Plant Pests


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Introduction to Plant Pests in South Florida

In the lush landscapes of South Florida, gardeners and landscapers face the ongoing challenge of plant pests that target their plants. The warm, humid climate not only fosters a rich diversity of plant life but also supports a variety of pests that can cause significant damage. Effective pest management is crucial to maintaining healthy, vibrant gardens. Among the myriad of pests, there are five that stand out for their frequency and potential for harm to landscape plants: aphids, mites, scale insects, thrips, and whiteflies. Each of these pests has unique characteristics and feeding habits that can weaken plants, leading to a decline in their aesthetics and health.

Top 6 Plant Pests 


Aphids are among the most prevalent pests affecting plants in Florida, known for their small, pear-shaped bodies and ability to reproduce rapidly. These pests can be green, black, brown, pink, or almost colorless, depending on the species. Aphids feed on plant sap using their piercing mouthparts, often leading to weakened plants, distorted growth, and the development of mold on plant surfaces due to the sticky, sugary substance known as honeydew that they excrete. They are particularly troublesome in both vegetable gardens and ornamental plants, where they can transmit plant viruses from one plant to another, further exacerbating their impact. 


Mealybugs are another common pest in Florida’s diverse flora. These small, soft-bodied insects are covered with a white, powdery wax and tend to cluster in protected areas of plants, such as leaf axils, stems, and under leaves. Mealybugs feed on plant sap, weakening the plant and causing yellowing or curling of leaves. Like aphids, they excrete honeydew, leading to sooty mold growth on plants. Mealybugs can be particularly difficult to control due to their protective wax coating and tendency to hide in hard-to-reach areas of the plant. 


Thrips are tiny, slender insects that can cause significant damage to a wide range of ornamental and vegetable plants in Florida. They are known for their scraping and sucking feeding behavior, which damages plant cells and leads to distorted growth, discoloration, and silvering of leaves. Thrips can also transmit serious plant viruses, such as the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. Their small size and rapid lifecycle make them a challenging pest to manage, often requiring vigilant monitoring and timely intervention to prevent outbreaks. 

Scale Insects

Scale insects are a diverse group of pests that pose a significant threat to many types of plants in Florida, including fruits, ornamentals, and trees. These pests attach themselves to plant parts and feed on sap, weakening the plant. Scales are characterized by their waxy or armored coverings, which protect them from predators and pesticides. Infestations can lead to yellowing leaves, stunted growth, and even plant death. Controlling scale insects often requires a combination of cultural, biological, and chemical strategies due to their protective coverings. 


Whiteflies are small, winged insects that are closely related to aphids and mealybugs, and they are notorious for infesting a wide variety of plants in Florida. They feed on plant sap from the underside of leaves, leading to yellowing, wilting, and potentially the death of the plant if the infestation is severe. Whiteflies also excrete honeydew, which encourages the growth of sooty mold and attracts other pests. Their rapid reproduction rates and the development of resistance to many pesticides make them a formidable pest to control in both greenhouse and outdoor settings. 


Mites on ornamental plants are a significant concern for gardeners and landscapers due to their tiny size and the substantial damage they can inflict on a wide range of decorative plants. Among the most notorious are spider mites, which thrive in warm, dry conditions often found in indoor and greenhouse environments. These pests are so small that they are often overlooked until plant damage becomes apparent. Mites feed by piercing plant cells and sucking out the contents, leading to stippled, discolored, or yellowed leaves, and in severe cases, leaf drop and plant death. Webbing on plant parts is a hallmark sign of spider mite infestation. Effective management of mite populations on ornamental plants requires a combination of regular monitoring, maintaining plant health to improve resistance, and, when necessary, the application of miticides or the introduction of natural predators like ladybugs or lacewings. Given their rapid reproduction rate and potential for resistance to chemical treatments, an integrated pest management approach is often the most effective strategy for controlling mite infestations on ornamentals. 

