Beneficial insects Harmful animals Houseplants Pesticides

When Centipedes Live in Houseplant Soil

Yes, centipedes do sometimes reside in the soil of houseplants. Photo: Palica, Wikiedia Commons

Question: I need your help. The soil of my majesty palm is full of caterpillars. Could you tell me where they come from and how to get rid of them?

Renee Bolduc

Answer: The photo you sent didn’t show any caterpillars, but instead a centipede. Besides, there probably weren’t many of them, as centipedes are rather solitary creatures.

Centipedes are not harmful to plants, but instead feed on insects and other small critters in the soil. They can actually protect your plant against its real enemies, so you might want to consider letting them live.

Difference Between a Centipede and a Millipede?

Side by side illustration of a millipede compared to a centipede.
Millipedes and centipedes are pretty easy to tell apart. Photo:

Centipedes and millipedes are distant relatives and are often confused by gardeners. They aren’t insects, but a different type of arthropod. They belong to a group called myriapods, a name that means “with many legs”.

Centipedes are generally carnivorous, have one pair of long, spreading legs per segment and also have long antennae. Most obviously, they move quickly, so catching one is quite an exploit!

Millipedes, on the other hand, are scavengers and eat detritus: dead leaves and roots, fungi, etc. So, they too are usually beneficial. However, some species are somewhat vegetarian and may chew on a few plant roots. Millipedes generally have 2 legs per segment (except on the first segments) and those are placed under their body rather than beside it. Their antennae are short. They move slowly and don’t usually try to run away when disturbed, but often curl up when they feel threatened. There are thousands of species of both.

Note that, despite the fact that the word centipede means 100 legs, they never have exactly 100 legs, but a variable number of appendages, depending on their species and maturity. The small species found in our plants rarely have more than 30 legs. You probably guessed that millipede means 1,000 legs and indeed, most millipedes have many more legs than a centipede, but still, never a thousand!

Both are nocturnal and shy away from light, hence their occasional presence in plant pots: a good place to hide from the sun.

How Do Centipedes Find Their Way into a Pot?

Majesty palm on a deck.
Typically, majesty palms are patio plants and pick up various little creatures outdoors. Photo: Martin Viette Nurseries

If your majesty palm (Ravenea rivularis) spent the summer outdoors, which is usually the case, as it is mainly sold as a patio plant, centipedes probably moved into the pot outdoors, as they love cool dark places such as a plant pot. From there, they were carried indoors when you brought your palm back inside for the winter. 

Or maybe they were already present in the root ball when you bought the plant (majesty palms are grown outdoors in the tropics, then shipped north in the summer, so could easily harbor a few creepy-crawlies). In that case, they would have then spent the whole summer in the root ball while the palm was on your deck.

On the other hand, centipedes are also found living naturally in our homes, especially in basements and bathrooms, because they need a humid environment in which to survive, so it’s also possible that the centipedes migrated into the pot from inside your home, although that’s the least likely scenario.

How to Bring Plants Indoors Without Centipedes

Pot soaking in soapy water.
To get rid of soil-living creatures of all sorts, just soak the root ball in soapy water. Ill.: Claire Tourigny from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

The usual technique for removing insects hiding in the soil of houseplants that summered outdoors also works for centipedes and millipedes likewise hiding in the root ball: soaking! Fill a bucket with soapy water and immerse the pot (and therefore the root ball) in it. Let it sit completely submerged for 15 to 30 minutes, then take it out of the water and let it drain.

You can do the same indoors to get rid of the centipedes in the pot of your palm.

This treatment works in two ways: centipedes (and millipedes) are not aquatic (at least, not the species that live in plant pots) and will drown during the soaking. That is unless the soap killed them first, as it suffocates them, blocking the pores through which they breathe.

Plant roots will not be harmed during such a soaking, although you wouldn’t want to leave plants with their root ball immersed in water for days at a time, as that would deprive the roots of oxygen and could therefore lead to rot.

As you can see, eliminating centipedes from a potted plant isn’t complicated, but it does make more sense to treat the plant when it’s still outdoors, before bringing it indoors for the winter, rather than afterwards, when it’s already in the house.

Or, live and let live! After all, centipedes are a gardener’s friend.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

23 comments on “When Centipedes Live in Houseplant Soil

  1. Pingback: How to Get Rid of Centipedes in Soil -

  2. These creatures are not to solitary……I have hundreds (at least 200) in all of my majesty palms. I use diatomaceous earth. Seems to have done the trick.

  3. wow, thanks for sharing. I saw one- didn’t’ wanna kill it, not sure I want him and his friends in my bedroom. I put a rose quartz crystal and a selenite wand in there- hope they just lay low and don’t come out. gulp.

  4. Hi, I have read all the question and comments or soulution. I am facing the problem having 20/30 plus red centipedes in the soil of my indoor plant. I had these indoor plants since couple of year but never saw these sort of creepy creature in my leaving room plants. I am really scared and feeling uncomfortable having those inside my home. My plants are pretty healthy and good looking, but these tiny creatures are really making me nervous. I really want to get rid off these. Since it is winter, it is very difficult to take those plants outside, change the soil from the pot, and get rid off the centipedes. Please suggest me how can I get rid off those by pouring/putting/using/spraying something in the soil that can kill them in the pot without harming the plants? If I need to buy any spray that can kill them in the pot, I would do that. Please help…

  5. Irene Bernal

    But plant centipedes are harmless and stay tiny, right? They’re not like the centipedes you find outside that can grow up to a foot long and will definitely sting you, right?

  6. The centipedes I saw in my citrus plant pot are tiny and a few of them. Would they be harmful ones i should remove?

  7. Patrick McNees

    Are symphlans and centipedes the same thing?

