Plants

Fungus gnats: how to stop those annoying little flies taking over all your houseplants

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Lauren Geall
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Are your houseplants attracting lots of small, annoying flies? They’re called fungus gnats – and this is how to get rid of them, for good. 

As great as owning and taking care of plants can be, it sometimes feels like our leafy friends should come with their very own troubleshooting guide.

From yellow leaves and crispy foliage to leggy growth and drooping stems, there is a long list of potential problems your plants might face – and that’s not forgetting the issue of pests, the most common of which is the humble fungus gnat.

In layman’s terms, fungus gnats (or sciarid flies, as they are also known) are the small, black or grey-ish flies that you’ll often see flying around or scurrying over the surface of your plants. They look a little bit like fruit flies, but they are different.

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They’re essentially harmless – they only really cause damage to seedlings or cuttings – but they can get out of control quickly and become a massive nuisance, especially if you keep your plants on a surface you use regularly, such as a desk or dining table.

So, what attracts fungus gnats? And what can you do to get rid of them and prevent them from appearing on your plants in the future? We asked Morag Hill, founder of the online plant shop The Little Botanical, to answer our questions. Here’s what she had to say. 

What attracts fungus gnats?

Fungus gnats set up home in your plant’s compost, and love dark, damp environments.

It’s for this reason that they’re most prevalent when a plant has been overwatered or during the autumn and winter months, when your plant’s soil dries out less quickly, Hill explains. 

A woman watering her plant
Overwatering is one of the prime causes of fungus gnats.

How to prevent fungus gnats

If you find fungus gnats buzzing around your plants, don’t worry – there are some simple, easy steps you can take to get rid of them quickly.

Firstly, Hill recommends you’ll want to hold off watering your plant for a little while.

“Let your plant dry out so the plant’s soil isn’t soggy or damp, and pop your plant in the brightest part of your home to ensure it gets good light and warmth,” she explains. “A windowsill is perfect.” 

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Once your plant has dried out, remove it from the windowsill – the bright, direct light will scorch most plant’s leaves if left there for too long. 

Next, Hill recommends, you’ll want to ensure the plant’s soil is clean (“any old leaves should be removed”) as this is the kind of material the pests will feed on if left to rot. And finally, Hill says, you can use a trap to get rid of any remaining bugs – a simple yellow sticky trap should do.  

“Following these tips should get rid of them and you can enjoy your houseplants again, gnat free,” she adds.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s junior digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.