Some strange white cotton material has taken over your plant. It’s everywhere. But when you look close enough, you realize that it’s much more than cotton and fluff.
Strange waxy pink bugs have taken over and they’ve planted their eggs all over your plant. They have taken your favorite jade plant hostage. In this guide your will learn everything about how to get rid of mealybugs.
If you don’t stop these bugs, they’ll continue to breed and lay eggs. Until more and more mealybugs are feeding off your plant. All these bugs draining it completely of its’ life force.
That’s the worst-case scenario, of course. It doesn’t have to end up that way. Your plant doesn’t have to wither away before your eyes.
When you spot these creatures on your plant, don’t panic yet. There are steps you can take to get rid of these fluffy pests.
To feed your curiosity, we’re going to learn all about mealybugs. And what they can do to your plant when there’s an infestation.
Once you’ve read this article, you will be ready when an infestation happens to you.
Welcome to our complete guide to mealybugs and getting rid of these bugs.
What are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are from the insect family Pseudococcidae. The Pseudococcidae family contains unarmored scale insects.
Mealybugs are pink in color. They’re soft-bodied with a waxy appearance. And they’re covered in a cotton-like material according to the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources.
This cotton-like material stops them from losing moisture. It also protects them from overheating.
Most mealybug species have projections. This makes it seem like they have double the legs, like an optical illusion. It can confuse people when they’re trying to see if their plant has these pests.
Male mealybugs are oval and they do have wings. They also have two long filaments. It’s rare to see male mealybugs on a plant.
Their only purpose is to fertilize the female mealybugs. And they don’t live for very long. They only live for about two to three days.
Female mealybugs are round and wider than males. And they don’t have wings like their male counterparts. They grow to be around 1/16 inch long.
There are 275 different mealybug species in the United States.
The most common species is the citrus mealybug, also known as Planococcus citri.
They’re also the most common mealybug found in household plants.
Other mealybug species include: grape mealybugs, longtailed mealybugs, obscure mealybugs, and vine mealybugs.
These bugs are attracted to several types of plants including gardenias. But their favorite plants are succulents.
How Mealybugs Reproduce
Most mealybug species lay eggs to reproduce. But the sizes can differ from species to species.
These eggs are usually covered in that cotton-like substance you see on the bugs.
For example, female citrus mealybugs can lay up to 600 yellow eggs. These eggs are about 1/100 of an inch in size. They’re difficult to see with the naked eye.
The female spins the fluffy material around the eggs for protection. They’re trying to hide the eggs from predators.
Five days after the female mealybug lays the eggs, the female will die.
A week to two weeks after the mealybug lays the eggs, they hatch. There will be crawlers or nymphs.
The new crawlers move on to tight spaces to feed off a plant. They dig into the plant. During this phase, they won’t leave their feeding area.
The nymphs also sneak away to find a place to feed. They take four to eight weeks to grow into its’ adult form.
If they go a full 24 hours without feeding, they will die. They’re very vulnerable at this state.
A group of mealybugs will go through two to five generations in only a year. That’s a lot of mealybugs looking for food.
The long-tailed mealybug (or the Pseudococcus longispinus) doesn’t lay eggs at all.
Instead, the eggs hatch as soon as they’re laid by the female longtailed mealybug. Then they release the crawlers.
After five days, the longtailed females will die as well.
Some species can reproduce asexually. They don’t need another mealybug to create and lay eggs.
How Mealybugs Attack Your Plant
Different species of mealybugs attack your plant in a different area. But they all have two things in common.
First, they feed in clusters. They’ll attach to a spot and stay there. Other bugs follow suit. This creates a cluster of bugs, making them easy to spot.
Second, all mealybugs suck the sap out of plants. The sap inside your plant is the fluid that moves through your plant by riding on xylem cells.
The sap also rides inside phloem sieve tube elements as it’s transported around.
Inside the sap with xylem cells is the water and hydration your roots absorbed. The phloem carries important nutrients your plant acquires.
The sap carries all this from the roots to the rest of the plant. It’s like the blood in your body, carrying all the important stuff throughout your body.
Without the nutrients from the sap, your plant can’t go into its’ photosynthesis process.
The more common mealybug species feed off the sap from stem tips and from where the leaves connect to the stems. They’ll also feed off of any new growth in or around your plant.
When the bugs feed off these areas of the plant, there are consequences. This includes stunted growth. And the leaves with turn yellow or wilt.
When mealybugs steal too much sap from your houseplant, your plant can die.
Mealybugs also excrete wax and honeydew on your plant. This leads to a gross black and sooty mold that starts to grow on it.