Other Plant Pests That Cause Damage In South Florida Landscapes

Caribbean Fruit Fly (Anastrepha suspensa)

The Caribbean Fruit Fly poses a significant threat to a variety of fruit-bearing plants in South Florida, particularly targeting citrus, mangoes, and avocados. These flies lay their eggs under the skin of the fruit, and upon hatching, the larvae feed on the fruit’s interior, causing it to rot and fall prematurely. This not only leads to a direct loss of yield but can also make the affected fruits unsuitable for sale or consumption. Managing these pests involves monitoring for their presence and employing strategies like trapping, removing infested fruits, and potentially using biological control agents to reduce their populations.

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers (Romalea microptera)

Eastern Lubber Grasshoppers are large, conspicuous pests that can cause extensive damage to a wide range of landscape plants, including ornamental shrubs, flowers, and foliage. These grasshoppers are voracious eaters; they chew through leaves and flowers, leaving behind a trail of destruction that can significantly impact the aesthetic value and health of gardens. Their large size and chemical defenses against predators make them a challenging pest to control, often requiring physical removal or the use of specific pesticides.


Caterpillars, the larval stage of moths and butterflies, are common pests in South Florida landscapes. They feed on the leaves of plants, creating holes or completely defoliating them, which can stunt growth and lead to reduced flowering and fruiting. Some species, such as the oleander caterpillar, target specific plants, while others have a broader range of hosts. Management typically involves monitoring for their presence and applying biological or chemical controls as needed to keep their populations in check.

Leaffooted Bugs

Leaffooted bugs are named for the leaf-like expansions on their hind legs. They damage plants by piercing plant tissues and sucking sap, weakening the host. These bugs can also transmit plant diseases as they feed. In South Florida, they commonly affect fruit trees, tomatoes, and nuts, causing fruit drop and blemishing that reduces the marketability of the produce. Controlling these pests often involves removing weeds that can serve as their habitat, using row covers to protect plants, and applying insecticides when necessary.


Nematodes, particularly root-knot nematodes, are microscopic worms that infect plant roots, causing galls or knots that interfere with the plant’s ability to absorb water and nutrients. This damage can lead to stunted growth, wilting, and decreased yield in affected plants. In South Florida, the warm soil temperatures favor the proliferation of nematodes, making them a significant concern for both ornamental and vegetable gardens. Management strategies include using nematode-resistant plant varieties, practicing crop rotation, and employing soil solarization to reduce nematode populations.


Iguanas have become a notable pest in South Florida, damaging landscapes by eating a wide variety of plants, flowers, and fruits. Their digging behavior can also undermine sidewalks, foundations, and seawalls, causing structural damage. Controlling iguanas involves habitat modification to make areas less attractive to them, using barriers to protect plants, and in some cases, humane trapping and removal.

Snails and Slugs

Snails and slugs are mollusks that feed on a variety of living plants as well as decomposing material. In gardens, they are known for their destructive feeding on leaves, flowers, and fruits, often leaving behind a slimy trail. They are particularly fond of young, tender plant tissues and can cause significant damage overnight. Management includes reducing moisture and hiding spots, using bait and traps, and barriers to protect plants.

Twig Girdlers (Oncideres spp.)

Twig girdlers are beetles that lay their eggs in the small branches of trees. The adult beetles then girdle, or chew through, the twig around the egg-laying site, causing the affected branch to die and break off. This not only damages the tree aesthetically but can also affect its overall health and productivity. Managing twig girdlers typically involves pruning and destroying infested branches to break the life cycle of the beetles.

White Grubs

White grubs, the larval stage of various beetles, including the Japanese beetle and the June beetle, feed on the roots of grass and other plants. This feeding can cause significant damage to lawns and landscapes, leading to yellowing, wilting, and in severe cases, the death of the grass or plant. Effective control of white grubs involves proper lawn care practices to promote healthy grass that can withstand grub damage, as well as the use of biological control agents or pesticides when necessary.
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