  8. Erica Willoughby

    I found this article and thought it was written about me! I had a palm for about 3 months when I started noticing baby centipedes just like shown above, in and on my pot. I took it outside, submerged the pot in water with Dawn dish detergent. Some critters tried to climb up the trunk to avoid the water. I knocked them in the water. I pushed the top 3″ of soil into the water to make the ones near the surface end up in the bin of water. After an hour, I pulled the pot out of the soapy water bin. At the top of the soil lots were still alive! I dumped the rest of the pot outside and found about 50 of them, of various lengths, living. Ick! This pot had been in my living room (I don’t have centipedes in any other plant or in my dry living room)! I am convinced the wrigglers or their eggs came with the plant.

    The saucer under the plant has slippery sides, so thankfully they were trapped there and kept circling the dish until they died?

    5 hours after soaking the pot, the centipedes were still wriggling in the bottom of the soapy water- filled bin! We added Epson salts and the next morning they were finally deceased. I would not recommend leaving even one in a houseplant. There were over 100 in that pot. If that pot was accidentally tipped over, I could have had a full blown centipede infestation in my house. I do not like bugs in my house!

    I knocked every bit of soil from the roots, hosed it down, sprayed it with insecticide, and then potted it in fresh soil in the cleaned pot. I wrapped packing tape around the top of the pot, sticky side in and exposed to the plant side, so if any happen to survive and surface 3 months from now, I will be able to stop them in their tracks.

    Then I checked the vacuum (I knocked the pot earlier and spilled some of the soil when I moved it) and found them wriggling around in the cannister! Dumped it outside.

    I will check more carefully to hopefully prevent such situations with new plants in the future.

    Did I need Castille or insecticidal soap for the soak to be effective? The Dawn didn’t help at all. The water didn’t drown them.

    If they resurface, I don’t know what I’ll do.

    I would attach photos, but there is no place to do so.
    #Freaked out in NJ!

    • Personally, I’d unpot the palm, remove all the soil, rinse the roots and then repot into a clean pot (the original one might harbour eggs). Dawn is not a soap, but a detergent. It’s considered ineffective against insects.

      • Erica Willoughby

        I cleaned the roots as best I could, hosed them off,,
        and washed out the original pot, but with the Dawn. ? should I still repot it?

  9. What soap would you recommend? I’ve read your articles about the problems of dish detergent and how it doesn’t even contain soap. But liquid soap is hard to find. Liquid hand soap seems to usually be more than just soap and closer to a dish detergent. Do you grate your own soap and make a solution? In the past, I’ve successfully done root drenches with dish detergent—perhaps roots are less susceptible than leaves to damage, or maybe I’ve just been lucky. What do you use?

    • Insectidical soap is usually widely in garden centers and is a mild organic soap designed to kill pests while not harming plants.

      • When I looked at the available insecticidal soaps after reading your most recent article about bringing plants in, I was most surprised to note that the labels all stated “not recommended for root drench”.
        I’m not concerned about the odd earwig or sowbug; rather I’ve had serious spider mite troubles for the last few winters on several non-expendable plants. I’m hoping a root-drench and thorough spray on leaves and stems with soap before bringing them in will head the mites off at the pass. Thanks for your great articles here.

  10. Lol I think its kinda funny that someone actually thought it was a caterpillar..thatd have to be the fastest caterpillar on the face of the earth! Lol. Although I am playfully joking, I am in no way “making fun of” the lady who asked the question..after all, I only ended up here because I too was searching the internet for answers to what these creepy crawlies were that I described as “super fast moving red worm with tons of legs like a miniature centipede” good friend Google ALWAYS seems to know exactly what my nonsense means..she* just gets me, ya know?(*or perhaps he,or non binary?,w/e fits your fancy people,I’m not trying to politicize the potential gender of an internet search engine lol) so i, too, goofed on this one in my own way that probably have people laughing at me..I laugh right along with them. Idk why I had it in my mind that centipedes were larger& poisonous&a type of creature that wasn’t a normal everyday critter but more like a rare bug you’d only find in some viatnamese jungle or some remote desert rarely touched by man lol. Now I’m even more terrified to stick my fingers into the soil to gauge the moisture level of my plants.. I kinda wish I would’ve just stayed naive in my ignorant state of wander.. Lol. Are they poisonous or do they sting/bite? And after reading this it seems like its abnormal to have as large of a population as I do. You say they’re solitary creatures which is funny, as I’ve yet to ever see just one, its always 4 of more..usually, lots more. Eek. I just got the heebie jeebie goose bumps. Thats my queu to leave. Bye now! But wait, is it bad to have so many? Should I take steps to reduce the population? If so, what would those steps be?

    • They’re not harmful, but can be annoying. Try watering with soapy water: that should kill some of them.

    • I also have a large population. I did a little research, and it looks like centipedes can live for six years, and the ones in my poinsettia are young’uns. We have a basement, and winter is coming in MN, which always brings more bugs indoors. I plan to soak my plant this afternoon. I know centipedes kill rid of worse insects, but they’re still not welcome in my home. They can take up residence in the garden, but we don’t allow creatures with more than 2 legs to live with us.

      Thanks, laidbackgardener, for the helpful tip! I was worried about pesticides, or needing to remove all the aquarium rocks covering the topsoil. Soaking is an elegant solution.

  11. These are very common in redwood forests. It is odd because, just a few miles away, in the Santa Clara Valley, they are rare.

  12. I like seeing what comes in when I bring plants in for the winter. Winter is long and dull, a few lucky insects liven it up!

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