Are the leaves of your plants covered with white, fuzzy bugs? You have a mealybug infestation! Here are some tips and tricks on how to get rid of mealybugs, including natural methods of pest control.
What are Mealybugs?
Typically, they target ornamental plants, houseplants, fruit, and avocado plants, and over 275 different species exist in the USA alone!
Why Get Rid of Mealybugs?
They feed off the sap in the leaves and stems of the plant, and while a few mealybugs can’t do much damage, they multiply quickly, and a full infestation will kill a plant. They will also spread easily to other plants in your garden or home.
Another reason to get rid of mealybugs is that they produce honeydew – a sweet, sticky substance that attacks ants, mold, and fungus – putting your plants at high risk for infection and destroying any crops.
Where Do Mealybugs Come From?
They can come from anywhere, but these white bugs on plants like moist, warm conditions most of all. Common causes of infestations include buying a new plant that is infested, contaminated potting soil, leaving houseplants in warm and wet conditions through the summer, and ants who bring them in to feed off the honeydew they produce.
Why Do I Keep Getting Mealybugs?
These bugs are attracted to warm, wet conditions and high nitrogen levels, so they tend to attack plants that are overwatered or overfed. Water your plants only when they need it, keep them out of humid conditions, and don’t overfeed them.
You also need to keep up your treatment for the mealybugs for at least 3-4 weeks to kill these white fuzzy bugs off completely.
The Mealybug Life Cycle
It’s important to understand the lifecycle of these fuzzy white bugs on plants because that’s the key to getting rid of them for good. You have to make sure you are dealing with every stage of the life cycle.
For example, if you stop controlling them when there are still eggs on the plants (which you can’t see with your naked eye), then your infestation will return in a week or so and you’ll have to start over.
- Eggs – Females can lay 300-600 eggs that hatch in 1-3 weeks after laying. This is the fuzzy, white mildew-like secretion on the underside of the leaves.
- Juvenile – The juvenile mealybugs are called nymphs, and they are the tiny bugs you can see walking on the plant, looking for a spot to settle.
- Adult – Adults settle on a spot and secrete a protective waxy coating over their bodies, like a shell. The process from egg to adult can take about one month.
7 Methods for Treating Mealybug Infestations
Now we can move on to how to get rid of mealybug. The first step is to inspect all your plants for signs of infestation and to isolate your infected plant if possible, keeping it far away from other plants.
Here are your different treatment options:
1. Soak a cotton swab/cloth/q-tip in rubbing alcohol
Wipe down the leaves and stem of the plant thoroughly, using the q-tip to get into the smaller nooks and crannies. The rubbing alcohol will kill the mealybugs without harming the plant, but the bugs have to come into contact with the liquid for this to happen.
Wipe the pot down at the same time. Now, rinse the plant off with clean water from the hose or shower. Repeat every 2-3 days for 3 weeks.
2. Wash them away
If your infected plant is outdoors, you can use a high-pressure blast from the hose to wash the mealybugs away. This isn’t always 100% effective, and you have to repeat it every 2-3 days for 3 weeks, but it’s a good method for removing the majority of the bugs off a mature, large plant or using it in conjunction with other treatments.
3. Encourage beneficial insects
Another good method of prevention and treatment for outdoor plants is to bring insects that feed off mealybugs into the yard.
4. Insecticidal soap
A high-quality insecticidal soap will also help control and eliminate your mealybugs. Remember to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on diluting and applying the solution so that you get the best results.
Never make it stronger than what is recommended, apply it according to schedule, and check that it won’t damage your plant.
5. Homemade insecticidal soap
You can also make your insecticidal soap at home using a mix of 1 tablespoon of dishwashing soap (don’t use a soap that has a degreaser or bleach) and 1 cup of warm water in a spray bottle.
Again, repeat every 2-3 days for 3 weeks. You can also add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to kill off any powdery mildew and help kill off the mealybugs.
6. Neem oil
If you are looking for a plant-safe, organic solution, then neem oil is a good choice. It’s a natural insecticide and fungicide in one, so it can deal with your mealybugs and any secondary issues such as powdery mildew.
It’s also great because it’s non-toxic to honeybees and other beneficial insects!
7. Cut your losses
If an infestation is very severe but limited to a single plant or batch of plants, it may be best to get rid of the plant entirely. Double-bag them and remove them with your trash rather than adding them to compost, as this will spread the infestation.
Be sure to clean the space thoroughly, including plant pots, with rubbing alcohol or household cleaners, keep uninfected plants out of the space, and wait a few weeks before you buy new plants.
How Do You Control Mealybugs Naturally?
There are a few ways of controlling and treating mealybugs naturally, from blasting them loose from a plant with water or using neem oil and organic insecticides, to increasing the numbers of beneficial insects like lacewings, ladybugs, and Mealybug Destroyers in your yard.
Does Dish Soap Kill Mealybugs?
Yes, just be sure to use a dish soap without any harmful additives like bleach or degreaser. Mix 1 tablespoon of dishwashing soap and 1 cup of warm water in a spray bottle and spray every 2-3 days for 3 weeks.
Will Vinegar Kill Mealybugs?
Yes, apple cider vinegar will help kill the mealybugs and also kill off powdery mildew if it is present. You can mix 1 teaspoon into your dishwashing soap and warm water spray. It is also completely safe for your plants and the environment.
How to Prevent Mealybugs
Because infestations are so difficult to get rid of and no one likes to have to throw out a heavily infested plant even if it is in the best interests of your other pants, it’s important to know how to help prevent outbreaks from occurring.
Quarantine new plants
A plant you buy or get from a friend may already have an infestation, as the bugs can hide deep in the stem and under the leaves, so it’s best to quarantine it well away from your other plants for one month.
During this time, check it daily for signs of mealybug and treat it if needed.
Spray as part of your routine
Once a month, spray down your houseplants or vulnerable plants with an insecticidal and fungicidal spray, especially in hot, wet weather.
It’s best to use a natural, organic spray to prevent harm to honeybees, beneficial insects, and the environment, so we recommend neem oil.
Sanitize gardening tools
Clean your gardening tools with soap and water each time you use them, and before you work on a different plant. This will help prevent the spreading of pests, diseases, fungus, and mold.
Overly wet conditions encourage root rot, affect the health of your plants, and allow mold, mildew, and mealybugs to thrive. Water your plants only when they need it, keep them out of very humid summer conditions, and ensure their pits have good drainage.
Encourage beneficial insects
Try to encourage beneficial insects that eat mealybugs and other pests in your yard, as this will benefit the ecosystem in your garden and your home, controlling infestations before they reach severe stages.
Now You Know How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
So, there you have it – the best ways to control and treat mealybugs, as well as how to prevent infestations of these fuzzy white bugs. As plant lovers, we encourage you to try organic and natural controls and treatments first.
Not only are these better for the environment, but they also help support the beneficial bugs that can prevent infestations in the first place. It’s also a good idea to prevent overwatering, overfeeding, and humid conditions that these white bugs love.
Now that you know how to get rid of mealybugs for good, we hope your plants continue to thrive and bring you joy!