Plants 101

Bug Off: All About Mealybugs

If you noticed some bugs around your plant, chances are you want to get rid of them. You’re in luck. Our Bug Off series takes a closer look at common houseplant pests, how to get rid of them and how to prevent future breakouts.

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Why Does My Plant Have Pests?

It’s important to note that bugs are totally normal. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or lack of care on your part. You’re doing fine. It’s just nature taking its course. Bugs can remain invisible to us, even when we inspect our plants before purchasing. You may want to spray your plants with a mild, unscented soap-based cleanser, hort oil, or insecticidal soap to kill any pests that may be hiding. Check in on plants from time to time for pests and make sure they aren't under stress, lacking light, have too much water or not enough, and that the humidity levels are ideal — any one of these or a combination of factors can be the perfect mix for pests to emerge.

What Are Mealybugs?

Ever see white powdery material on your plants that seems to appear out of nowhere? It looks like fungus but it might be mealybug colonies.

Mealybugs are Hemiptera insects that are white and produce a white protective powder to nest in. They like nesting in protected areas of the plant, where branches join or on the undersides of leaves. The complete life cycle of mealybugs is about 10 weeks-12 weeks to hatch from eggs, and about 6-8 weeks to mature and even faster if it’s hot and humid.

These insects are like tiny vampires, although they can’t physically bite. They suck the life out of plants, tapping the vascular system and essentially draining the plant of liquids and nutrients. If your plant looks wilted and you’ve tried watering more frequently with no luck, it may a sign of mealybugs. Leaves turning yellow is another indicator, as leaves are starved of nutrients and water. Untreated, mealybugs will kill your plant.

These insects are like tiny vampires, although they can’t physically bite. They suck the life out of plants.

How To Get Rid of Mealybugs

Mealybugs are easy to deal with. They are susceptible to most pesticides, horticultural oils, insecticidal soaps, alcohol wipes, and systemic pesticides.

First, give the plant a wipe down, taking care to wipe off that cottony-looking substance. You can even use q-tips and rubbing alcohol to spot-treat any that are visible first. Mealybug powder actually repels pesticides and protects the eggs and wiping clears them way, making pesticides more effective. Insufficient wiping may result in re-infestation. Next, you can spray down the plant with neem oil or an insectidicial soap of your choosing that lists Mealybugs as a target pest.

Spray the entire plant until run-off, focusing on the undersides of the leaves and every possible nook and cranny where mealybugs can hide. Unthorough spraying can lead to re-infestation. Reassess and reapply once every 3 days for about 9 days (that's 3 separate spray sessions). After that, your mealybugs should be out of sight.

Plant pests are annoying but harmless to humans and pets. They are relatively easy to be rid of with a few simple solutions. When treating your plant for pests, be sure to give them time to recover. Be sure to check out our articles on how to get rid of fungus gnats, spider mites, and scale.


Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people — a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of Plant Experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.