If you’re like most plant owners, you probably cringe at the sight of mealybugs. These tiny white critters can also become a massive problem for your garden and houseplants!
Mealybugs love nothing more than your plants — from leaf tips down to the root zones, they are persistently trying to suck the life out of your plants. So, it’s crucial to deal with these bugs ASAP!
Here we’ll teach you exactly how to get rid of mealybugs in ten different ways and restore your plants to their bug-free glory. Let’s get started!
What Are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are white fluffy insects that are far from being as cute as they sound. These soft-bodied oval-shaped bugs are invasive parasites that feed on plant sap.
However, don’t let their tiny size fool you! If you don’t get rid of mealybugs on your orchids, cacti, or any other plant they love, the plant is likely to die. You might be able to save some of them, but still, prevention is better than cure.
For starters, a single mealybug can lay up to 600 nymphs (babies) which can mature and lay their own eggs in just a few months. So, before you know it, your plants will be coated with the white sticky honeydew they use for protection.
The infestations can look like mold or mildew on the plant. So before you spring into action to get rid of mealybugs on plants, make sure you’re dealing with the right villain.
How Serious Is a Mealybug Infestation?
Unfortunately, mealybugs are never good news. Although harmless to humans, mealybugs cause significant damage to your plants. They’re very persistent in threatening your plant’s life in several ways:
First and foremost, mealybugs steal your houseplant’s food. By sucking plant sap, they’re taking the nutrients your plants need to grow and flourish. So, it’s advisable to learn how to get rid of mealybugs before it’s too late.
Not only are these pesky insects feasting on plant juices, but their saliva contains toxins that, once inside the plant, can stunt its growth and even kill it. They can also cause curly, yellow leaves, which will eventually fall off.
Attracting Other Pests and Diseases
Some plants can live despite being home to mealybugs. However, this doesn’t mean their health isn’t on the line.
You still need to get rid of mealybugs on your succulents, cacti, and other plants, because they can carry other plant diseases. For example, sooty mold loves to form on top of mealybug’s honeydew. Ants and aphids also love this sugary treat.
Lastly, the unappealing mold-like honeydew these insects produce is not just ugly to look at — it’s also sticky! Honeydew glues on the leaves of your plants but also on pets, other insects, and everything that gets in touch with it.
What Causes Mealybugs on Plants?
There are about 275 different mealybug species in the US alone. They can infest most plants but prefer those with soft stems and leaves. Here are some other factors to consider:
Specific Plants Species
Mealybugs seem particularly fond of some types of tropical plants and succulents. One of the reasons that succulents are vulnerable to mealybugs is that they often grow near one another.
Additionally, succulents tend to have a lot of nooks and crannies where mealy bugs can hide. So, to get rid of mealybugs on your cactus plants, you’ll need to be thorough. In some cases, you may even need to repot your cacti.
Mealybugs like warm temperatures (70–90 ℉), which is why they’re fans of greenhouses. Due to this, they also thrive on the most popular tropical houseplants like orchids, African violets, or begonia.
Mealybugs love humidity. Outdoors, they’ll hang out under the leaves of plants that don’t get enough sun. Indoors, they often infest houseplants that are kept in bathrooms or kitchens.
In other words, if they invade your orchid, jade plant, or cacti, it means that you’re watering them more than you should. So, the first step when trying to get rid of mealybugs on a jade plant is reducing its watering frequency.
Finally, mealybugs are also attracted to plants that are under stress. This can be from too much or too little water, poor drainage, or damage from pests. Mealybugs will often move into an area of a plant that’s already damaged.
High Nitrogen Levels
Plants with high nitrogen levels (those that you’ve over-fertilized) are more likely to attract mealybugs.
So, How Do You Kill Mealybugs?
You can deal with mealybugs by killing them with insecticides or by repelling them. Your chosen method is completely up to you and the plant you’re treating. However, no matter which one you choose, you’ll need to be persistent.
Safe Ways to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Your Indoor Plants
Mealybugs don’t come out of thin air, even though it might seem like it. Plus, females are wingless, so you might wonder how on earth they infested your houseplants.
Well, these insects live wrapped in sticky honeydew, so it’s always possible that you carried them yourself on your shoes and clothes. They could also hide in the potting soil you used for your houseplants.