The mold won’t kill your plant but it’ll make it ill.
It grows around the stem and sometimes even the leaves. It can cover them or it can show up in spots.
The citrus mealybug is the worst species. While feeding, these mealybugs inject a toxin into a plant. The toxin often deforms houseplants.
Other mealybugs feed off of the plant’s roots instead. These mealybugs hideout in the soil and feed off the root hairs.
This causes stunted growth as well as yellow or wilted leaves. Leaves can even start dropping off.
If there are only a few mealybugs, it won’t hurt your plant.
It’s when they start to breed and dropping eggs that you should worry. But either way, you want rid of them as soon as possible.
How to Prevent Mealybugs
It’s always best practice to prevent pests when you can. You want to stop them before they invade your houseplant.
You can’t prevent everything but you sure can try.
The first step to preventing mealybugs is to check every new plant you bring into your home. Check before introducing it to your other plants.
You also want to keep them separate from your older plants for at least two weeks.
This is to ensure the new plants don’t have any bugs to pass on to other plants.
If the new plant does have mealybugs, it’s easy to spread the pests to your other plants. They’re able to crawl across branches and leaves to other close plants.
This is something you need to be wary of.
Don’t over-fertilize your plant. Fertilizers with high amounts of nitrogen can start a new plant, which mealybugs love. They’ll lay eggs around the new growth.
Keep your plant 100% healthy. It’s the best way to protect your houseplant from these annoying pests. They like to attack weak or stressed plants.
If you do have an infestation in one of your plants, move it from your other plants to prevent them from spreading.
You can put it in another room or on your porch. As long as it’s separated from the healthy plants.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
Before you try to get rid of mealybugs, you need to make sure you have a real infestation on your hands.
The only real way to tell if mealybugs have infested your houseplant is to simply look.
You’ll see what looks like cotton fluff on different parts of your houseplant. It can also have a waxy thread appearance.
The cotton-like substance is easy to see so you shouldn’t have to search too hard to find any mealybugs.
But make sure you examine the actual bug under all that fluff too. There are a few other pests out there that resemble a mealybug.
These bugs hide under leaves or even in leaf folds. You should also check by any new growth on your houseplant.
However, it can be a bit harder to spot the bugs if they feed off the roots. This means they live under the soil.
Your plant will have yellow or wilting leaves. This can be tricky because there are other pests and diseases that cause these symptoms.
You should check the drainage holes of your houseplant’s pot. Sometimes the mealybugs under the soil will hang out down there.
Sometimes the only way to be positive that your plant has mealybugs is to uproot the plant. This is where you’ll find the pests in their fluff balls.
Small Mealybug Infestations
Once you’re positive your plant has mealybugs, you want to treat your plant as soon as possible.
Keep in mind that during treatment you have to treat every nook and cranny because these bugs can be sneaky. The hatched bugs like to hide in the folds of the leaves.
When you’ve caught the mealybugs before there’s a huge infestation, they’re simple to get rid of. And there are a few ways you can do this.
Your first option requires 70% (or less) isopropyl alcohol and a cotton swab. A cotton ball will work as an alternative.
You soak an end of a cotton swab with the alcohol. Take the cotton swab and dab each mealybug you see with the alcohol.
You don’t have to wipe down your entire plant with the alcohol. And if it’s possible, you should only touch the bugs with the alcohol and avoid your plant.
You’ll have to do this once a week for a few weeks to get rid of every mealybug. And to make sure there weren’t any eggs you left behind that have hatched.
You might want to test your plant a day before you do this. This is to make sure the alcohol doesn’t burn the leaves on your plant if they do come into contact.
If you’re worried about the isopropyl alcohol harming the plant, try diluting it with warm water.
Another option is to spray a high-pressure stream of water onto your plant. This knocks most of the mealybugs out of your plant so you can grab them and dispose of them.
Large Mealybug Infestations
You’re going to have a harder time getting rid of a huge infestation of mealybugs.
But there are measures you can take before you give up completely on your plant.
First, you can try pruning any infested branches or leaves. Once those branches are gone, you can use the water spray method or isopropyl alcohol method.
Get rid of the branches or leaves right away because mealybugs can live on them for quite a while.
If most of your houseplant is infested, it’s not a method worth trying. Or you’ll prune it down into nubs.
Insecticidal soap can be quite effective. This soap has been around for over 200 years to treat bugs that infest plants.
The active ingredient in insecticidal soap is potassium salt of fatty acids (or soap salts). These fatty acids collapse the cells within the mealybug’s body.
