs in your soil

Click on the video below of springtails in a pot. Does this look like the bugs in your soil? 

If they bounce like this, your little silver bugs are definitely springtails. Though it looks like they’re flying, they don’t have wings. A small hinged tail called a furcula acts as a spring instead.

It’s held under tension by a band of tissue called a retinaculum. When released, it snaps down onto soil, catapulting the bug several inches into the air. Whoosh!

Not the prettiest spectacle, but a neat trick to get away from danger. Let’s move onto the business of getting rid of the bugs.

Treat silver bugs in indoor plant soil promptly

They might be uninvited guests, but don’t panic – these teeny bugs are harmless to humans. They won’t bite, scratch or sting, nor do much harm to your houseplants.

They may nibble on roots, but not enough to inflict serious damage, just a little leaf yellowing and/or slower growth (at most).

Springtails can even be helpful; they gravitate to moisture, so spotting them indoors can be a warning sign of water ingress in your home e.g. leaky pipework or radiators.

So there’s no need to bombard them with toxic pesticides. But you do want to control those little silver bugs early to keep their numbers in check.

Springtails reproduce quickly, reaching maturity in only 4-6 weeks, and can live for up to a year indoors.

To stop successive generations colonising all your houseplants, it’s best to tackle an infestation as soon as you spot it.

Getting rid of the silver bugs organically

Diatomaceous earth - organic treatment for tiny silver bugs in houseplants (springtails)

Diatomaceous earth is a 100% natural organic insecticide that kills springtails (and other crawling bugs like ants, silverfish and cockroaches).

You can get hold of it on Etsy here or plenty of other online gardening or organic retailers.

It’s a simple powder made from the fossilised skeletons of tiny aquatic creatures called diatoms. The active ingredient is naturally absorbent silica.

Rather than poisoning, it works through dehydration. On contact with a bug, it absorbs the oils from its exoskeleton, making it dry out (dessicate) and die within 48 hours. 

If green gardening is important to you, diatomaceous earth is a great alternative to harsh chemical pesticides – sustainable, non-toxic and environmentally friendly.

Apply it to your houseplant soil (not the bugs)

All you do is sprinkle diatomaceous earth over your plant’s potting soil. The powder will stick to the springtails as they cross the soil, and dry out the surface to deter further bugs.

It will stay effective as long as it’s dry, so you will need to reapply it after watering your plants. Don’t apply it right after watering – wait until the soil’s surface is relatively dry first.

If you can, water your plants from the bottom rather than the top (i.e. into the saucer/pot cover) to keep the top of the soil dry.

Make sure to treat all your houseplants, not just those you know to be affected. Bugs may still be able to ‘jump ship’ from a treated plant and move to another plant in your home.

While we’re tackling creepy crawlies, check out these spider repellent plants to grow indoors.

How silver springtails get into indoor compost

Though springtails aren’t difficult to treat, prevention is always better than cure. Knowing how and why the bugs came indoors in the first place should help you avoid future infestations. 

Springtails are moisture-loving ‘cryptozoa, an order of teeny animals that live in damp environments. They’re prevalent in soil, moss, rotting tree bark, leaf litter, etc.

As they’re naturally drawn to moisture, very dry conditions outside will see them venture indoors in search of dampness. 

The bugs avoid overly dry or wet soil

You’re most likely to find springtails in moist houseplant soil in summer, when outdoor soil has been baked dry by the sun.  

But while they love moisture, springtails don’t like soggy soil. So if prolonged heavy rain has saturated the soil outside, you might find them coming indoors then too. 

They’ll make their way in through any available inlet. Open windows and doors are prime targets, along with vents, pipes and small gaps/cracks in walls and foundations. 

Once they’re inside, as well as your houseplant soil, they’ll gravitate to other humid areas of your home.

You might find a gang of silver springtails congregating in a damp basement, garage or bathroom – or hanging out under the kitchen sink. 

Keeping the silver bugs away for good

Once you’ve treated a springtail infestation in your plant’s soil, there are a few things you can do to stop the bugs from coming back. 

1. Reduce humidity indoors

Keeping the air in your home a little drier will deter springtails by making conditions less hospitable.

Simple changes like drying your laundry outside, keeping rooms well ventilated, avoiding steaming hot showers and always using the bathroom fan will help.

You can also invest in an electric dehumidifier, or leave small bowls of baking soda around to absorb moisture as an inexpensive option.

2. Don’t overwater your plants

Being more restrained in your watering will keep houseplant soil on the drier side and help reduce humidity in your home. 

Resist the temptation to keep soil constantly moist, which is practically a welcome mat to these little bugs.

You don’t want to compromise your plant’s health by underwatering, so periodically check soil by pushing your finger in. Once the top inch or two has dried out, it’s time to top up.

3. Keep soil covered

Covering your plants’ soil with a suitable soil cover or pot topper can also help. This not only restricts access for bugs, but helps retain moisture so plants will need watering less often.

4. Check for bug entry points

Take a good look around your home, inside and out, for any obvious bug access points that need sealing off.

Check for holes and cracks in brickwork, leaking pipes, poor seals around windows and doors, etc. If you find any, there’s your next weekend project!

5. Have a tidy up outside

Make sure you don’t keep inviting piles of nesting material close to your home. Do you have a leaf pile, compost heap or mulched plants near your back door?

Any decomposing organic matter is a potential springtail habitat, so move it further away from your home if possible. 

Isn’t it refreshing to have a plant problem with a nice simple solution? Hope this helps you tackle the little silver visitors in your plant’s soil!

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