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Controlling Houseplant Fruit Flies & Fungus Gnats Naturally

November 05, 2008

As a garden consultant, I hear this question a lot: What do I spray to get rid of the fruit flies in my house plants?

The first thing I try to determine is whether the pest is truly a fruit fly or is actually a fungus gnat. They’re both tiny and truly annoying. Fruit flies tend to invade our kitchens, particularly during harvest season and sometimes they move into our houseplant soil along the way. I’ve posted ways to use carniverous plants in your kitchen to control them, and some of my readers have shared their methods as well in this post.

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Sticky Stakes for Houseplants

If the problem does turn out to be an infestation of fungus gnats, the more likely culprit to live in houseplants, I steer people away from the pesticide aisle and suggest a few simple environmental and pesticide-free control options:

  • Add a thin layer of pebbles (pretty!) or gravel or GrowStone Gnat Nix to the top of the potting soil in your indoor plant containers. Fungus gnats lay eggs in the top layer of the soil and hatch from there. They can’t do this in pebbles.
  • Clean your catch trays. Gunky catch trays can be egg-laying spots for fungus gnats.
  • Insert sticky traps into your houseplants. These are inexpensive, pesticide free papers covered with a sticky material. As the gnats buzz above your plant, they are attracted to the yellow color and smack to the sticky surface never to fly again.

If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with fungus gnats or fruit flies, know this: Sticky traps attract both pests and may solve the problem regardless!

If you’re fairly certain they’re fruit flies, this DIY control might be just the ticket, especially during the harvest season. And, this is a fun way to let your plants feast on the critters.


  1. Jack says:

    Really good suggestions for controlling fruit flies and fungus gnats. No one really want to use chemicals anymore as a solution.

  2. Ash says:

    Getting rid of fruit flies can seem like a daunting task for many people, but its easier than you think. We don’t want to have toxic solutions, however there are many products marketplace which offer a natural and non-toxic solution to combat fruit flies to prevent health issues.

  3. Rick Coash says:

    I am in an apartment and have an indoor composting bin with “red wiggler” worms. I need to know if there is an herb that I can but in my bin that will combat my infestation of fruit flies, that will not be toxic to the worms.


    Rick Coash (co-ash)

  4. rhaglund says:


    Unfortunately I don’t have the perfect remedy for your fungus gnat infestation. You could trya tip another reader sent in: put a shallow dish filled with vinegar on the top layer of the worm bin (make sure it won’t spill). The flyin’ buggers may be attracted to it where they will drown. It won’t kill them all at once, but it may eventually break the life cycle. If my indoor bin ends up with a hatch, I set the bin outside where it is cold for a bit to freeze off the gnats. I may lose some worm productivity this way, and I have to take care not to freeze the entire bin, but it can help beat back the gnats, which like the warm. Not sure if you can do this in an apartment, but it’s an option.

    And, worst case, clear out the entire bin, sorting out your worms to keep. Spread the compost or recycle it outside the house. Clean your bin well and start over taking care to keep everything sealed and free of already-infested gnat goodies.

    Thanks for writing in & good luck!

  5. Flower Pot says:

    These are some really good ideas I haven’t run across before now…thanks.

  6. […] Is it a Fruit Fly or is it a Fungus Gnat? var a2a_config = a2a_config || {}; a2a_config.linkname="Great DIY Fruit Fly Control"; a2a_config.linkurl="http://www.gardenhelp.org/insects/ipm/pests/great-diy-fruit-fly-control/"; […]

  7. patty says:

    Would these gnats make the leaves on my plant curl or have what looks like tiny white dots in the veins of the leaves ?

  8. Patty,

    Fungus gnats can do damage, but I’m not familiar with them creating tiny what dots on leaf veins. Curling leaves and dotting sounds suspiciously like there was an insect with sucking mouth parts involved. Aphids, for instance, will suck the juices out of young leaves, leaving them damaged and curled as they mature. But, by the time the leaves are unfurled and curly, the aphids may be long gone. Insects like mites will suck the juices out of leaves leaving them looking speckled with white. So, not sure what’s causing your issue, but maybe this will help you dig a bit deeper. Thanks for writing in & good luck!