On the outside, you see the bugs dry out as this happens. The soap can also suffocate the pests.
The fatty acids can also harm your plant. The soap includes ingredients so your plant won’t deteriorate from it.
To be on the safe side, test a small area or small leaf on your plant. Spray that area as you would while spraying the rest of the plant.
Let it sit for an entire day to see how your plant interacts with it.
When you spray the plant with the soap, make sure you get everything. Even spray in the smallest spaces.
For the mealybug to die from insecticidal soap, it has to be in direct contact with it.
You will have to spray down your plant with the soap more than once. Check every day for mealybugs. When they start to pop back up spray away.
Once you knock out all the eggs, you’ll be on your way to getting rid of the bugs.
You can buy insecticidal soap but you can also make your own soap at home. When you make your own soap, you save money and have some fun on the side.
- 1 cup of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of mild dish detergent (not for a dishwasher)
- Distilled warm water
- Clean spray bottle
First, you mix the olive oil and dish detergent in a bowl.
Next, you’re going to add a cup of warm water for every teaspoon of your mix into a clean spray bottle.
Shake the bottle to mix everything.
Once the insecticidal soap dries out, it’ll no longer work to kill pests. So, you only want to make enough for what you need, otherwise, it’ll go to waste.
It’s pretty simple and anyone can make it. There are several insecticidal soap recipes out there to try if your plant is picky.
People have a lot of luck killing mealybugs with natural horticultural oils. They work by suffocating the bugs. It also suffocates the eggs, killing them so they don’t hatch.
These horticultural oils are either made from petroleum or vegetable oil. You make your own at home, like the insecticidal soap.
Some people swear by neem oil too. Neem oil comes from the trees of the neem tree. It works both as a pesticide and fungicide.
One of the active ingredients of neem oil is azadirachtin. Azadirachtin turns the oil into a repellent to bugs.
This prevents them from feeding off the plant so they slowly die.
It also makes it very hard for the female mealybugs to lay their eggs. This slows down the breeding.
And the mealybug doesn’t need direct contact with neem oil to die. The plant absorbs the oil so it’s all over the plant.
You can try the chemical treatments you have to buy but they don’t work very well.
The waxy coating of the mealybug protects it. Plus, some of the pests hide in hard to reach areas that the pesticide won’t reach.
This should be one of the last methods you try.
If the mealybug infestation is too large, you might be out of luck. Sometimes you have to get rid of your plant. You don’t have a choice.
But you should do this right away so none of your other plants get infested.
Black Sooty Mold
As we discussed earlier, mealybugs can lead to black sooty mold. The mold can make your plant sick.
So, it’s important to treat the mold as well as the plant.
You can use a high-pressure spray. It’ll remove all the sooty loose mold and spores.
For any mold that doesn’t come off, you can use a mix of mild dish detergent and distilled water.
Using a spray bottle, cover any area with mold with the mix. Don’t be afraid to use the spray. You want the areas soaked well.
Now you can spray the plant with water once more to get rid of the soap mix. The mold should come off with it. Trim off any areas that still have mold.
Mealybugs Frequently Asked Questions
Is my jade plant susceptible to mealybugs?
Mealybugs love jade plants. Keep your plant healthy and keep an eye on it to prevent these critters.
What’s the life cycle of a mealybug?
The life cycle of a mealybug is 30 days. This is why it’s important to treat your plant one to two times a week until they’re all gone.
Can I use insecticides to get rid of mealybugs?
You can use insecticides on mealybugs but it should be a last resort. Make sure you’re using an insecticide for indoor plants because of the fumes.
Why do I have mealybugs and ants?
When mealybugs feed on a plant, they excrete a sugary honeydew as waste. This attracts ants. Once you get rid of the mealybugs, the ants will disappear.
A mealybug infestation is nasty and something now plant parent or avid gardener wants to deal with. Once you spot them the goal is to get rid of mealybugs as fast as possible so the infestation doesn’t get bigger and swaps over to other plants in your houseplant collection or garden.
The best way to prevent mealybugs is to check on your plants regularity and have a close look to see if you spot any webs or small insects.
With these guide, you have all the possible remedies as well as all the knowledge about how to get rid of mealybugs.
Let us know what your best remedies for mealybugs are in the comments.
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Daniel has been a plant enthusiast for over 20 years. He owns hundreds of houseplants and prepares for the chili growing seasons yearly with great anticipation. His favorite plants are plant species in the Araceae family, such as Monstera, Philodendron, and Anthurium. He also loves gardening and is growing hot peppers, tomatoes, and many more vegetables.