Ways to Get Rid of Tiny Silver/Grey Bugs in Houseplant Soil

Spotted a few (or few hundred) tiny silver bugs in houseplant soil? And now you’re on the verge of throwing it in the trash? STOP! Before you commit plant murder, we have some good news for you. Having tiny silver / grey bugs in your plant does not mean it is the end of the world. We promise you can still enjoy a bug-free indoor plant garden.

Depending on the size, shape and type of activity, those tiny silver bugs are most likely springtails, thrips, whitefly or isopods. Don’t worry, we’ll step you through an identification process later. Fortunately, these bugs are not harmful to humans, and won’t cause extensive damage to your indoor plants. We do, however, still recommend treating your houseplants to minimize any long-term damage. More on treatments and solutions later, so keep reading.

Tiny silver bugs in houseplant soil

Welcome to today’s pest control article at the Garden Bench Top. We’ll be helping you to troubleshoot your bug problem through a two-step process:

  1. first, we’ll help you identify the bugs that are having a dance party in your indoor plants’ soil, and
  2. once we have identified the culprits we can help you devise a plan to evict them from the soil.

So, if you’re ready for some fun, grab a magnifying glass because we’re about to get up close and personal with those bugs.

PRO TIP

For those that don’t have time, use our reference table below to trouble shoot a quick solution.

Tiny Silver Bugs in Houseplant Soil Reference Guide

Bug TypeAppearance & BehaviorTreatment
SpringtailVarying color from brown to silver, with segmented body, long antennae and long legs for jumpingdry out topsoil or use gentle eco friendly insecticide on soil
ThripsLong thin body with short antennae that live on leavesmedium pressurized water spray all over plant (including under leaves)
Mealy Bugswhite scaly bugs with rounded body shape. From afar they look furry.dab rubbing alcohol on each mealy bug using a cotton bud OR natural insecticide like neem oil
Isopods (pill bugs)ancient looking bugs with hard silver segmented shell. Lots of tiny legs and short antennaemanual removal or diatomaceous earth
Spider MitesTiny white spider looking creatures that are difficult to see with the naked eye. medium pressurized water spray all over plant (including under leaves)

Bug Identification – Identifying the Silver Bugs in Soil?

We find the best way to approach gardening problems is to channel your inner Sherlock Holmes.

Tiny Silver Bugs in Houseplant Soil

Rather than coming at the problem with an armory of pitchforks, insecticide and hoping for the best, we like to begin by asking a few pertinent questions.

What Do Your Bugs Look Like?

How Do They Behave?

Once we establish a positive ID on the culprits, we’ll be able to formulate a sound plan for eradication.

Bugs Appearance

Silver Bugs in soil Appearance

This task may be challenging, given the bugs may be quick, nimble and miniature. However, it is imperative that a proper ID is made on your party bugs. The best opportunity to see the details of your bugs is when they are contrasted against the background of your plants’ dark soil. Below is a list of bugs and their descriptions for the likely suspects in your soil:

  • Springtails – are tiny insects that love to infest moist environments (ie., your indoor plant soggy soil). Their color can vary from brown-black to grey-silver to even white in some species. The body shape of springtails looks very much like your typical bug. They have long antennae, segregated shells along their body, and long legs that help them to jump up to 20 times their body size.
  • Thrips – look like long, thin insects with short antennae. Their color can vary from black to cream to translucent brown depending on the stage of their lifecycle. Thrips are hard to see from a distance. However, they are visible to the naked eye if you look close enough for a period of time. In fact, most home gardeners notice damage to their plants’ leaves first, before spotting the colonies of thrips.
  • Mealy Bugs – are ancient looking bugs that could easily feature in one of the Jurassic Park movies. They are white scaly bugs that have oval shaped bodies, with tiny legs protruding out. From afar, it looks like your plant may be infested with white mold or has been attacked with talcum powder. But, up close, you will see hundreds of individual bugs huddling together in colonies.
  • Isopods – are another ancient looking bug that can be found working its way around your indoor plants’ soil. They have bodies that are flat and segmented, that is generally a silver or brown color. They have 7 pairs of legs that are hard to spot, unless you turn the isopods onto their back, but even then they’ll quickly curl into a ball for protection.
  • Spider Mites – are very tiny spider – looking creatures that love to hide under your plants’ leaves and around the stems. To the naked eye, they will look like hundreds of dots spread across your plant. However, under a magnifying glass (we told you to grab your magnifying glass!) you’ll see they look exactly like tiny silver / white spiders. Which is to be expected because they actually belong to the arachnid family – go figure?!

How do the Silver Bugs Behave?

Tiny Silver Bugs in Houseplant Soil
Photographer: Severin Candrian | Credit: Unsplash

Once again, we’re going to look through the lens of Dr Holmes and look for watertight proof that we have our bug identified. And to do that we need to also take into consideration their behavior and their favorite hangouts.