  9. Sarah says:

    I have had a problem with what I think is fruit fly. For 5 years they have invaded my house plants and in several cases caused them to die..
    The fly is living in the compost and the lavae is white an and if disturbed jumps about. I have tried jeyes fluid which seems to work on the adults and lavae but I cannot seem to get rid of them all.
    I am fed up with my plants dying, is there a remedy at all for this problem?

  10. In addition to what’s in this post, you could try putting gravel on the tops of the soil of your houseplants and allow that to remain somewhat dry. They can’t live in this environment. Sticky traps help break the cycle too.

  11. Christine says:

    Some very good suggestions. I am using the fly paper traps right now, one in my front room and the other in plant/sewing room. I also use apple cider vinegar in a medium size jar cover with plastic wrap make a few holes and set near plants, this actually works well. I am also going to try small decorative pebbles on the surface of my house plants..

  12. Shadow says:

    The sticky traps hardly caught any at all. They didnt bother.

  13. Try placing them closer to the swarms and you might have better luck Shadow.

  14. Linda says:

    I do a lot of canning and freezing of fruits in summer and fall and have lots of fruit flies. I solve the problem by placing a small dish or glass on the counter half full of apple cider vinegar with a couple drops of dishwashing liquid in it. The fruit flies get in that solution and drown. Has worked for me for years.

  15. Glad you have a solution for those suckers Linda!

  16. Josie says:

    Can you use any other vinegar other than apple cider? White vinegar? Basalmic? Red wine? Thanks.

  17. Josie, no reason you couldn’t try the other vinegars.

  18. Kristine says:

    Hi! It has now been weeks since my fruitfly problem started and I’m going crazy! I have 30 something plants in my livingroom, big ones that i’ve had for a decade and smaller ones and they have started to dwindle and die, and that’s especially sad when I’ve had them for years and have somewhat of an emotional bond to them, however strange that may sound.. Anyways, I have tried EVERYTHING! Tons of deathtraps and bombs to kill the flies, added pebbles and stones to my plants, put down matchsticks into the soil (my mother said this could help) and it’s still out of controll and I can’t get rid of the horrible mini monsters! Help! What more can I do??

  19. Kristine,

    This may sound like a lot of work, but sometimes a complete soil exchange can help. That means removing all the soil, rinsing the roots, washing and sterilizing the containers, and replanting with fresh pebbles and traps on top just in case. It could be that they’ve infested other areas, or it could be that you have something else going on as well, so its hard to know for certain. But, you could try this. Bon chance!

  20. Anthony says:

    I read somewhere a while back that cinnamon on the top soil works. It’s an antifungal and keeps top layer dry. Put some in a small salt shaker and its easier to get all around the plants. I out a thick layer after watering and it last about a month. If you do this forbade couple months they should be gone. I slacked off a little and the flys came back, but only about 10 or so. Not 50-100 or more like I had before.

  21. Kristine says:

    Dear Garden Mentors, thank you for your reply and help.. it has now been a week since I changed all the soil and even chose to throw away the worst infested plants and tried to freeze some of the biggest hardiest plants outside for some minutes in 4 minus celcius degrees… last thing I tried was spraying all my plants and new soil with hairspray and fire – can you see it?? I must have looked like a maniac.. But sorry to say they are still here and still killing my plants! Is there some poison as a last resort I should try? I have cats and a parrot (who btw eats fruit and fruit pellets – where I suspect the fruitflies all comes from) so it can’t be harmful for longterm after the spraying for the pets in the house.

    I am willing to try almost anything short of getting rid of my plants!

  22. Kristine,

    Try taking a sample to a local extension office or nursery to get help identifying the problem so you can use the right technique or product. Good luck.

  23. pam says:

    I have the same problem with fruit flies or fungus gnat in my indoor plants as well in my greenhouse. what I did was putting the houseplant sticky stakes and it does work but I was wondering why it doesn’t seem to go away. I kept replacing the sticky houseplant stakes. I checked the back leaves and I found eggs and also thought of coming from the soil. What I did was I sprayed with homemade insecticidal soap. I mix apple cider vinegar. castille pure soap, garlic, olive oil and it works for me. I had to do manual to wipe off the eggs from the leaves so the leaves would look nice and they loving it. (Jasmin plant)

  24. Sara says:

    Could I suggest mixing some citronella oil with some water in a spray bottle and lightly misting the plants ? I sell Young Living Essential Oms and I know Citronella is a bug repellant … Just might work …I just don’t know if it would harm the plants….

