Summertime is bug time, and there are plenty of orchid pests to deal with. But knowing how to keep orchid insects from ruining your plant is a critical part to keeping it healthy.
One of the toughest parts about orchid care is that the environment that is good for your orchid is also good for orchid pests. Typically, if you’re dealing with orchid insects, they were there when you bought the plant. If you have more than one orchid, crawlers can move from plant to plant. That’s why it’s important to look for common orchid pests and take steps to get rid of them right away.
The American Orchid Society has a long list of orchid pests that you could potentially be dealing with, but we are going to focus on a few of the most common orchid insects out there. The good news is, what works on one insect often works on others, so you can apply these methods across the board in most cases. So, let’s take a look at a few of the most common orchid pests and what you can do to keep them from ruining your plant.
Orchid Pests: Scale Insects
In the world of orchid pests, there is no easy cure for a scale bug infestation. There are 27 different identified species of scale, but the most common experienced by orchid owners in the United States is brown scale. It’s characterized by yellow or brown oval “shells” and this orchid insect will kill your plant if left untreated. They can appear anywhere on your orchid:
Sometimes you’ll even find them on rhizomes and roots. One possible way to remove them is by picking them off or gently scrubbing them loose from the leaves and stems.
Management methods least toxic to people, pets and plants are the most time-consuming. But there are some less meticulous options.
- Rubbing alcohol: All it takes is some 70 percent Isopropyl alcohol found in stores. Mix a solution 50/50 water and alcohol. You can apply it with a cotton ball or a misting bottle to get rid of scale infestations, but you will need to repeat the process every one to two weeks. The key to control is persistence.
- Insecticidal Soap: is a safe and effective alternative to conventional insecticides. You can use bleach-free dishwashing liquid. Just mix 1 ½ teaspoons per soap with a quart of water.
- Oil Spray: Mix 2 tablespoons of cooking oil and 2 tablespoons of baby shampoo in 1 gallon of water. This can also be mixed with 1 cup of alcohol to help penetrate the orchid insect’s shell. Shake well before and during application. Spray every five to seven days as needed, covering both sides of the foliage. Wash the leaves individually with the soap/oil mixture and rinse well.
- Repotting: Your orchid potting medium can harbor scale eggs and crawlers, so repotting your orchid is one way to minimize the chances the scale infestation will continue.
Orchid Pests: Mealybug
Mealybugs are a serious orchid pest. They’re probably the most difficult orchid insect to control after scale insects. You’ll find them on all parts of your plants including on the roots, on the pseudobulbs and on the underside of leaves.
But they really like to hide on roots and rhizomes in your potting media. Rubbing alcohol and repotting are also good for controlling these orchid pests. Seventy percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol is what you’ll need in this case, too. If you already have mealybugs, try spraying your alcohol solution directly on the mealybugs with a misting bottle or pump sprayer. You may also have to drip some alcohol into tight areas. If you’re trying to keep mealybugs from ever showing up in the first place; spray all of the things around your orchid, including window-sills, table tops and furniture.
Just be sure to get your orchid out of the way, first, then move it back when your growing area is dry. Some oils and soaps are also good for keeping orchid pests like mealybugs at bay. You can try:
- Horticultural oil
- Neem oil
- Mineral oil
- Insecticidal soaps
You’ll spray your oil or soap, like you would rubbing alcohol, after watering them down and possibly mixing them with a plant-safe detergent. Just be sure not to spray on very hot days, or if your plant is in direct sunlight because your orchid leaves may burn.
Orchid Pests: Aphid
Aphids are among the most common orchid pests. They’re slow-moving, soft-bodied insects and are related to scale. There are three places to look for aphids:
- On new growth
- At the base of flower buds
- On the undersides of leaves
Aphids can be removed from plants with a jet of water, squashed with finger and thumb or sprayed with organic garlic and chili sprays.
Orchid Pest Prevention Tips
Whether you have an existing orchid insect problem, or have dealt with orchid pests in the past, you’re going to want to minimize the chance of them coming back. Here are some things to do to keep the insects from becoming resistant to your treatment tactics:
- Change methods and chemicals occasionally.
- Do not use the same chemical mix more than three to four times in a row. For example, if you used rubbing alcohol for previous treatments, switch to an oil or soap.
- Never use an insecticide not labeled for ornamental plants
- Do not use less than the minimum concentration of a mixture.
Caring for your orchid is a lot easier when you’re armed with good information. If you’re looking for more orchid care tips, you’ll want to take a look at our guide, “Your Complete Care Guide for Every Stage of Orchid Life.”
Inside you’ll find care tips and helpful photos for each stage of orchid life. With just a little TLC, you can keep the bugs away and keep your orchid thriving.