Mealybugs are common pests that can be a huge problem for houseplants, as they can cause a lot of damage in a short amount of time.
If you’re not sure how to get rid of mealybugs, you’re not alone. These tiny white bugs can be difficult to get rid of.
Thankfully, there are several different methods you can use to get rid of mealybugs. Choose the one that works best for you and get rid of those pesky bugs!
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What are mealybugs?
Mealybugs are little white bugs that feed on the sap of plants. These wingless insects are often found in clusters on the stems and leaves of plants. Mealybugs can cause a lot of damage to plants, as they can weaken and even kill the plant if left unchecked.
Mealybugs can infest all parts of a plant, including the roots, which makes them harder to get rid of than other pests.
They are most common on tropical plants as they like the higher moisture these plants usually grow in.
What do mealybugs look like?
According to Wisconsin Horticulture mealybugs are actually pink, not white, soft-bodied insects.
They appear white because they have a cottony, waxy coating that covers them.
They are also very small, measuring 1/20th to 1/5th of an inch.
How do mealybugs damage plants?
Mealybugs damage plants by feeding on their sap. This can weaken the plant and even kill it if left unchecked. They also leave a sticky substance on the leaves that can attract sooty mold. Sooty mold, in high quantities, can limit the plant’s ability to photosynthesize.
Signs of a mealybug damage
There are several signs that you may have a mealybug infestation on your hands. Look out for the following:
· White cottony masses on leaves and stems
· Sticky residue on leaves (this is called honeydew)
· Leaves turning yellow or brown
· Leaves dropping off
· Plant growth slowing down or stopping
How do you get mealybugs on indoor plants?
Mealybugs get on indoor plants by hitchhiking in on a new plant. Small infestations oftentimes go unnoticed, so it is possible to have a new plant for a few months before signs of mealybugs are noticed.
How do you get rid of mealybugs on indoor plants?
There are several different methods you can use to get rid of mealybugs. Choose the one that works best for you.
No matter which method you choose, it’s a good idea to isolate the affected plant until you are sure they are mealybug free. If you don’t quarantine them, the mealybugs could spread.
Wash mealybugs away with water
A simple way to get rid of mealybugs is to wash them away with water. Use a strong spray of water to blast mealybugs off of the whole plant. Be sure to do this outside, as mealybugs can spread quickly and you don’t want them infesting your other plants.
If the temperature is less than 50°F out, use a different method. The cool/cold temperature could damage your plants.
This method does not do anything to the mealybugs in the dirt and won’t prevent any missed bugs from spreading.
It is also recommended to not use this method on sensitive plants.
Neem oil is a naturally occurring insecticide that can kill and repel many different kinds of pests, including mealybugs.
To use neem oil to get rid of mealybugs, mix 2 to four Tbsp of neem oil concentrate with one gallon of water. Make sure to verify the measurements on the specific neem oil concentrate that you have. These are the directions on the bottle I have.
Make sure to mix thoroughly and pour into a spray bottle. Spray it on all parts of the plant, making sure to also get the undersides of leaves.
Do not apply in direct sunlight or it may burn your plants. I recommend keeping your plants out of direct sunlight until the neem oil is dry.
Neem oil has a residual effect, so it doesn’t need daily applications. It does need to be reapplied weekly, though, for at least 3 weeks or until there are no more signs of mealybugs.
Insecticidal soap is a safe and effective way to get rid of mealybugs on houseplants. The nice thing about insecticidal soap is there are several options that are ready to use.
All you do is spray the plant, making sure to hit all sides of the leaves and stems. The mealybugs will die within a few hours.
Repeat every 7 days as needed.
Isopropyl alcohol, also known as rubbing alcohol, can be used to kill mealybugs on contact. There are two methods that can be used.
Take a q-tip cotton swab dipped in 70% isopropyl alcohol and touch it to each mealybug you see. If you don’t have any q-tips, you can also use a cotton ball, just be careful to touch as little of the plant as possible.
According to SFGate, the alcohol dissolves the protective outer coating of mealybugs and their eggs and kills them.
This is a time-consuming method, but works quite well on light infestations and has less chance of damaging your plants.
