Mealybugs are clever little devils, they like to hide and then come in for the sneak attack. Your houseplants look fine one day, and it seems like overnight the stems are covered with white fluffy stuff. Dreaded mealybugs are tough opponents, but we can be smarter, and ultimately win the battle.
What Are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are scale insects that suck the sap out of the leaves and stems of plants; resulting in stunted or deformed leaf growth, yellowing of the leaves, and leaf drop. The damage caused by mealybugs is not as quick to occur or as devastating as it is with spider mites. If a mealybug infestation goes left untreated, the plant will eventually die; although it will usually take a long time for mealybugs to kill a plant.
Mealybugs can be found anywhere on a plant, but are most commonly found on new growth, along the veins of leaves, and at the leaf joints. They are white and most commonly look like cotton around the base of the leaves or stems of the plant. Mealybugs can also appear brown or cream colored, and waxy in immature stages. They are commonly mistaken for disease or mildew rather than bugs.
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It takes a week or two for mealybug eggs to hatch. Most of the time mealybugs don’t appear to move, but in their early stages mealy bugs can crawl around on a plant and move to other houseplants in the area. The worst part is that mealybugs will leave the houseplant to hide, and can live for a long time in spaces and crevices without having a host plant. So just when you think you have conquered the beast, they will come out of hiding and re-infest your houseplant when you’re not looking. Gross!
How To Kill Mealybugs On Houseplants
As with any houseplant pest infestation, when you first spot a mealybug problem begin treatment immediately. I don’t recommend using pesticides, because mealybugs are resistant to most pesticides. They also have the ability to develop a resistance to any pesticides they are exposed to on a regular basis.
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- One way to kill mealybugs on houseplants is by touching them with a cotton swab that’s been soaked in rubbing alcohol. In order for rubbing alcohol to be effective, it must come in direct contact with the mealybugs.
- As you treat a houseplant, make sure to inspect underneath all leaves, around the leaf joints, in folds and at the base of the plant for mealybugs. They like to hide so check the plant from several angles and under each leaf. Also brush away a little dirt and check the base of the stem at the point where it sticks out of the dirt, you may find some mealybugs hiding there.
- Use a solution of soapy water and spray it on the leaves of your infested plant (I use 1 tsp of Dr. Bronner’s Baby-mild Liquid Soap per 1 liter of water). If the plant is small enough, bring it to the sink or shower and wash the leaves with this soap and water solution. Keep in mind that soap can damage the plant, so it’s best to test it on a few leaves before spraying the entire plant.
- Neem oil is very effective to control mealybug infestations, and has a residual effect to keep them from coming back quickly. You can buy neem oil for pretty cheap, and a big bottle will last a long time.
- Mealybugs can live in the soil of a houseplant so if a plant is plagued by recurring infestations, you could try removing the top inch of dirt from the pot and replacing it with fresh potting soil.
- Remove the plant from the area and clean any crevices where mealybugs could be hiding. Be sure check around the outside lip and inside edges of the pot and tray, and also the bottom of the pot for hiding mealybugs.
- If you have ants, they may be causing the problem! Ants will bring mealybugs to a houseplant so that they can feed off of the honeydew residue that’s produced by mealybugs. I know this sounds crazy, but it’s a fact. So make sure that you watch out for ants.
It’s hard to get rid of all of the mealybugs the first few times you try. Even if you are able to kill all of the adults, the eggs and babies are tiny and easily overlooked. It can be frustrating, but it’s worth it to save your favorite houseplants.
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How do you kill mealybugs on your houseplants? Share your tips in the comments below.