Mealybugs can be a threat to outdoor and indoor plants. In addition to harming the plants, they attract other bothersome insects.
Since these plant invaders are minuscule, they often become hard to recognize, not to mention they love to hide and launch sneak attacks.
Likewise, looking for the natural ways to get rid of mealybugs on plants is a very frustrating job. However, it is possible.
Be prepared as fighting these clever tiny devils requires some time.
Here, I will show you some natural treatment methods to drive mealybugs away from your plants.
Furthermore, this guide includes killer tips that help you prevent them from returning.
Table of Contents
- The Detection of Mealybugs
- What Causes Mealybugs?
- The Life Cycle of Mealybugs
- How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Plants Naturally
- How to Prevent Mealybugs
- Will Dish Soap Kill Mealybugs?
- What Plants are Prone to Mealybugs?
- Do Mealybugs Bite Humans?
- To Summarize
The Detection of Mealybugs
Potted indoor plants and outdoor gardens are equally prone to mealybugs. These pests may be little, but they are persistent and destructive.
Before banishing the mealybugs, you should detect their presence in the first place. Here are the sure-fire signs:
Wilted and Yellow Leaves
Mealybugs are cousins to scale insects. Since they dine on the plant’s juice, they gradually destroy the plant.
Also, these dainty pests stunt the growth of the plant over time. Due to the mealybug damage, the leaves of the host plant will yellow and wilt.
Moreover, the infestation causes young foliage to curl. The older ones are less likely to get distorted, though.
Early Fall of Fruits
Apart from making the foliage drop from the host plant, mealybugs also cause fruits to fall off prematurely.
They trigger the early fall of flower buds too.
Waxy White Residue
Mealybugs in small numbers cannot produce too much plant damage for sure. However, in large quantities, they can ruin the look of leaves, nodes, and stems.
After hiding on the undersides of foliage, stems, and petals, mealybugs can multiply themselves without notice.
Furthermore, when sucking the plant’s sap, they excrete waxy white stuff called mealybug honeydew.
If you have spotted many little white insects on plants, there is a real mealybug infestation. You can find them anywhere on your plants.
Speaking about white insects, maybe you also know other white pests that also damage plants, namely whiteflies. You can also read related article about how to get rid of whiteflies and how to prevent them.
The Presence of Sooty Mold Fungus
Mealybugs do not only lure in ants and other troublesome insects but also cause black sooty mold to establish.
The waxy secretions inevitably render the host plant’s tissues sticky.
In a serious infestation, they attract opportunistic fungi. You can use these four symptoms to detect mealybugs.
Although the mealybug damage is not as devastating as the spider mite one, you must treat the infestation soon.
What Causes Mealybugs?
Mealybugs typically leave many gardeners feeling surprised since they are such a mysterious occurrence.
As I said earlier, they are truly sneaky invaders. One day the plants are in optimal condition, and the next day they are full of waxy white cotton.
If you are wondering where pesky mealybugs come from, I have got you covered.
Like other plant pests, they can come from anywhere. These are common things that become the trigger of mealybugs.
- New Plants
If you purchase new plants from nurseries, mealybugs can enter a situation via them. Therefore, inspect the plants before bringing them home.
- Over-watered Plants
Moisture and warmth draw in mealybugs easily. No wonder these plant bugs love over-watered plants.
Additionally, warm temperatures can affect the severity of mealybug infestations.
- Contaminated Potting Soil
Be sure to get contaminant-free potting soil. Avoid using the contaminated potting soil to prevent a mealy bug infestation.
Importantly, do not over-fertilize the plants, too.
- Citrus Trees
It is no secret that mealybugs are attracted to plants that contain lots of juices.
Citrus trees are specifically susceptible to mealybug infestations because these pests like to devour them.
- Fresh Produce
Mealybugs can attack some commercial crops, including mangoes. You probably got these pests from fresh produce that you bought.
Wind helps disperse mealybugs over large distances. In addition to the wind, fieldwork activities like harvesting and pruning also spread the mealybugs.
