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Mealybugs are one of the most common pests on house plants. If you have found mealybugs on your plant it's important that you take actions. They multiply quickly and can spread onto other plants if left untreated.
There are several different species of mealybugs commonly found on house plants. They are all oval shaped and covered in a white, cotton like waxy substance to some degree.
SYMPTOMS & IDENTIFICATION
There are a few tell-tale signs to look out for when checking your plant for mealybugs. Luckily, these symptoms are typically easy to recognize as they are quite distinctive. And although individual mealybugs are small, they tend to gather in clusters, which makes them easier to spot. Typical signs of mealybugs:
Cotton-like, white wax on the plant
Sticky sap on leaves and branches of your plant or on surfaces around your plant
Yellowing spots and leaves
Black sooty mold
On outdoor plants - Ants can be seen on plants infested with mealybugs, aphids, white flies or scale insects
Many can find it hard to tell the difference between mealybugs, mold, other pests or even parts of the plant, such as the fluffy wool found on some cacti species. One way to tell them apart is that mealybugs are easy to remove with e.g. your finger nail or a q-tip, don't leave any marks or dents on the plant.
Mealybugs can be difficult and very time-consuming to get rid of. This is the treatment we recommend:
1. Isolate the affected plant
Mealybugs can easily spread to other plants by crawling between them, particularly if there is overlap of branches and leaves.
2. Fight mechanically by removing all visible bugs and wax clusters
The waxy ‘fluff’ that surrounds mealybug eggs can be relatively waterproof, so it’s important to clean your plant very thoroughly to try and remove all residue.
Shower your plant with a jet of water to dislodge any crawlers on the plant
Make sure to wipe windows and wall surfaces where the plant have been placed. Sometimes mealybugs can hide in crevices of the pot too. Especially under the edges of nursery pots. So it's wise to examine the pots as well.
3. Treat your plant - Note that some plants, especially their flowers, can react badly to pesticides or soaps so test it on a smaller area of the plant first and treat your plant carefully. Always avoid direct sunlight after application as it can burn the plant.
Treat your plant with a pesticide or insecticidal soap. There are both contact and systemic treatments that can be used against mealybugs.
4. Keep treating your plants
Repeat treatment with the pesticide, soap, or solution of your choice, about once a week for the upcoming 4-6 weeks. Then repeat it about once a month for a couple of months. After that you can repeat the treatment if necessary.
Continue to remove any visible mealy bugs on your plant between the treatments to speed up the process. You can squash them with your fingers, shower the plant with a jet of water or using q-tips to remove them one by one.
5. Consider using biological pest control Biological control can help to reduce an infestation but should be used in combination with other treatments for the best effect.
The mealybug ladybug or ladybug destroyer, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri - Both its larvae and the adults feed on all stages of mealybugs But be aware that the larvae of C.montrouzieri is often mistaken for mealybugs as they looks very similar to its prey.
Note that these beneficial insects will also be harmed by pesticides used on the plant. Add them when you're done with the repeated initial weekly treatments or you think the mealybugs are mostly gone on the plant.
HOW CAN I PREVENT THIS IN THE FUTURE?
The best way to avoid a Mealybug infestation is to act preventatively. Always examine plants before bringing them home. Monitor your plant’s health and check it regularly for early symptoms. Periodic visual inspections are important as these pests like to hide in the small folds and crevices of your plant. Mealybugs also like soft, new growth as well as weak plants.
QUESTIONS ABOUT MEALYBUGS
HOW BIG ARE THEY? Adult Mealybugs are relatively small - between 1/20 to 1/5 of an inch (1 - 4 mm) long with soft, waxy bodies. The male mealybug looks quite different compared to the females: they have wings but are usually only seen around heavily infested house plants. The males don't feed on your plant so you don't need to worry about them.
WHAT DO THEY EAT? Mealybugs feed on the sap of the plant.
ARE MY PLANTS AT RISK? They attack a wide range of different houseplants, so it’s a good idea to quarantine newly-purchased plants if possible to avoid introducing them into your collection.