One of the most common mistakes new plant parents make is not carefully inspecting their plants for pests, which could lead to major issues. If you’ve noticed a white, powdery substance on your plant, you may have a case of mealybugs. It’s important to get rid of mealybugs as soon as possible to prevent an infestation.
Mealybugs are annoying pests that can result from bringing an infected plant home from the nursery. They thrive in warmer climates and can also be introduced through tools and pots. Mealybugs spread quickly and can creep up on you if you are not vigilant of your leafy friends. Once infected, there are a few things you can do to treat your plants from these pesky bugs. Continue reading to learn about how to get rid of mealybugs!
What Are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are sap-sucking insects that are a part of the Pseudococcidae family. They typically grow in moist, warm habitats. Mealybugs are considered pests because they feed on greenhouse plants, indoor house plants, and any subtropical trees.
Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects that produce a white, waxy, cotton-like material that helps protect them from heat and moisture loss. They are related to scale insects but can be distinguished by color. Unlike males, female mealybugs are visible to the naked eye, who look like small flies and are often not seen.
Female vs. Male
Female mealybugs are nymphs with a reduced morphology and lack of wings. Nymphs are defined as young insects that undergo partial metamorphosis. They often retain their legs and can move along the leaves of the plant. Other insects considered nymphs are dragonflies, mayflies, or locusts.
Female mealybugs can lay eggs without mating, often laying hundreds of eggs over several days. Those are a lot of bugs! Female mealybugs will end up dying soon after, just like their male counterparts. Males live for a day or two after fertilizing females.
Male mealybugs are smaller, gnat-like, and have wings. Male mealybugs do experience a change during their life cycle. They go from wingless nymphs to wasp-like flying adults.
How Do Mealy Bugs Start?
Mealybugs start in warmer climates where bacteria have an optimal environment to grow. They spread from plant to plant and feed off growth points. “Growing points” include:
- Root tips
- Stem tips
- Buds on tree branches
- Other plants
Mealybugs are attracted to plants with high nitrogen levels and soft growth. They may appear if you overwater or over-fertilize your plants. You should try and inspect your plants regularly for pests! While mealybugs are visible to the naked eye, they can sometimes be wedged in hard-to-see places like leaf joints. Mealybugs are related to aphids which is why they are often confused.
A few other places mealybugs can come from are:
- Fresh flowers, fruits, or vegetables brought in from the garden
- Sometimes ants can also bring mealybugs, so they continue to have access to the honeydew residue.
Mealybugs create large amounts of a wax-like substance, which is also known as honeydew. This attracts ants! Ants feed off of the sticky substance and protect the mealybugs from predators to maintain this food supply.
There are many species of mealybugs, all of which are extremely tiny. Some have longer, needle-like rods which look like tails. Others have longer rods extending throughout their bodies. Some are pinker in color, while others can be yellow or light green. However, mealybugs are most commonly white.
Make sure to check these parts of your plant for mealybugs:
- The backside of the foliage
- Inside the crevices of stems
- Piled on new growth
- Gathered around the stem node
Can Mealybugs Live On Clothes?
When it comes to plants and bugs, nature’s way of spreading around has always been to attach to seeds and passing animals. Humans are no exception!
Mealybugs could hitch a ride on your clothes, but they cannot survive on your clothes alone. They need to feed off of the plant juices to survive. However, mealybugs can live for two to three weeks without a host.
Are Mealybugs Hazardous to Plants?
Mealybugs harm plants by inserting a feeding tube into the plant tissue to feed on the sugary sap. A mealybug infestation can weaken the plant and even kill it! Mealybugs cause similar damage to aphids. One of the main differences is their appearance. Mealybugs are easier to miss, disguising themselves as white fluff until your whole plant is covered in them!
They can lead to distorted leaves, plants covered in honeydew, and sooty mold. Different species of mealybugs may prefer different feeding sites. Some species feed in and under the bark, some on the roots of potted plants, while others feed on fruits, flowers, or seed heads.
Sooty mold can often be found on plants that have been affected by mealybugs. The mold is a result of the honeydew secretions from these bugs. The mold itself doesn’t feed on the plant. In severe cases, it does cover the leaf surface, limiting sunlight and reducing photosynthesis. This slowly weakens the plant and eventually kills it.
Mealybugs can affect both indoor and outdoor plants. Once an infected plant comes into contact with another plant, it is hard to control the spread. This can cause your plants to weaken and eventually die if treatment is not started promptly.
Are Mealybugs Hard to Get Rid Of?
A heavy mealybug infestation is harder to get rid of than if it is caught early on. Due to mealybugs having high reproductive capabilities, they can become resistant to pesticides quickly.
Depending on the severity and stage of your plant, there is a point of no return for some. Often, if treatment is not effective, it is recommended that you toss the plant so that it doesn’t infect healthy plants around it. Young mealybugs cannot produce the waxy material, so they are very susceptible to insecticide sprays. It is easier to manage when these pests are caught early on.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
Getting rid of mealybugs can be a tedious task! There are several methods you can try to rid yourself of these pests. While common pesticides are available, there are also natural ways to rid yourself of mealybugs.