  25. Sara have you tried your suggested technique or just telling people that citronella is a bug repellant and leaving it to them to hazard spraying it on plants?

  26. R. M. says:

    If you are having problems with fungus gnats/flies, try mosquito dunks. You can get them at most home improvement stores. I wet them a bit and break them apart then apply some to the top of the soil and water the plants. The dunks are supposedly organic and work wonders. In two weeks you should be fungus gnat free. It kills the larvae. No larvae no flies/gnats. Keep the sticky traps out to catch the remaining adults while the dunks work their magic. Hope this helps with those having issues, it sure helped my indoor garden. No more pesky flies/gnats buzzing around bothering me.

  27. As we state in our FAQ, we understand that we may agree to disagree with each other. We’re approving R.M.’s comment, but we don’t necessarily approve this technique. First: “Organic” doesn’t necessarily mean safe in all situations. And, if a dunk is created for one issue it doesn’t mean it should be used for another. Consider with caution.

  28. Jeanette says:

    Cinnamon is the best thing i’ve read so far. Also theirs a bacteria that works and a flower it starts with a c but basically a type of daisy!!

  29. Stormy says:

    Much like the rest of you that absolutely HATE these ‘Pesky
    Pests’ , I too have tried everything from vinegar, powdered cayenne pepper, pepper spray to camomile tea spray. To no avail. Plus,I was very concerned about my beloved dogs and cats getting their ‘sniffer woofers’ upset !!
    Finally, it occurred to me, in place of sticky traps or fly paper
    to simply use a few little 1/2 cup Pyrex dip/butter bowls
    filled 1/3-1/2 way with corn or peanut oil. They are attracted to the oil and get stuck in it! Eureka!! You’ll be AMAZED how many of those little pests pile up in the bowls! I just set the bowls on a small lid from some like a Pringles can so that if you bump the bowl, the oil won’t get on the window sill or plant stand shelf. I find it a very helpful way to catch and kill them and just change the oil out weekly or more often if necessary.
    Give it a try ! From one Herb growing friend, to all of You?

  30. Hamed says:

    I have the same problem and I just started using these techniques. The question that I have is that will these techniques kill all of them or just stop them from being more?

  31. Hamed, these options should help control those you have. Not sure what you mean by stop them from being more.

  32. Becca says:

    I came up with an idea to catch these little nightmares that work quite well. At least the ones flying around, not so much the eggs. But was amazed at how quickly it worked. I went out and bought some of those fly strips. Next I unwound them them poured vinegar on them, hung them up in the kitchen and within an hour the strip was literally covered. I mean covered!! It was amazing!

  33. Cool idea Becca! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  34. Ingrid says:

    I am this very moment trying the cinnamon powder, and the oil with vinegar solutions! The sticky paper is not in the everyday plant shops close by,, So no harm in trying some natural Do It Yourself ideas and see what works!
    If they do, I’ll return here to let you know!
    Good day!

  35. Laverne M. Mayo says:

    putting a small amount of Cayenne Pepper Powder on top of dirt…it’s safe and gnats hate CP.

  36. Erika V says:


  37. Before you have them in your soil, top the soil with a thin layer of gravel. That can really help. Read on!

  38. Bradley says:

    I read this post just last night and decided to try letting the soil dry out before I did anything else. However today I discovered a new solution by accident. My infested house plants are on the windowsill above my kitchen sink and I had left a garment soaking in the sink in water with OxiClean.
    (Actually it was LA’s Totally Awesome Oxygen Base Cleaner from the Dollar Store, but it smells like the name brand version) When I took the garment out after about 20 minutes I noticed 3 fungus gnats dead in the oxiclean water, so I left it in the sink and went out to run errands. When I got home several hours later there were 21 fungus gnats in the water and none that I could see on the plants. I have had a jar of apple cider vinegar with holes in the lid right between the plants for three days and not a single gnat went in, though vinegar has worked well for me in the past with fruit flies. I believe it was the Oxi-clean that attracted the gnats, as I have had dishes soaking in both soapy and plain water and neither ended up with more than a single gnat floating in it. And from what I can tell, not a single gnat could resist the OxiClean water. I used some of it to replace the vinegar in the jar and left the lid off, to hopefully take care of any remaining larvae that might hatch.

