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  • Writer's pictureKassi Kuppinger

How To Get Rid of Mealybugs on Plants

Mealybugs are a common pest that can easily infest houseplants everywhere, and while they may not kill your plant immediately, they cause damage that over time will lead to the steady decline and eventual death of your plant. Because of this, it is very important that any plants infested with mealybugs are treated immediately! So, if you have noticed mealybugs on your plant or another houseplant pest you are unsure of how to identify, you're in the right place. Let's discuss what are mealybugs, how to get rid of mealybugs, where do mealybugs come from, and how to prevent mealybugs on your houseplants.

What Are Mealybugs?

There are over 300 different insect species referred to as mealybugs. Part of the family Pseudococcidae, these insects are actually related to another common houseplant pest, scale. If you would like to learn more about scale and how to get rid of scale on houseplants, check out this blog! Similar to scale, mealybugs feed on the tender foliage of houseplants, sucking the sap from the leaves. If not controlled and eliminated, mealybugs can entirely take over a plant, sucking the life out of the plant until it is dead. Unlike the houseplant pest commonly referred to as scale, which is an armored insect, mealybugs are unarmored insects, making them slightly easier to treat than their armored relatives. They prefer warm and moist environments and can reproduce quickly, so be sure to treat any plants that have mealybugs right away to avoid further damage to your plant and the possible infestation of other plants in the vicinity. While mealybugs are wingless and generally slow-moving insects, there is always the possibility of them transferring from one plant to another, especially if your plants are located close to one another.

What Do Mealybugs Look Like?

Mealybugs houseplant pests on aloe vera

Mealybugs appear white and fuzzy, making them much more noticeable than other houseplant pests and easy to correctly identify. They secrete a powdery, waxy substance that gives them this appearance and also serves as a protective coating that can repel or resist many topical pest control products.

Where Do Mealybugs Come From?

It is uncommon to see mealybugs outdoors in areas with cooler climates such as we are accustomed to here in Northern Colorado. So, you may be wondering, if they don't necessarily exist in our natural outdoor environment, where do mealybugs come from? Many stores such as Home Depot, Walmart, Lowes, or even local garden centers here in Fort Collins source many of their tropical houseplants from growers based out of more southern states such as Florida. In any situation where plants are being grown in mass quantities or being stored in a single facility, it is nearly impossible to prevent the presence of pests entirely. So, oftentimes, when greenhouses or retail stores receive shipments of houseplants, these houseplants could unknowingly be carrying a number of different houseplant pests. Even if plants are treated upon being received or undergo regular treatments, there is no way to ensure the complete eradication of every single pest. So, all that being said, if a plant is infested with mealybugs, it likely contracted the insects either from the environment the plant was initially grown in or from another plant that was infested with mealybugs.

Our advice to anyone shopping for houseplants either at big box stores or at your local garden centers and greenhouses is to thoroughly inspect every plant before you purchase. We always do our best to mitigate the presence of insects and treat all of our plants routinely, however, these little critters are professionals at the art of evasion. No matter where you are shopping, if you find a plant that appears to be struggling with some sort of infestation, please help out by letting a member of staff know so that the situation can be addressed right away.

How To Treat Mealybugs on Plants

If you are wondering how to get rid of mealybugs on plants, there are several ways you can go about this task. Below are the steps we recommend taking if you are dealing with an infestation of mealybugs, as well as products that we recommend to get the job done right!

STEP 1: Spray Down Your Plant

This is a good first step when trying to get rid of a number of different houseplant pests. Thoroughly spraying down your plant can help to dislodge some of the insects, can wash away eggs that may be difficult to see, and can help to wash away debris or excrement left behind by the mealybugs. If your plant is small, you can spray it down in your kitchen sink. With larger plants, it may be more effective to place it in the shower and give it a thorough rinse. Be sure to target the tops and bottoms of leaves, along the stems, and any crevices that could harbor the insects.

STEP 2: Wipe Away Mealybugs with Isopropyl Alchohol

Wipe Away Mealybugs

After you have thoroughly sprayed down your plant, wipe every part of the plant with 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol. With more tender plants, test the rubbing alcohol on one leaf first to make sure that it does not burn the plant. Rubbing alcohol will kill mealybugs on contact and will help to thwart the spread of the infestation.

STEP 3: Treat Your Plant with Your Choice of Pest Control Product

Now that you have likely removed the majority of the mealybugs from your plant, it is recommended to treat the plant with a pest control product. There are many options available, but some of our favorites include Neem oil, insecticidal soap, or Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew. Thoroughly spray every part of the plant, being sure to get in all the crevices of your plant where mealybugs could be hiding. We recommend repeating this treatment 1-2 times per week for several weeks. This will prove to be most effective in ensuring that every mealybug in every stage of life is targeted and killed. If you want to be extra cautious, you can also use a Systemic Houseplant Insect Control. We recommend making a "tea" out of the granules and watering any affected plants with this solution. Your plant will absorb this solution and then any insects that try to feed on your plant will be killed immediately.

STEP 4: Continue to Monitor Your Plant

Continue to closely monitor your plant for several weeks after finishing treatment. It is also not a bad idea to repeat treatment once per month as a precaution. It is so easy to miss a single insect and have the infestation reappear weeks down the road after you thought you had handled it effectively. If the infestation were to reemerge, keeping a close eye on your plant will help you notice it right away and be able to handle it before it gets out of control.

How To Prevent Mealybugs on Plants

Houseplant pests can be difficult to prevent entirely, but there are definitely some things that can be done to reduce the likelihood that your plants will become infested.

1. Always Check/Treat New Plants

When you purchase a new plant, no matter where you purchase it from, check it thoroughly for signs of pests and consider even treating it for pests by watering it with a systemic solution and spraying it down with a pest control product. You should also avoid placing it around your other plants for a couple of weeks. Some infestations are not noticeable right away, and placing a new plant among your other plants right away can cause the rapid spread of an infestation.

2. Be Aware of Your Plants and Check Them Regularly

Being aware of your plants is a huge preventative measure. Sometimes, houseplant pests seemingly come out of nowhere and take you by surprise. Periodically inspecting your houseplants and being acutely aware of any changes in their health or appearance is a great way to catch an infestation early, making treatment that much easier and setting your plant back that much less.

3. Conduct Periodic Treatments as a Preventative Measure

We always recommend incorporating periodic treatments into your regular maintenance schedule. Even if your plants appear healthy, performing routine treatments will not hurt your plant and will help to prevent issues with pests before you might even be aware of their presence. This is especially recommended for plants that are more susceptible to pests or in cases where you have had a series of houseplant infestations that you are trying to get under control.

How To Get Rid of Mealybugs on Plants

If you have any questions about how to get rid of mealy bugs on plants, how to prevent mealy bugs, what products are best, or any other questions regarding houseplant pests, we are more than happy to help. You can come into Bath Garden Center, fill out a contact form, or give us a call! You can also shop all of our pest control products online today. Schedule a delivery or pick up in-store for free. We hope to see you soon!

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