A mealy bug is a small insect that is covered with a white mealy coating.  They look like white fuzzy stuff or a white bug.

They feed on your plants by sucking on the juices of that plant.  They can do a lot of damage to your indoor and outdoor plants.  They are about 2 mm longs so it could be hard to see them.  If you think you have mealybugs on your plants, read on to find out how to get rid of them.

Mealybugs – how to Identify an Infestation

When there is an infestation on your plants, you can identify it by the cotton-like residue they leave on the stems and leaves.  They also leave a sticky, sweet honeydew secretion.  You may also notice black sooty mold fungus.  The mealy bugs that you see on your plants are the females and the males are rarely seen on the plant and are always flying around.  The two main species are the citrus mealy bugs and the longtailed mealy bugs.

Where do They Come From

Many times, they come from a new houseplant you just brought home.  They can also be found in contaminated potting soil.  When you put house plants out in the summer and then bringing them back in the house in the fall you could be bringing in mealy bugs.  Some will even find their way into the house by lurking in the crevices of cacti, succulents, or other tropical plants.  

What They do to Plants

When your plants are infested with mealy bugs, they cause the leaves to wilt and lose color and can eventually kill your plants.  They can cause leaf drop, stunted growth, and yellowing leaves.  The primary damage is feeding on the sap of the plant and sucking the life out of the plant.  They can also cause the buds of vegetables, flowers, and fruits to drop off prematurely.

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mealybugs on stalk

How to get rid of Them

If you notice mealy bugs on your plant, the first thing that you should do is isolate the plant so they do not spread to other plants.  If you think that your plant (s) are infected with mealy bugs, after isolating it you need to inspect all parts of the plant; under leaves, around the leaf joints, and around the stem in the top layer of the soil.

1. Wash the plant

You can take the plants to the bathroom and rinse the mealy bugs under the shower.  The majority of the mealy bugs should be dislodged by the force of the water.  The water will also help to wash away any cottony residue.  You can do the same thing to outdoor plants but use the garden hose.

2. Rubbing alcohol

Pour some 70% rubbing alcohol into a small container and dip a cotton swab in it.  Using the cotton swab, apply it directly to the mealy bugs.  Discard the alcohol when you are done or keep it in a closed container to use again if needed.  Mark the container that it is to be used for mealy bugs.  You can also make a spray of one-quart water with one cup of rubbing alcohol.  Spray one leaf and if it does not hurt your plant, you can use the spray once a week until they are gone.  The rubbing alcohol will help to dissolve their protective layer, the eggs, and eventually kill them;

3. Natural remedies

  • Liquid soap spray—fill a squirt bottle with a teaspoon of liquid dish soap and a quart of lukewarm water.  Shake it well and spray the plant.  After a couple of hours, wash the plant with a damp cloth so the soap does not cause damage to the plant.  The reason this works is that the soapy liquid helps to break down the waxy coat on their body.  You can use organic soap so there is no health threat to your pets or children.
  • Neem oil—mix one quart of lukewarm water with two teaspoons of organic neem oil and one teaspoon Castile soap in a spray bottle to spray your plant.  This is a great natural pesticide and also can help to prevent mealy bugs.  This does take time to work so be patient.  
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When you use either of these treatments, you should keep your plants in the shade until they dry.  Do not use either treatment on hot days as the plants could end up with burns.

4. Natural predators

In the insect world, mealy bugs have natural enemies.  If you encourage their predator insects to live in your garden, they will keep the mealy bugs away.  Some of these include spiders, beetles, green or brown lacewings.  

5. Chemicals

These include insecticides and should be used as the last resort because they can be harmful to the environment, pets, and children.  When you are using insecticides, make sure that you are using one designed for that particular plant.  Sometimes insecticides do not work on mealy bugs because of their waxy coating protects them.  

6. General tips

  • Mealy bugs can reside in the soil so if you have an infestation it is important that you repot your plant in sterile, fresh soil;otherwise, the plant may get infected again. If you are using the same pot, you should use alcohol to disinfect the inside of the pot before putting in new soil.
  • Take care of your plants because when they are healthy they are less susceptible to infestations of mealy bugs.  They like weak, stressed, and hungry plants.  Do not overwater or over-fertilize them as mealy bugs are attracted to plants with soft growth and high nitrogen levels.

Conclusion

As you can see, mealybugs can really damage your plants so as soon as you realize you have them, you need to use one of the above suggestions to get rid of them, both adult and the eggs.  Inspect your plants regularly to check for mealy bugs so you can help prevent an infestation.  Make sure that you do not keep your plant wet or overwater them as mealy bugs breed faster in these situations.

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