  39. Thanks for sharing Bradley…very interesting!

  40. Martha Morris says:

    I have noticed the fruit flies get into my coffee cup if I leave a little coffee in them. I noticed this every time and now leave a cup of coffee with cream sitting out.

  41. Stephanie R. Cannon says:

    I just want to say ‘Thank you’ to everybody for these great suggestions. I started out with the yellow sticky paper and it apparently has lost its appeal to some of the later generation of flies. They are not out of control yet (key word being yet). I have most of the items either on hand at work or at home. Have a great season everybody!

  42. Glad the sticky traps have helped. If the first ones get full, replacing them is imperative or (as you’ve noticed) others won’t stick.

  43. Bill says:

    I have a question re: growing herbs indoors that have fungus gnats. If I put an inch of pebbles or sand at the top of the herb pots (tarragon, parsley, mint, rosemary, chives at the moment) does this weight on the topsoil hinder the herb developing and growing bigger? Also, once the sand/pebbles are there, do I continue to water from top at root level? Wouldn’t that just make wet sand for the gnats to enjoy? Watering from the bottom is difficult given my apartment situation and size of the pots. Thanks!

  44. Bill, it’s unlikely that a gravely layer as the top of your growing medium will hinder plant growth. Top watering should be fine. The gravel helps deter the gnats from laying eggs. A slightly larger grit than sand would be our preference. Good luck!

  45. L. Albright says:

    Glo-sticks work really well especially if placed alongside a small night light in the bathroom. Requiring two AA batteries, the blue light they emit will also attract the gnats at night when placed alone near plants. I bought my Glo-sticks online. They will capture dozens of the beasties before you have to change the sticks (narrow tubes with very sticky clear glue).

  46. Thanks for sharing!

  47. Toni says:

    I used a spray with water, thyme eo, oregano eo and peppermint eo. Plus a drop of dawn. Filled it up with water and sprayed it on all my outside zucchini and sweet potato plants. I barely found the infestation today but I decided to throw out all the soil and grow bag. I’m not sure if it is a soil gnat but I decided to try it. The essential oils are you g living brand. I have used the peppermint eo with water with success in the past.

  48. Elaine Cramer says:

    I live in a small town and can’t find decorative gravel. Anything wrong with using vermiculite instead?

  49. We’ve never tried vermiculite & kind of doubt it will work. Even if you don’t choose to use our Amazon affiliate links in this post, there are many online retailers that will ship products to you. Good luck!

  50. L. R. says:

    Fruit flies will breed in sink/tub drains & toilets. Pour a pot of boiling hot water down drains & toilets. This will kill any eggs. Also keep drains free of hair,etc. This also attracts the flies. When first noticed flies I put out containers of vinegar with a drop or two of Dawn Dish Soap, cover top of container with Saran Wrap. Use a toothpick to punch about 5-6 holes in the wrap. The flies will go into the holes, but can not get out.

  51. Thanks for sharing LR. We illustrate the containers with plastic wrap coverings in this post, using food scraps! https://gardenmentors.com/garden-help/gardening-guidelines/great-diy-fruit-fly-control/

  52. Green fingered sally says:

    What about growing mint nearby in a pot flies hate it.

  53. Sally, have you tried the mint technique? The fruit flies seem to flock to it when we’re cooking with it in the kitchen.

  54. Kylie says:

    I had a LOT of tiny flies around my plants, they only seem to like the plants they’re not in the kitchen or anywhere else, only the living room where my plants are… I’ve spent all night catching them and putting them out of the window but now I’ve googled and can see it’s probable that more will hatch! What a pain they are! Thanks so much for all of these tips, I will be trying to get my hands on some gravel and making sure I let my pots dry out a bit!

  55. Mary says:

    I had mint stalks in a mason jar in my kitchen window and something ate every leaf! You can tell they were chewed! I have seen the fungus gnats in my house so now suppose they are the culprits. Mint is obviously NOT a deterrent. LOL I am definitely going to try some of these ideas.

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