You can also spray a mixture of water and isopropyl alcohol directly onto your plant. To do this mix isopropyl alcohol with water in a spray bottle. I’ve seen the measurements as small as 1 cup alcohol to 1-quart water up to 1 cup alcohol to 1 cup water. I would try the higher water amount first and see if that works.
Spray the mixture on your plant, making sure to get both sides of the leaves, the stem, and especially the area where the stem meets the plant.
Repeat weekly for a month.
The downside of this method is that isopropyl alcohol can burn plants. Depending on the plant, this can harm the plant as much or more than the mealybugs.
If you decide to spray isopropyl alcohol directly on your plants, I recommend testing a small part first. If it causes leaf burn, don’t spray the rest of the plant and try a different method.
Homemade soap spray
If you want to avoid using chemicals on your plants, there is a recipe for a homemade soap spray.
To make this spray mix 1 quart of water with 1 tsp dish soap or pure Castille soap. Mix thoroughly and pour into a spray bottle.
Spray the mixture onto the plant, being sure to get both sides of the leaves and the stem.
This spray will only kill mealybugs on contact, so it’s important to repeat every 7 days until they are gone.
A note of warning, dish soap is fairly safe for a few applications on most plants but may harm more sensitive plants.
Horticultural oil is another non-chemical method to get rid of mealybugs. It works by smothering them.
To use this method, mix the horticultural oil with water according to the directions on the bottle. Or buy a premixed, ready-to-use variety of it.
Whether you mix your own or buy premixed, pour the mixture into a spray bottle and thoroughly drench the plant, making sure to get the entire plant.
Repeat every as directed on the bottle.
Some plants have a sensitivity to horticultural oil. To find out if your plant is sensitive, apply to a couple of leaves and check on it in 24 hours. If you see signs of stress, use a different method.
There are a few insects that are natural predators of the mealybug. The most common are ladybugs and green lacewings.
There is a specific type of ladybug, the mealybug destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri), or mealybug ladybird, that is especially good at eating mealybugs.
You can purchase these insects online or at some garden centers. Once you have them, release them near the infested plant according to the package directions.
The nice thing about using beneficial insects is they will also help control other pests in your garden.
The downside is, that you now have these bugs in your house. If that doesn’t bother you, go for it. If it does, a different method may be best for you.
I, personally, don’t want any bugs, beneficial or not, in my house. I would consider this method for outdoor pest control, but not indoor pest control.
Chemical pesticides are another option that can be used to get rid of mealybugs. If you go this route make sure to keep the plants away from pets and children.
Make sure to get a pesticide that lists mealybugs as a pest that it can treat.
For application, follow the directions for the specific pesticide that you have.
Toss the plant
The final option, and most extreme, is to just toss the infected plant.
If the plant looks like it’s on death’s door, just toss it. At that point, it will likely die from the treatment.
If the plant isn’t dying, it’s up to you if you want to try to fight the mealybugs or not. There is nothing that says you have to fight them. Just toss the plant if you don’t want to deal with mealybugs.
When throwing a plant away that has mealybugs, make sure to throw the soil away too. If the pot is cheap, or one you don’t like, toss that too.
How to prevent mealybugs from coming back
Once you have eliminated the mealybugs in your plants, you will want to prevent future infestations. There are a few steps that will help with this.
Quarantine and inspect new plants
When you bring new plants into your home, put them in quarantine. Keep them away from all other plants until you are sure they don’t have any bugs.
While the plant is in quarantine, inspect them for mealybugs. If you find any, treat that plant before putting it with your other plants.
Systemic insecticides are a preventative measure. They are applied to the soil and then taken up by the plant. These work by poisoning the bugs when they feed on the plant.
Follow the directions on the systemic insecticide you have for how to apply it to your plants. With proper application, this type of insecticide will protect your plant for several months.
Mealybugs like to live in moist environments. By not overwatering your plants, you will create an environment that is less inviting for them.
Mealybugs can be a big problem for houseplants. They can cause damage to the plant, and they are difficult to get rid of.
There are several methods you can use to get rid of mealybugs, but the best one for you will depend on your personal preferences and the sensitivity of your plants. No matter which method you choose, be sure to also take steps to prevent future infestations.
With patience and perseverance, you can beat these bugs.