Anyway, here are a few ways to get rid of mealybugs in the house for good:
1. Dish Soap
To use it correctly, wash your plant first and spray every surface with a mixture of a teaspoon of dish soap in a quart of water. Repeat the procedure weekly until there are no mealybugs left.
2. Insecticidal Soap
Insecticidal soap is relatively safe for use, and with it, you can get rid of mealybugs on houseplants. Simply mix it up with water, according to instructions, and spray the affected surfaces of the plant.
3. Use Your Hands
Yes, they are tiny, but you can certainly remove mealybugs’ colonies by hand and dispose of them as you see fit. Use gloves to avoid getting the waxy substance on your hands.
4. Spray Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA)
With 70% rubbing alcohol, you can effectively get rid of mealybugs, but keep in mind that IPA can irritate your skin.
So, put your protective gloves on and dip a cotton swab or a cotton ball into the alcohol. Then, use both to thoroughly clean your plant from the sticky honeydew and its inhabitants.
You can spray larger plants with a spray bottle, but make sure the solution is not too concentrated, as it could burn through the plant. Spray it in the corner of a leaf first, and dilute it if needed.
5. Get Rid of Mealybugs With Neem Oil
The best thing about neem oil is its effectiveness against aphids and molds. Simply mix neem oil with water and spray it onto the affected plants. This will kill mealybugs on contact.
What’s more, neem oil is non-toxic and safe for indoor use. So, there’s no need to be concerned about the safety of children or pets.
You can use concentrated neem oil to get rid of mealybugs in the soil too. Just pour up to 3 cups of emulsified raw neem oil over the soil, and re-apply it after three weeks.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Outdoor Plants
6. Introduce Natural Predators
It’s the most harmless, natural way to mealybugs. Ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps all feed on mealybugs. You can purchase these beneficial insects from your local nursery or online.
These predators will keep the mealybug population under control. Release them into your garden to get rid of mealybugs naturally without harming your plant.
7. Use a Hose
One popular method for getting rid of mealybugs is to use a hose. Mealybugs are soft-bodied insects, so the high-pressure water from a hose will remove them from your plants without causing any damage to the plant itself.
8. Eliminate Ants and Aphids
Mealybugs love company, so they often hang out with ants and aphids. These pests protect mealybugs from their predators in exchange for the honeydew.
If you want to get rid of mealybugs outside, you should eliminate ants and aphids. You can use insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, and neem oil. Without these, the mealybugs will be easier to control.
9. Use Systemic Insecticide
To treat indoor potting mix, you’ll need residential-use insecticides; for the green patients outdoors, you’ll need landscape insecticides. Most of them are effective against mealybugs, but don’t forget to read the label.
You can use Acephate, Malathion, or other pesticides to treat the soil for mealybugs.
How to Prevent Mealybugs Infestation?
Now that you know how to eliminate mealybugs, it is important to take steps to prevent them from returning. Mealybugs can spread quickly, so it is vital to act fast if you see them on your plants to prevent them from swarming.
- Check your foliage and roots regularly.
- Inspect every newly purchased plant.
- Take special care of the more vulnerable plants to prevent infestation.
- Make sure not to water and fertilize your plants more than necessary.
- Reduce the humidity (if it’s okay for the plants).
- Isolate and kill the infected plants if you can’t get rid of mealybugs on them.
- Treat the soil for mealybugs before repotting your plants.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, these are some of the most effective methods for eradicating these pesky critters.
Make your job easier by acting ASAP. Keep a close eye on your plants and take action as soon as you see any signs of trouble. If you’re still unsure about handling a pest infestation or have any questions, reach out to your local pest control professional.
What naturally kills mealybugs?
Their predators, like ladybirds and lacewings, can kill mealybugs.
However, you can also wash them off, remove them by hand, and put the plant in a colder room. If all this doesn’t work, homemade sprays of dish soap, rubbing alcohol, and neem oil might help you.
Are mealy bugs hard to get rid of?
As garden inhabitants, mealybugs can be a recurrent and pretty persistent issue.
While getting them off your plant can be easy, eradicating them from the soil and the garden is trickier. To do it successfully, you need to treat a larger area for mealybugs, even if you don’t see them.
Will dish soap kill mealybugs?
Yes, the dish soap will kill the mealybugs by suffocating them. However, this method is more effective when combined with others, like insecticidal soap, water-hosing, or something similar.
There are quite a few answers to how to get rid of mealybugs for good — and we hope that those we listed will work for you.