I’ve recently become a proud plant parent, graduating from basic, no-nonsense succulents and aloes to more care-intensive houseplants like pothos, fittonia, and shamrocks (more correctly known as oxalis). Each of these plants requires its own unique care routine, and one small screw up can sometimes mean disaster for these plants.

My shamrocks seem particularly prone to problems. Most of my new plant babies have come from stores the specialize in plants, where the shopkeepers can provide care and attention as needed in the store to ensure they are as healthy as possible before purchase. However, my two shamrocks (one of the green variety and one of the purple) were both impulse purchases from a supermarket. They were just so pretty and for the price, it was too good of a deal for me to pass up. However, they clearly were not treated with the same care and attention as my previously purchased plants, and I am guessing they were seriously overwatered. As such, since I’ve brought them home I’ve noticed that both of them have what I would consider number four on the list of my five least favorite insects: fungus gnats.

The term fungus gnat actually encompasses a variety of gnat species. These gnats have a slightly mosquito-like appearance, if much smaller. The immature stages of these pests feed on decaying organic matter, or more particularly the fungi that grow on decaying organic matter. However, they can also feed on plant roots or bulbs, especially in cases where a plant has been overwatered and whose roots have started to rot as a result. In this way, the fungus gnats can almost be a blessing, as they can help indicate when a plant is unhealthy and needs to be examined and a different care regimen implemented. On the other hand, though, these gnats are extremely difficult to get rid of once they have appeared. They reproduce and grow quickly, with their entire lifecycle taking place in less than a month and adults laying up to 300 eggs. The mature gnats are not very good fliers but will swarm around windows, plants, and light fixtures. There are few things more irritating than a windowsill and bathroom counter full of dead gnats.

As a plant parent, there’s nothing you want more than to know your plants are healthy and happy, and fungus gnats are one of the easiest and most obvious ways to show that a plant is neither happy nor healthy. I’ve had some success in controlling these gnats simply by allowing my shamrocks to completely dry out, as the fungus gnats and their larvae cannot survive without moisture. My plants have suffered as a result, though, both from the gnats and the attempt at control. However, that isn’t always enough to get rid of these bugs and it can end up causing more harm than good to your plants. As such, professional control of these pests may be required to truly help your plants recover (unless, of course, you’re willing to completely toss out your plants and start all over).