Mealybugs are some of the most devastating pests that you can ever deal with as far as backyard gardening or indoor plant care is concerned. These clever little bastards have no regard for showing themselves straightforwardly.
They are known for their behavior of hiding, especially when you are cleaning, watering your plants, or trying to exterminate them. For the most part, they hide and then come in for the sneaky attack.
They normally appear as a white cottony substance on the plants and can very easily be overlooked. Luckily, Mealybugs can be prevented. Now, preventing them is one thing, but getting rid of them? That’s can be a great challenge, but it is certainly not impossible. But before we go down the rabbit hole of this situation,
Are Mealybugs harmful to plants?
Mealybugs are very harmful to the health of indoor and outdoor plants. Once they have settled on a plant, the mealybugs feed on the plant by sucking its juices. This results in the weakening of the plant, which leads to the yellowing of the plant’s leaves and eventually the plant dies from Mealybug infestation. The yellowing of the plants’ leaves is also associated with wilting, which then causes the leaves to drop from the plant. Besides sucking on the plant juices, the mealybugs also produce a substance called honeydew. This substance is very sticky and it attracts feeding ants while increasing mold growth on the plants. If the mealybug infestation is not eradicated effectively or in time, the plant can die.
Now that we have looked at how harmful mealybugs are, let’s explore more information about what mealybugs are, how they look like, and how they can be eliminated.
What are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are defined as scale insects that suck the sap out of the leaves and stems of plants. A heavy infestation of mealybugs can result in a stunted or deformed leaf growth, yellowing of the leaves, and even leaf drop.
These little white bugs are most frequently found on newly-growing plants, along the veins of leaves, and at the leaf joints. Generally, they can be found pretty much anywhere on the plant.
As we said earlier, if a mealybug infestation is left untreated, the plant will eventually die but it will take a long time before the mealybugs kill your plant.
What do Mealybugs look like?
Mealybugs commonly look like white fuzzy stuff on plants leaves and stems. They are mostly described as tiny white bugs on houseplants because of their appearance. However, some mealybugs can also appear brown or cream-colored. Also, they tend to be a bit waxy, particularly in their immature stages.
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The mealybug infestation is very hard to notice, mainly because the appearance of the mealybugs can lead to some confusion. When you look at them for the first time, you will notice that they don’t look like insects, thus why they are commonly mistaken for mildew rather than actual bugs.
But, if the white bugs on your houseplants seem to look more like tiny whiteflies, then you may be dealing with whiteflies and not mealybugs.
Mealybug life cycle
According to studies, the full mealybug life cycle is somewhere between 7 and 10 weeks. During these weeks, it can take a week for the eggs to hatch into nymphs. After they hatch, it will take them about 6 to 9 weeks before the nymphs finally mature into adults- that’s about 3 months.
But so many mealybugs can lay hundreds of eggs at a time so there can be several generations of mealybugs on the plants, which means their life cycles can overlap. This can easily explain why the population grows very quickly once mealybugs start.
But it can take a longer time for the population to become large enough for you to notice, especially since the eggs and nymphs are so small. As such, you are likely not to discover the mealybug on your plants until the population explodes.
Where do Mealybugs come from?
Because mealybugs are sneaky, you may be asking how they even got on your houseplant in the first place. Mealybugs can come from pretty much anywhere. The same can be said about other bugs.
Here’s an outline on the possible triggers of a mealybug infestation.
- Bringing a new plant in your home
- Using potting soil that is polluted
- Placing houseplants outside during the hot summer
- Fresh fruits or vegetables brought in from the garden
Mealybugs can also come from fresh produce or flowers that you bought from a grocery store, which is what make mealybugs so unpredictable.
Mealybugs produce a substance commonly known as honeydew, which is very sticky. As a result, ants are attracted to the honeydew.
How to get rid of mealybugs on houseplants
As with any plant pest infestation, you should begin mealybug treatment immediately after you first notice a mealybug problem.
At first glance, the first step you are required to do is to quarantine the affected plant(s). In this way, you are preventing mealybugs from spreading to your other houseplants.
After you quarantine the affects plants, you should take the necessary measures of killing the mealybugs on those plants. It is recommended that you use organic pest control products.
That being said, you should stay far away as you can from using synthetic pesticides, because mealybugs are resistant to most chemical pesticides.
In fact, mealybugs also have the ability to develop a resistance to any chemicals that they are exposed to on a regular basis for a longer period of time.
So, avoid the toxic chemicals. Instead, you should use the safer pest control methods that have been explained below, so keep scrolling.
Treating mealybugs on plants
One of the most effective way of kill mealybugs on houseplants is by touching them with a cotton swab that has been soaked in rubbing alcohol.
The rubbing alcohol kills the bugs immediately on contact, but it must come in direct contact with the mealybugs. So if they are hiding, the rubbing alcohol won’t have an effect on them.
Because of this, make sure to inspect underneath the leaves, around the leaf joints, in folds and at the base of the plant when you are treating your plant. You are likely to spot a lot of them hiding there.
Also, it is recommended that you brush away a little dirt in order to check the base of the stem (where the plant sticks out of the soil) as this is a very common hiding spot for mealybugs.
As we mentioned before, these pests can hide around the edges of the pot, as well as on the bottom. So those are the places that you should check out, and be sure to be thorough with your inspection.
When you do start to treat your plants, consider doing it regularly and kill any bugs you see. It normally takes several treatments before the problem is completely dealt with. For the most, it will take about a week, if you are treating your plants daily.
How to prevent a mealybug infestation
While mealybugs don’t really appear to move at all, they can actually crawl around on a plant and even spread to other houseplants in the area.
But, I think the worst part about mealybugs is that are able to leave the houseplant to hide, and can even live for a long time in gaps without having a host plant, only to resurface and surprise you again.
There are a couple of things that you can do to prevent mealybugs from ever coming back to re-infest on your plants.
From what we know, mealy bugs are capable of living in the soil of a houseplant, so if a plant is overwhelmed by periodic infestations, you could consider removing the top inch of the dirt from the pot and replacing it with fresh soil. Also, make sure that the fresh soil is free from pollutions as this might affect your plant.
So, first wash the inside rim of the pot after you have removed the layer of soil. Wash this using soapy water and/or a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol ensure that all those sneaky bugs have been killed. Then you can add the fresh potting soil.
So, remove the plant from the area. Make sure that you have checked around the outside lip and inside edges of the pot and tray, and also the bottom of the pot. These areas should be cleaned
After cleaning your plant, move it to a new location in order to get it away from any mealybugs that might be hiding, particularly where the plant was sitting before.
I won’t lie to you, mealybugs are definitely going to keep you busy for a while. But, at least they are treatable and preventable, right?
The toughest part about mealybugs is that they are clever. They have the capability of hiding when they sense a cleaning routine coming their way. This can make the whole process of cleaning to be a little harder than usual. If you follow all the instructions and courses of actions that have been written in this post, you will surely be fine.