It is important to isolate the plant infested with mealybugs away from the rest of your plants. Once this is done, you can start on treatment. Luckily, there are a variety of ways you can go about this.
Depending on the age of the plant, sometimes it is best to throw it out if it is too far gone. Remember, mealybugs don’t immediately kill plants. The pests weaken the plant at first, slowly killing it over time.
It is best to stray away from synthetic pesticides because mealybugs are resistant to most chemical pesticides. Mealybugs can build a resistance to any chemical they are regularly exposed to. Pest control products don’t have to be store-bought. You can use things you have in your home!
Natural home remedies are a cost-efficient, easy way to treat your plants for mealybugs. At times these remedies are trial and error, but they often save plants from this pesky infestation. Below are some of our top methods for getting rid of mealybugs at home!
Rubbing (Isopropyl) Alcohol
One way to treat your plant for mealybugs is rubbing alcohol. Soak a cotton swab in isopropyl alcohol and rub it against the site that has the mealybugs.
The alcohol should dissolve the protective coating of the mealybugs and their eggs. This will kill both the bugs and the eggs. It will take several treatments to completely rid your plant of the mealybugs. Stay consistent, and don’t give up!
You can purchase an insecticidal spray, or you can make one at home. There are several ways to make a spray. This depends on what you have on hand. Follow these simple steps to make your own!
Combine one cup of any oil variety (mineral oil, fish oil, or plant oil) with one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid or other “pure” soap. Avoid soaps that contain bleach or degreasers. Mix two teaspoons of the mixture to every one cup of warm water and put it into a spray bottle.
The Neem tree produces natural oil that can be used as a natural insecticide and pesticide. Neem oil helps with infestations and is not harmful to your plant in small amounts. When Neem oil is diluted and sprayed directly on plants and soil, it can also help control other pests.
These are some helpful tips for using Neem oil for your leafy friends:
- Combine one ounce of Neem oil with two teaspoons of liquid soap in a gallon of water.
- Shake well and apply this treatment to the entire plant. Don’t forget the leaves’ undersides!
What is the Lifecycle of Mealybugs?
The life cycle of most mealybugs is similar, with females laying 300 to 600 eggs in waxy sacs attached to stems or leaves. After laying eggs, the female dies. The eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days into nymphs.
Longtailed mealybugs give birth to live young. The entire lifespan can take six weeks to two months, depending on the species and environmental conditions. In California alone, over 170 species of mealybugs exist. However, only a few are major pests.
Houseplants and greenhouse plants provide the best environment for mealybug infestations to thrive in. Due to the plants being shielded from the outdoor elements, plants lack natural barriers to protect themselves from these pests.
Do Some Plants Attract Mealybugs More Than Others?
Mealybugs love woody ornamental plants, including:
- Fuchsia gardenia
Plants growing indoors or in greenhouses are especially prone to this pest because they are not exposed to natural enemies that keep them under control outdoors.
Because of the different species of mealybugs, there is not any particular plant that they prefer. Common mealybugs include the citrus mealybug, the longtailed mealybug, Rhodesgrass mealybug, and Pritchard’s ground mealybug.
The citrus mealybug is a common pest that most commonly affects citrus plants. They can be found in greenhouses and ornamental plants. This causes devastation among some commercial crops, like mangoes or oranges. They may appear if you over-fertilize or overwater your plants.
This mealybug is native to Asia. The Rhodesgrass mealybug (RMG) can infest more than 100 grass species, including all warm-season grasses. Adult RMGs are a dark purple or purple color.
The RMG produces mainly without mating, so most RMGs are female. Males share the same characteristics as other mealybug males. They are gnat-like insects that have wings and go through basic morphology.
Pritchard’s Ground Mealybug
This ground mealybug resembles a springtail but moves much more slowly and cannot jump. The ground mealybug can also secrete a wax that can give the soil a bluish color. The Pritchard’s ground mealybug feeds on the roots of several plants, including anemone, gladiolus, and chrysanthemum.
Here are some common houseplants that can be affected by mealybugs:
- Various Types of Cacti
Final Thoughts – How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
Getting rid of mealybugs can be a difficult task if not detected early on. These tiny pests have a way of playing hide and seek and can sneak up on you if you aren’t constantly checking and caring for your plant. Fortunately, ridding yourself of mealybugs doesn’t have to get complicated since there are tons of home remedies like rubbing alcohol, Neem oil, and homemade sprays.
These pests can reside in different parts of your plant. Ensuring the plant’s pot and the undersides of its leaves are clean is important because mealybugs can usually go undetected. Remember, it can take weeks or months of consistent treatment to have a fully recovered plant. Your plant’s lifespan depends not only on basic maintenance (water and sunlight) but also on knowing what signs to look out for when it comes to pests!