During the summertime, ants usually bring mealybugs to the outdoor plants. They feed on the honeydew or syrupy secretions of mealybugs.
The Life Cycle of Mealybugs
These plant bugs belong to the Pseudococcidae family. Moreover, in the U.S. alone, there are about 275 species of mealybugs.
Mealybugs do not look like regular insects.
The males feature wings and come in much smaller sizes, while the females boast white and waxy bodies.
That is why their infestations resemble little cotton balls. Once mealybugs take up residence on their host plants, they hang out in immobile clusters.
Unlike the females that have 4 life stages, the males have 5.
The females produce up to 600 eggs that hatch in 1-2 weeks. Moreover, they reach maturity within 1 to 2 months.
Adult mealybugs die soon after laying eggs and fertilizing.
However, there are several generations of bugs that can perpetuate infestations unless you eliminate them.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Plants Naturally
Once you have found your indoor or outdoor plants hosting bothersome mealybugs, you must take action soon.
When it comes to combating plant pests, you better stick to eco-friendly methods. Here is a collection of natural ways to get rid of mealybugs on plants.
Mealybugs are tricky because they are hard to spot with the naked eye sometimes. You may discover the problem when there is evidence of their destructive activities.
If you are fighting against indoor mealybug infestations, fear not since I have effective ways to banish them from your home.
1. Clean Infected Indoor and Outdoor Plants
Salvaging a critically infested plant is not impossible. You will only need to uproot and clean it thoroughly.
For example, you can lift potted succulents from the soil. After that, wash the plants under running water.
Once they are dry, you have to replant them. You can dislodge nasty mealybugs with steady streams of water.
This treatment is suitable for light mealybug infestations, though. Also, some houseplants cannot withstand it.
If the infestation is too bad, the best action to take is to dispose of the host plant. This solution helps minimize further spread.
After removing the heavily infested plants, inspect the tools and pots carefully. Make sure mealybugs and their egg sacs are not present.
Again, don’t hesitate to discard plants that experience infestations.
2. Hand-Pick the Mealybugs
If you uncover the problem early, the mealybugs are typically still in small numbers. Consider removing them manually from your houseplants.
They do not transmit diseases, so don’t be afraid to hand-pick them with your fingers. For indoor plants, you should dip a cotton swab or ball in isopropyl alcohol first.
The alcohol penetrates the wax on the bodies of the mealybugs—hence you can get rid of them with ease.
Next, wipe it directly on the pests. Before treating the entire plant with isopropyl alcohol, test it on its leaf.
If the alcohol does not burn the leaf, you can proceed with this natural treatment for mealybugs.
Since mealybugs are in hiding, you must check the houseplants from various angles, including underneath the leaves.
Sometimes, mealybugs hide on the pots’ bottoms and around the edges. Don’t forget to inspect them thoroughly.
You probably see some mealybugs in hiding. For best results, repeat this eco-friendly mealybug treatment several times.
Removing mealybugs daily works wonder on eliminating them.
3. Use DIY Insect Spray
If homemade garden pesticides are your thing, try making this insect spray. Simply blend 1 tsp of cayenne pepper, 1 onion, and 1 raw garlic bulb into a smooth paste.
After mixing the paste with 1 quart of water, you need to steep the mixture for an hour.
Next, strain it using a cheesecloth and add 1 tbs of dish soap. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle.
This homemade plant spray keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. You can use the solution on infected houseplants.
4. Apply Neem Oil
Speaking of mealybug control, you can rely on neem oil.
When you use neem oil right, it does not only serve as a repellent but also hinders mealybugs’ feeding abilities.
Neem oil becomes an excellent pest control.
It is great at getting rid of mealybugs on indoor plants such as ornamentals, herbs, and vegetables.
Apart from banishing the mealybugs, neem oil is perfect for residual pest prevention.
Furthermore, a little of the concentrated neem oil goes a long way. Consider mixing it with water and dish soap.
If you pick this natural treatment, please be patient. It requires some applications to remove the mealybugs.