  • Springtails – with their long spring like legs, these guys love to bounce around the top of your plants’ soil. They actually behave like fleas in that they will jump away very quickly if they feel threatened. They are extremely quick and nimble, so when they jump, it looks like they simply disappeared. You’ll find springtails crawling around the surface of your moist soil, looking for decomposed organic matter. Check out this quick video below by Pixelfriedhof Tutorials on springtails
  • Thrips – love to crawl and hang out on or under the leaves of your plant. The leaves are their primary feeding ground, where they will dig holes into your leaves to suck out the nutrients and sap of your plant. You will be able to identify thrips by the damage to your plants’ leaves. They will become lifeless and dull looking, with a silvery sheen beginning to show on your leaves when thrips have caused extensive damage to your plants.
  • Mealy Bugs – are annoying pests. That hang out on the undersides of leaves, and congregate around the stems. They feed on the plants sap, sucking out all the nutrients and often causing the leaves to droop, become yellow and fall off. You will be able to recognize mealy bug activity, because they will leave a sticky residue behind on your leaves. Not only is this unsightly, it also encourages mold growth and attracts other unwanted pests like ants that feed on the residue.
  • Isopods – are relatively harmless insects, and are actually beneficial for your indoor plants’ soil. They help to aerate the soil, which allows the roots to receive oxygen. Additionally, they help to break down decomposing organic matter, turning it into usable nutrients for your plants. You will spot them crawling and digging around in the first few inches of soil in your house plants. The plants themselves are of no interest to isopods, so you rarely see them on your plant stems or leaves.
  • Spider Mites – are another plant sucking bug that seem to love spending time in our gardens (indoors and outdoors). If you spend enough time looking closely at your plant, you’ll see them crawling all around the leaves and stems. As we mentioned earlier, they are difficult to see with the naked eye, so you’ll really have to look hard.

How Can I Get Rid Of the Tiny Silver Bugs in Soil?

Spraying water to get rid of bugs

Now that we have confidently identified the tiny grey bugs in your houseplant soil, we can now turn our attention to treatments for getting rid of them.

To make it easy for you, we have listed down suggested remedies for treating your bug infestation in the same layout that we used to identify your culprits.

  • Springtails – those of you who embraced your inner Holmes vibes would have noted we mentioned springtails seek moist environments, including plant soil. So it stands to reason one of the simplest ways to get rid of them is to keep your soil surface as dry as possible. We find one of the best ways to achieve dry topsoil, while keeping your potted plant well watered is to bottom water your plants. Watering your plants from the bottom helps to promote a healthy root system, while keeping unwanted silver bugs away.
  • Thrips – Taking your indoor plant outside and giving it a good pressurized spray with water will dislodge any thrips that are living on the leaves and stems. We like to use a medium setting that allows for a soft wash spray that has enough pressure to blast any thrips off your plant. Make sure to check at the leaf nodes for any thrips that may be hiding in the crevices. Repeat this process each week.

    If you don’t mind using a bit of insecticide on your plants, any commercial brand at your local nursery or supermarket will work instantly. Again, we recommend spraying the insecticide outside.

  • Mealy Bugs – a popular method of getting rid of mealy bugs is to dab a cotton bud into rubbing alcohol and rubbing it on each mealy bug. The rubbing alcohol will kill the mealy bugs, and they should fall off shortly after. However, if you have a large infestation of mealy bugs, this process can become tedious quickly. In this case, we recommend purchasing an Insecticidal Soap or natural insecticide (like neem oil) to spray on the colonies of mealy bugs. You will be able to target more bugs in a shorter period of time.
  • Isopods – if you only have a few isopods (aka pill bugs) in your houseplants, we recommend leaving them to do their thing. As we mentioned earlier, they are beneficial for the soil in your houseplants. However, if it irks you enough that you want them out, simply pick them out by hand and place them outdoors in your garden. For larger numbers of isopods, you can try spreading diatomaceous earth on top of your soil. The diatomaceous earth dries out the pill bugs, therefore dehydrating them, eventually killing them.
  • Spider Mites – Treating spider mites is similar to thrips in that a good pressurized spray of water will dislodge them from your plants’ leaves and stems. We recommend repeating the water spray each week to ensure you thoroughly eliminate every spider mite. Also, isolate your infected plants away from other houseplants to avoid cross infestation.

    Like the other bugs, an organic insecticide will also work on spider mites. However, we usually opt for natural treatments first, before conceding to employing chemical warfare on bugs.

Key Takeaways for Tiny Silver Bugs in Plant Soil

There you have it. A complete methodology for getting rid of those tiny grey bugs in houseplant soil, Sherlock Holmes style.

Whatever type of bug you have living in your houseplants, by following this guide you will be enjoying a bug free indoor garden in no time.