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Mealybugs. Ugh! I shudder at the thought. They don’t hurt humans but, unfortunately, can be very harmful to our plants. Even more unfortunate is that they are one of the most common types of houseplant pests.
If you have a decent-sized plant collection you will probably have to deal with them at some point. But don’t worry, today we will talk about how to get rid of mealybugs. Although it may take some time, it’s not too complicated of a process!
We’ll start with mealybug treatment first because that’s probably what you’re here for. Then, we’ll discuss how to prevent mealybugs in the first place as well as more information about mealybugs.
How to get rid of mealybugs on houseplants?
- First off, immediately quarantine all of your infected plants to prevent the spread to other plants, regardless of whether you see a single bug or an entire infestation.
Mealybug treatment for a few bugs
There are some less harsh methods you can try first if you only see one or a few bugs:
- Use your garden hose or a showerhead to gently but firmly spray down the plant and wash away the bugs.
- Use a cotton swab soaked in 70% isopropyl rubbing alcohol to rub away each bug. This only works if the alcohol comes in contact with the bug. Once the bugs are completely gone after a few sessions of doing this, rinse any excess alcohol off of your plant.
- 70% isopropyl alcohol – you don’t need to purchase anything fancy for this. In fact, you might already have some at home!
Mealybug treatment for bad infestations
If you have a bad infestation, consider using one of these more heavy-duty methods:
- Neem oil – Neem oil comes from the neem tree and is used as a natural pesticide.
- Follow the instructions on the label for diluting the neem oil. Spray all over your plant, making sure to get under the leaves, in crevices, and on the stems. Be sure to test this on one area of your plant first before spraying your entire plant.
- Neem oil deters bugs from eating your plants and also acts as a hormone disrupter, preventing bugs from growing. Unlike the other methods, it will take a few days to actually kill the bugs. That said, neem oil can be very effective, so be patient!
- I recommend this neem oil. I have used this in the past for fungus gnat treatment, too.
- Horticultural spray – Instead of neem oil, you can use a horticultural spray.
- Read the directions on the bottle, then test this on one area of your plant first before spraying your entire plant. Unlike neem oil, this kills on contact.
- There are many sprays you can purchase, but I like this one.
- Insecticidal soap – You can make this yourself using Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap.
- Dilute one tablespoon of Dr. Bronner’s soap with one quart of water.
- Spray all over your plant, making sure to get under the leaves, in crevices, and on the stems. Again, be sure to test this on one area of your plant first before spraying your entire plant. Insecticidal soap also kills on contact.
- You can also purchase an insecticidal soap if you don’t want to make your own. Make sure to read the directions on the bottle.
(I have also included these links in a handy “shopping list” at the bottom of this post.)
Note: Depending on how many bugs you have it may take anywhere from a few applications to a few months of treatment for any of these methods. The bugs will not go away with a single treatment because:
- They hide and you’re bound to miss some of them
- They will be at different growing stages and you’ll need to catch each cycle of them as they grow up and come out of the soil to feed off your plant
How can you prevent mealybugs?
The first line of defense against pests should be preventing them in the first place. Here are a few ways you can prevent mealybugs:
- Have good plant hygiene. Properly caring for your plants will keep them healthy and strong. A weak plant is more susceptible to pests. In fact, pests can actually sense weak and dying plants.
- Buy your plants from reliable sources that you have purchased from before or that have excellent reviews. However, recognize that things happen and there is always a risk when bringing new plants into your home.
- Don’t use any soil from outdoors or other contaminated soil for indoor plants.
- Closely inspect any new plants you bring home.
- Quarantine your plants when you bring them home.
- Clean pots between reusing them for different plants.
How to recognize mealybugs
Mealybugs are a type of scale insect that are found in warm, moist environments. They latch onto your plant and suck out its juices, slowly but surely sucking the life out of your plant. Unlike fungus gnats which are more annoying than harmful to your plants, you definitely want to take action if you notice mealybugs.
Mealybugs look like little white, cottony specks attached to your plants’ stems and leaves. You might mistake them for some sort of fungus at first glance. These are actually the females, which lay their eggs in their cottony excretions. The males have wings, but you probably won’t see them on your houseplants.
Mealybugs can be difficult to spot because they might be hiding under leaves or in crevices. The problem is that the less there are, the better your chance is of getting rid of them easily, but the harder they are to notice. This is why it’s important to regularly inspect your plants closely to catch an early infestation of any kind of pest.
Where do mealybugs come from?
One question a lot of people have is how do mealybugs—or any pest for that matter—get inside our homes? In most cases, we will never know exactly how an infestation began but some common ways bugs get into our houseplants are:
- A new plant you brought home that you didn’t realize was infected
- Eggs in a bag of potting mix
- Open windows
- Produce from your garden. Occasionally, they can even come from grocery store produce
- Fresh flowers from your garden or the store
- Ants, which can carry them inside
- Houseplants brought back inside for the winter if you had moved them outside
I know it’s annoying to have a completely healthy plant collection and then suddenly have an infestation, but when things are so small they are bound to get inside the home one way or another. Don’t feel bad! It’s no reflection on you as a plant parent.
Pests are annoying, but you’re not doomed forever. With treatment, eventually they do go away! No mealybugs, but got fungus gnats? Here’s my post on how to get rid of fungus gnats.
Mealybug Treatment Supplies List