Cannabis Pest Control: How To Safely & Effectively Protect Your Crop

Kenny Hall
July 20, 2023

Cannabis plants are robust. Their hearty nature has made them a popular choice for cultivation for thousands of years and they tend to thrive in virtually any climate. While these plants grow like weeds, they aren’t invincible and pests are perhaps the biggest danger to your plants as they can ruin an entire harvest seemingly overnight. If you want to get the most out of your cannabis, pest control is an absolute must.

What are Common Cannabis Pests?

There are several pests that like to call cannabis plants home and they are all a danger to your harvest. While the list of possible bugs is truly exhaustive, several are common enough that almost any grower will come across them at least once or twice in their career. Knowing what to look for and how to prevent it is key to proper cannabis pest control.

Spider Mites

Perhaps the most common pests that afflict cannabis, nearly every grower will have to contend with spider mites at one point or another. However, the fact that they’re common doesn’t mean that you can leave them alone. Spider mites can and will completely destroy your entire harvest if left unchecked.


Spider mites live on the underside of leaves and feed by puncturing the leaf to drain its water. This leaves behind small brown patches (known as stippling) that look like they’ve been burned and can cause significant damage to a plant over time. This damage cannot be reversed and even if you manage to clear the plant of mites, you’ll also need to pluck any damaged leaves.


The biggest risk of spider mites, though, is the webbing that they leave all around the flowers. While damage to the leaves is unfortunate, damage to the flowers is unacceptable. Once the mites have set up shop on the buds, it’s probably time to just toss the entire plant.

Aphids

Sometimes called blackflies or greenflies, aphids are an issue faced by indoor and outdoor growers. Like spider mites, aphids damage plants by feeding on them. However, aphids prefer younger leaves and fresh flowers. Furthermore, aphids secrete a sweet sticky substance known as honeydew that attracts even more pests such as ants.

Thrips

Thrips are about as wide as a needle and damage cannabis plants by feeding on young leaves, flowers, and buds. Their mouths leave behind silvery or faded patches on leaves, distorted growth, scarring, and scabbing. They can transmit plant viruses, leading to further harm. Thrips particularly target cannabis flowers, resulting in discoloration, distortion, and reduced bud quality.

A cannabis cultivator conducting a pest inspection.

Prevention and Integrated Pest Management (IPM)

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” - Benjamin Franklin

Taking the time for cannabis pest control can keep bugs from ever making your plants home in the first place, saving you hassle and stress down the road. By practicing proper prevention, growers can minimize the risk of infestations and reduce their reliance on chemical interventions. Preventing pests from establishing a foothold in the first place is more efficient and environmentally friendly. It also helps plants maintain health and vitality, ensuring higher yields and better-quality harvests.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an approach to cannabis pest control that focuses on the prevention, monitoring, and management of pests in an environmentally responsible manner by striking a balance between effectively controlling pests and minimizing the use of pesticides. IPM is a multi-pronged approach that includes several techniques.

  • Monitoring: Regularly monitoring your plants will allow you to identify pests and assess their levels. This can be done through basic visual inspection as well as sticky traps, pheromone traps, or other monitoring tools.
  • Pest Identification: Accurately identifying what you’re dealing with is crucial for proper cannabis pest control. Different pests require different management techniques, so knowing the specific species is important.
  • Cultural Practices: Cultural practices that discourage pests and promote plant health include proper sanitation, such as removing plant debris and weeds, as well as selecting pest-resistant strains and optimizing growing conditions. A clean grow space is a healthy grow space.
  • Biological Control: There are several beneficial insects, mites, and other organisms that naturally prey on pests. Insects such as ladybugs are amazing at hunting down aphids without damaging your plants or requiring chemical intervention.
  • Chemical Control: As an absolute last resort, only when all other methods have failed, targeted and judicious use of pesticides may be necessary. However, the selection and application of pesticides should be based on careful consideration of their effectiveness, potential risks, and impact on non-target organisms.
A crop of healthy cannabis plants growing, without pests.

Organic Methods for Cannabis Pest Control

Luckily, there are several methods for combatting pests on your plants that are safe, natural, and effective. 

  • Insects: Several species such as ladybugs, lacewings, and even some predatory mites can help control pests in a completely natural way. These insects feed on common cannabis pests such as aphids, thrips, and spider mites, reducing their populations while leaving your plants alone.
  • Neem oil: An extract of the neem tree, neem oil is an organic solution that acts as a repellent and disrupts the life cycles of several common pests by inhibiting feeding, growth, and reproduction. Neem oil is particularly effective against aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies.
  • Essential oils: Some essential oils possess insecticidal properties that are effective at deterring or killing pests. For example, oils made from peppermint, rosemary, thyme, clove, or capsaicin have been shown to be effective against aphids, spider mites, and fungus gnats. These oils can be diluted in water and sprayed onto plants as a natural pesticide.
  • Biological agents: Certain nematodes can be used to control soil-dwelling pests like fungus gnats and thrips, while Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacteria-based insecticide, targets caterpillars and can be used to manage pests like budworms and armyworms.
  • Insecticidal soaps: These are soaps made out of natural ingredients that target soft-bodied insects such as aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies. Insecticidal soaps work by disrupting the pest's cell membranes, ultimately causing dehydration and death. When using anything insecticidal, it’s important to follow instructions carefully and avoid applying them during peak sunlight to prevent leaf damage. These soaps are not compatible with beneficial insects and will kill any ladybugs or lacewings that might be helping you out.
Ladybugs on a cannabis plant, which is a natural pest control method.

Chemical Solutions for Cannabis Pest Control

In the most extreme cases, chemical pesticides can be the only option if you’re unable or unwilling to scrap your plants and start over. It is important to stress that these should be ONLY used as a last resort in cannabis pest control. Only when every other method has been tried and failed. 


When choosing a chemical pesticide, it is absolutely vital to prioritize low-toxicity options that have minimal impact on beneficial organisms, human health, and the environment. Following all of the application instructions and adhering to safety precautions are essential to mitigate any potential risks associated with chemical pest control. You DO NOT want to smoke this stuff.

Final Thoughts on Cannabis Pest Control

Safe and effective cannabis pest control is a must for any successful harvest. By making the most of preventive measures and combining them with Integrated Pest Management, growers can minimize the risk of infestations and reduce reliance on harmful pesticides. Organic solutions, such as beneficial insects, neem oil, and insecticidal soaps, offer environmentally friendly alternatives. Additionally, the use of biological controls and low-toxicity chemical pesticides (as a last resort) can help manage pests effectively. It is important for growers to prioritize prevention, choose appropriate pest control solutions, and prioritize the health and sustainability of their cannabis crops.

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July 2023

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