Thrips are tiny insects with unique asymmetrical mouth parts that feed on sap of various plants. Succulents aren’t their favorite choice, but they sometimes enjoy the tasty sap of these versatile plants, especially (but not only) the Lithop family, often called “living stones” or “pebble plants”. I have experienced this several times over the years, and learned how to deal with these pests, though it isn’t always easy.
Before we dive into details, let me start with some facts and good news. In 95% of cases, thrips aren’t deadly to succulents. Sure, they parasite on the sap, but in some cases you will barely spot the damage, and a mature and healthy plant will easily deal with it. In certain cases, however, thrips can damage the flowers and a foliage to some extent, and in rare cases they can also transmit foreign microorganisms to the succulent, such as viruses, which can cause death to the plant.
Not all thrips are harmful, try to stay calm when you spot them for the first time
We tend to panic as soon as we spot something unusual on our succulents. However, we should realize that no plant is an isolated unit, and in nature all sorts of organisms always live together. In today’s world, thinking that we can grow any plants without pests is an illusion. Of course, if you use pesticides and insecticides often, you can achieve such a result. But I doubt it is something you want to do in your garden, let alone in your home.
What I try to say here is that you should not panic as soon as you spot thrips on one of your succulents. Isolate the plant, that means remove it to some distance from other plants. Then observe it. If the succulent seems just fine, and you do not witness the number of thrips growing exponentially, you do not have to do anything. It is still better keeping the succulent in isolation, in order to prevent infestation of other plants.
Homemade remedies for thrips on succulents
If you think the issue is more serious, or simply want to get rid of thrips, you can do so with one of the following remedies:
- Soap and water. Mix five tablespoons of organic soap with a gallon of water. Shake well and spray on the leaves of the succulent. Repeat two times, with two-days break in between. You can also pour a the leftover soapy water on soil, killing the larvae of thrips.
- Neem oil. Neem oil is well-known among succulent growers, since we can treat many problems with it. Thrips are no exception to the rule. Combine two spoons of neem oil with four spoons of organic soap with one gallon of water. Shake well and spray on the succulents.
- Sticky traps. Thrips do not fly, and they have to “climb” on your succulent from the soil where they reproduce. Putting “sticky papers” on the stems of your succulent can prevent thrips from getting on the plant. It is best combining sticky traps with neem oil/soap and water treatment. First you kill the thrips with the solution, and later, installing the sticky traps on your succulents, you prevent the new generation to climb on the plant.
- Introduce natural predators to your garden. The most natural way of making sure thrips won’t damage your succulents is having natural predators around. Ladybugs are the most effective, they eat thrips, aphids, and many other pests that can bother your succulents. Plant attractive flowers (ideally a variety of flowers) close to your succulents. Sure enough ladybugs will come and feed on the pests.
- Vacuuming. This surprising remedy works great with thrips. They are so tiny and lightweight that any decent vacuum cleaner will either suck them in or blow them away from the plant. Just “vacuum” your succulents just as you do your carpets once a week and you’ll be fine!
Preventive measures against thrips on succulents
They rightly say that prevention is always better than cure. Things aren’t that easy with thrips though. If you live in an area where they are commonplace, you can hardly do anything to ensure not a single thrip will enjoy the tasty sap of your succulents. Having said that, you can do a couple of things to make sure that the population of thrips in your garden won’t grow to proportions which will pose a serious threat to your succulents.
First of all, make sure to use the right soil mix, and water the succulents only when the soil is completely dry. Secondly, aim for some variety in your garden. Add trees, bushes, flowering plants, simply different kind of fauna that attracts different kinds of insects and animals in general, including natural enemies of thrips, such as ladybugs. Last but not least, make sure that dead rotting leaves do not accumulate in autumn around your succulents, especially not in bulk, since eggs of thrips overwinter in such an environment.
Seeing thrips on succulents, especially on the species belonging to the Lithop family (the “living stones”), is nothing uncommon. Thrips, just like other small insects, belong to the ecosystem, and unless they lack natural predators or over-populate, they do not pose a serious threat to your succulents. Having said that, you can apply several natural remedies (as we discussed earlier), including spraying, vacuuming, and trapping thrips, to minimize the chances of them causing any serous damage. You can also take several measures to prevent the population of thrips from growing, such as introducing more variety to your garden. Hope this helps, and I wish you good luck with your succulents!
May also interest you: What are the tiny black bugs on my succulents?