Don’t panic when you notice mealybugs on your indoor plants or other landscape ornamental plants. ‘How to kill mealybugs’ is a frequently asked gardening question, and we have the answer for you.
To avoid mealybug damage, you can look for natural solutions or chemical treatments. With small outbreaks, you can remove the bugs one by one or kill them with homemade concoctions.
To prevent the spread of large infestations, you will need a combination of cultural practices and biological and insecticide control methods.
Mealybugs are little white bugs on plants with soft and cottony bodies. They sometimes can appear in cream or brown.
The soft-bodied insects secrete a wax coating as a protective layer to separate their bodies while sucking the plants’ juice. This powdery coating, also known as honeydew, is the origin of the name “mealy” bug.
This coating is a white cottony substance, making mealybugs’ appearance on plants’ stems and leaves visible. Older individuals may have waxy filaments alongside their body margins.
Adult male mealybugs are tiny, double-winged insects that contain 2 long-tail filaments, while adult females are wingless and nymph-similar looking. You can find some common species in California here.
The white fluffy bug infestation can occur due to many causes; the most common ones are as below:
- Overwater or over-fertilize your plants;
- Use polluted potting soil;
- Bring new plants to your garden, especially ones with high nitrogen levels and soft growth.
In particular, citrus trees, passion flowers, orchids (especially Phalaenopsis), commercial crops (tomato, mango, peach, etc.) are the most susceptible plants. Ground mealybugs (the mealybugs in soil) usually live on gardenias and African violets.
- Place indoor houseplants/ greenhouses plants outside under the sun or warm climates (your garden may suffer from tropical infestations of mealybugs).
The ideal living condition for mealybugs is a temperature between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Ants often carry mealybugs to a houseplant so that the bugs extract more honeydew residue for the ants to eat all of it.
- The bugs might also appear on fresh vegetables, fruit trees, or flowers from your garden or local grocery store.
There is a quick and easy remedy that you can make at home that will kill mealybugs immediately:
Washing off or directly picking them up from the plants is the most direct and fastest way to get rid of mealybugs. It is ideally suited to small infestations and certain plants that can’t withstand robust treatments.
A continuous stream of water can dislocate the mealybugs. Repeat the procedure if needed.
Another easy method to kill these soft-scale insects’ light infestations is to apply alcohol with a cotton ball directly on each bug. Test the alcohol on one leaf before letting it touch the whole plant to ensure the solution doesn’t burn it.
- Soak the cotton swab into 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Don’t use any solution containing more than this percent.
- Wipe it on the bug. Rub it over the surfaces and underneath the leaves and branches.
- Pour the rubbing alcohol into a clean spray bottle. Apply it all over the infested plant.
- Repeat multiple applications to make sure all hiding mealybugs are killed.
This natural substance of the neem tree can kill mealybugs on direct contact. It’s safe to use on any edible plant or ornamental.
- Mix water, one teaspoon of neem oil, and 2-3 drops of liquid dish soap into a clean spray bottle.
- Spray the liquid soap on the whole plant until it is soaked.
- Leave the plant in a shaded area to dry. Stay away from direct heat like sunshine.
- Repeat multiple applications to make sure all hiding mealybugs are exposed to the concoction.
- Inspect new plants before introducing them to your greenhouse and garden. If possible, isolate them from other plants for at least 1 month before adding any new purchase to your current collection.
- If you find many mealybugs on a plant, return them to the store or dispose of them. Otherwise, the mealybug infestation will rapidly spread to others.
Getting rid of heavily affected plants is much simpler than trying to kill all the pests.
- After placing the plant, check it regularly. Usually, a plant can handle a certain level of mealybugs, but a heavy infestation can happen quickly if you leave the garden unchecked.
- Remove pruning and dead leaves; they are the ideal shelter places for mealybugs and their eggs.
- Don’t over-fertilize, especially with nitrogen. High nitrogen levels can lead to faster reproduction of mealybugs. Use non-nitrogen fertilizer instead, or apply a small amount of the plant requires a nitrogen fertilizer.
Most species in outdoor environments have natural enemies that maintain their population below harmful levels. The enemies of insect pests like mealybugs are so-called biological control agents, consisting of pathogens, parasitoids, and predatory insects.
Natural enemies of mealybugs include lady beetles, spiders, green and brown lacewings, lace bugs, predaceous midge larvae, etc. The lady beetles are the most common beneficial insects; experts gave it the name ‘mealybug destroyer.’
The lady beetles and their larvae can find and eat mealybug eggs as their primary source of food. They prefer warm climates, so you may want to release them between May and September to focus on the stage when mealybugs produce egg sacs the most.
A variety of stronger insecticides are licensed for use against mealybugs. They produce a safe and tolerable level of toxicity to humans and pets, especially in indoor places. Make sure to follow label instructions when applying.
The most effective solution for getting rid of mealybugs in a bad infestation is combining chemical and bio mealybug management with cultural practices to keep the mealybugs under control.
When spotting a light infestation, apply neem oil spray or alcohol spray all over the plant, and remove the bugs by hand. That’s how to kill mealybugs directly!