How to Get Rid of Mealy Bugs- Control and Prevention

Whether you’re a keen outdoor gardener or an avid houseplant collector, if your plants have ever suffered a mealy bug infestation you’ll know all about the damage these fluffy little pests can do.

You’ll probably also know how hard it is to kill mealy bugs. Carefully follow the below proven approaches and suggestions on to get rid of the bugs before they destroy your beautiful garden.

Beware! Mealy bugs Can Really Kill Your Plants

Mealybugs are oval shaped  and whitish as they form a waxy covering on the body. They are found mainly on greenhouse plants and houseplants.

Mealy bugs tend to live together in clusters especially on leafs and between twining stems and under loose soil. They appear on plants as tiny soft bodied insects with a white substance around the stems and nodes.

In large colonies, mealybugs cause extensive damage to soft tissues of plants – leaves are distorted and yellowed, growth is stunted. They excrete honeydew, which attracts ants and can encourage sooty mold.

Usually what you see on leaf and branch are the female mealy bugs. They are very small bugs and hide their eggs in the fluffy white excretions. It takes about 10 days for the Eggs to hatch producing crawlers or nymphs.

The newly hatched young crawlers come out from the cottony masses and move around on the plant looking for a suitable site to feed.The small crawlers may be easily blown from one plant to another by wind or breeze. The nymphs relocate to another part of the plant and spend another 4 to 8 weeks developing into the adult form.

Mealy bugs cause damage by sucking the juice from their host plants and excrete the excess sugars as a substance called honeydew.

The affected leaves turn yellow and eventually drop from the plant. They also cause fruits, vegetables, and flower buds to prematurely drop off. In a bad infestation, their waxy excretions encourage the development of sooty mold fungus which completely destroy the plant.

How to know if your plant is infested with Mealy bugs?

  1. You will notice a fluffy white wax produced in the leaf axils or on the stems and branches of the plant.
  2. You will notice an accumulation of honeydew which  makes the plants sticky and encourages the growth of sooty molds, giving the leaf and stem surfaces a blackened appearance
  3. Due to infestation you will notice that the plant as lost its vigor and the leaves start to turn yellow and eventually drop. As a result, plants may be stunted, or even killed
  4. Infested plants will stop growing, and will have a very depressed shrivel look like as though you have not watered them for days.
  5. You will see a trail of ants around your garden and on the plants. Ants breed and protect  mealy bugs for their honeydew secretions and may help to spread them through the collection. The ants protect the mealy bugs from their natural enemies such as small wasps that act as parasites on the mealy bugs and from predators such as ladybugs. The presence of the ants is very important to the mealy bugs’ survival, and elimination of the ants using poisonous ant baits, will usually mean the destruction of the mealy bug colonies.

Five Steps to Control and Monitor Mealy bugs

The best control for mealy bugs is defensive. Healthy, vigorous plants are less likely to be infested than the weak ones and as a general rule, make sure your plants are healthy, and you’re less likely to attract these annoying critters in the first place.

  1. Dead leaves and pruning should be removed from the pots as these may have mealy bugs or eggs on them.
  2. Female mealy bugs do not fly or crawl far, so infestations are usually brought in on an infested plant. Inspect new plants carefully before adding to an existing collection.
  3. Because higher populations of mealy bugs are more difficult to control it is important that you regularly monitor for mealy bugs. That way you can start control practices as soon as you detect mealybugs
  4. On a weekly basis check under the leaves for these crawlers and or egg masses
  5. Look for honeydew and sooty mold that is often present with mealy bugs. Sooty mold  is a fungus that grows on nutrients from insect “honeydew.” It makes the plant look terribly unsightly, as if the ashes from a nearby volcano have just drifted over. If the leaves become too heavily coated with sooty mold, photosynthesis will be reduced and it will decline in health.

Three Simple Home Remedies

If the infestation cannot be controlled by the treatment of two or three weekly applications then consider destroying the plant. Otherwise, the mealybugs will spread to other plants in your home.

  1. Easiest Way to Control – Water
    Water is the one that works well in the early stages of infestation, simply blast the bugs off with a strong force of water but at the same time taking care that the plants don’t get damaged. Mealy bugs can be dislodged with a steady stream of water.  In order to be effective repeat this process on daily basis until the mealy bugs are gone.
  2. Wash them with Dishwashing Liquid
    This remedy is cheaper and works well. For larger infestations, try spraying with a mixture of dishwashing liquid and water. Use equal parts of each and stir to mix rather than shaking to avoid excess foam. Spray all infected areas. The soap coats the mealy bugs and effectively suffocates them. It also breaks down their protective waxy layer. You can rub the leaves with a soft cloth after spraying to remove the bugs, or leave the solution overnight and then attack the weakened bugs with a strong jet of water.
  3. Get them Drunk – Rubbing Alcohol
    Take a cotton ball soaked in alcohol and spot treat areas of mealy bug infestation. Beating these insects can be a bit of a drawn out affair, but with the above tips you will be in control of these pests.