Mealybugs are a common occurrence in gardens. Since they can decimate the greenery, you better eradicate them immediately.
If you have encountered mealybugs on outdoor plants when engaging in fieldwork activities, don’t worry!
Just apply the following methods:
5. Introduce Natural Enemies
To kill mealybugs naturally, you need to invite predator insects into your garden.
Predacious midges, parasitic wasps, lacewings, and lace bugs will control the mealybug population.
People call black ladybug (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) the mealybug destroyer. This lady beetle is one of the mealybugs’ natural enemies.
Simply give 2-5 destroyers to an outdoor plant and let them gorge on mealybugs happily.
You can get them from garden centers or commercial online retailers. Besides, use spiders to eradicate mealybugs naturally.
Gardeners typically use this treatment for outdoor mealybug infestations. Moreover, it is ideal for greenhouses.
6. Keep Ant Populations in Check
Unlike black ladybugs, ants become the close allies of mealybugs.
Ants will shield the bugs from their natural predators. Consequently, they can enjoy the honeydew.
To shrink ant populations, you should encourage their natural enemies. The ant predators include lacewing larvae, ladybugs, and hoverfly larvae.
In addition, entomopathogenic fungi help you decrease the populations of ants effectively.
You can employ the aforementioned natural predators if you notice a great number of ants on your outdoor plants.
If you do not remove the ants in the first place, getting rid of mealybugs will be more frustrating.
7. Make a Soil Soak
Gardeners often deal with root mealybugs. As the name implies, they dwell in soil and consume plant roots.
To remove root mealybugs, you can make special soil soaks that contain neem. They get rid of mealybugs and other pests without killing beneficial earthworms.
How to Prevent Mealybugs
After discussing how to get rid of mealybugs outside, you must dive into defensive mealybug control.
Healthy plants are surely less prone to mealybug infestations than stressed plants.
Always make sure all the plants are healthy and vigorous. In the eyes of pesky mealybugs, they are definitely less attractive than the weak ones.
Now that you have defeated the mealybugs, vigilance helps prevent them from returning to your home and garden.
Apply the preventive strategies below:
- Inspect New Plants
Mealybugs often nestle on new plants since greenhouses make an excellent breeding ground.
Check new plant purchases thoroughly.
If you find leaves with black mold and honeydew, simply do not include the plant in your collection.
- Wipe the Foliage Regularly
Wipe the leaves of plants using a leaf shine solution regularly. Since it contains neem oil, it potentially prevents infestations on mealybug-prone plant species.
- Drop Temperatures at Night
For houseplants that can withstand it, set the temperatures to 60° Fahrenheit during the nighttime.
This strategy deters mealybugs because they thrive at 70-90° F.
- Commit to Regular Spraying
If your plants can handle regular spraying, then give this strategy a go. Using hard blasts of water helps avoid mealybug infestations.
- Limit Watering
By watering the plants less frequently, you keep mealybugs from taking up residence.It is because watering inhibits the mealybug’s growth and lowers nitrogen levels.
Will Dish Soap Kill Mealybugs?
To eradicate mealybugs, simply use dish soap solution. Just mix 2 cups of water with 2 tsp of dish soap.
Then, put the solution in a spray bottle. Do a spot test first.
If there is no damaging effect, you can spray the plant until it is wet. Rinse the plant off after 4 hours.
What Plants are Prone to Mealybugs?
Tropical plants with tender foliage and soft stems are very susceptible to mealybugs. African violets, amaryllis, begonia, and orchids are particularly prone.
Do Mealybugs Bite Humans?
Since mealybugs are pesky plant pests, they sap the lives of their host plants. These cottony creatures do not bite humans, though.
Mealybugs are tiny yet tricky. Furthermore, these “warm weather” insects become a nuisance everywhere, from greenhouses to outdoor gardens to homes.
Those treatment and preventive strategies let you conquer mealybugs naturally. If you hate living with the bugs, eradicate them soon. It is now or never.