How to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants!

How to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants!

How to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants! Mealybugs are like an evil plague. They spread rapidly from plant to plant and it can be a nightmare to get rid of them.

What are Mealybugs?

There are approximately 275 species of these gross mealybugs throughout the United States. They are closely related to whiteflies, aphids and scale insects and are often found in the presence of ants. This is because ants feed on the disgusting honeydew that mealybugs produce. If you see a lot of ants around your plants be sure to thoroughly inspect them for mealybugs!

The mealybugs that you see on your plants are actually females.  Male mealy bugs can fly, are rarely seen, and live only a short period of time.

They do not feed, and their only job is to fertilize the female. Adult female mealybugs have soft bodies which range from 1/10 inch to ¼ inch in length and they are wingless. 

How to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants!

Mealybugs attach themselves to the plant where they will then secrete a powdery, waxy coating. This is used for protection and also to lay their eggs in. Adult female mealybugs lay 200-600 eggs depending on their species. These eggs are laid in cottony egg sacs over a 10 to 20 day period. Yuck, so gross!!  Luckily, the females die shortly after all eggs are laid. Unfortunately, they leave behind countless babies!

Hatching occurs within 1-3 weeks and the small yellow nymphs are active early on. Their movement is very little once a suitable feeding site is found. Nymphs also known as crawlers, secrete honeydew and the crawlers will also start to form the waxy coating over their body. They will develop into adults in about 1-2 months. Mealybugs pierce the surface of host plants to find a plant sap source and sucks plant nutrients from host. 

There can be several generations of mealybugs on your plants, and their life cycles can overlap. This means that once they get started the population can grow very quickly. They seriously are the DEVIL and I am getting goosebumps just thinking about them!!

Symptoms of Mealybug Damage

How to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants!
Mealybug leaf damage

Mealybug damage isn’t always significant at low pest levels. However, at higher numbers they can cause withering, curling, or yellowing leaves as the plant weakens. See the mealybug on the Pearle von Nurnberg to the left. It can also cause deformed leaves as shown below and can also cause stunted growth. 

If you see deformed leaves like these thoroughly inspect your plants, because there is a very good chance of a mealy bug infestation. If an infestation is left untreated, the plant will eventually die. Although it will usually take a long time for them to kill a plant.


Deformed succulent leaves from mealybugs
Deformed succulent leaves from mealybugs

The honeydew substance that mealybugs produce, promote growth of sooty black fungus on the tops of leaves, inhibiting photosynthesis. So keep an eye out for that as well.

Since the eggs and nymphs are so small, and it takes a while for the population to become large enough to be noticeable. Most people don’t discover mealybugs on their houseplants or succulents until after the population explodes.

As soon as you notice mealybugs on your succulents, IMMEDIATELY quarantine them far away from the rest of your precious plants. Depending on the severity of the mealybug infestation, you may even want to treat plants in the vicinity.  I do this just to be sure.

Mealybug / Pest Control

Dead succulent leaf with mealybugs present
Dead succulent leaf with mealybugs present

So how do we control the mealybugs? Well there are a couple different ways that I like to treat mealy bugs and other pests.

A few mealybugs can be treated with with a Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol, although be sure you do not miss any eggs or nymphs. 

Mealy bugs are soft bodied insects and their protection is the white cottony covers. Alcohol dissolves that, and kills them instantly.

Mealybugs before alcohol spray
Mealybugs before alcohol spray

See how much darker the mealy bugs become when they are sprayed with alcohol. For light infestations I suggest an effective spray mixture made up of 1 part water, 1 part 70% isopropyl alcohol and 1-2 drops of Dawn dish soap.

Mealybugs after alcohol spray
Mealybugs after alcohol spray

Some suggest spraying straight isopropyl alcohol, but it has damaged some of my succulents in the past, so I suggest diluting or using full strength with caution until you know what plants respond well to it. 

The combination of alcohol and soap is highly effective and works well in eradicating mealybugs. Since mealybugs are good at hiding in hard to reach places, you will most likely need to do several applications of the rubbing alcohol spray before they’re all killed. Even if you don’t see anymore mealybugs, it’s imperative to do a few more applications just in case there are some lingering bugs. 

If the plant looks healthy and you don’t see anymore mealybugs on it, then they are most likely gone. The alcohol can leave a thin white layer on the leaves of the succulents when the alcohol dries, so sometimes it’s better to schedule your treatment when it is time to water the plants so you can rinse it off with water.

My favorite Mealybug Killer

My new favorite solution that I am excited to share with you today has been working really well for me over the past 6 months.  I wanted to give it a thorough try before I shared it.. I have been using Safer Insecticidal Soap

I have tons of plants and it has been a challenge trying to control the EVIL mealy bugs. This works fast on heavy infestations. It kills soft-bodied insects like mealybugs as well as aphids, spider mites, scale, and whiteflies. It works by damaging their outer layer, causing dehydration and death within hours. It is gentle enough to spray directly onto your plants and has no stinky odor. It is definitely more gentle to my plants than alcohol. 

Another bonus is that it is compliant for use in organic gardening and it is safe to use around children and pets. The potassium salts of fatty acids are derived from the natural acids found in animal fats and plant oils. This solution breaks down into its natural elements within 7 to 10 days, leaving no residual impact on the environment. So that’s awesome!

I like to apply the soap in the early morning or late evening to reduce drying times for more effective pest control. I apply with a pest sprayer, but I also use it in a spray bottle as well.  I like to keep a spray bottle handy at all times! I purchase the concentrate version as it is less expensive, but you can certainly buy it in a premixed spray bottle.  With the concentrate I use 2.5 oz. for every gallon of water and that seems to work just fine. 

Another way to combat mealybugs is to use beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewing, or the famous Mealybug Destroyer. I personally have not tried this method, but I know that many commercial growers have had a lot of success using them. You can buy 100 mealybug destroyers online for about $50 and you will need 2-5 bugs per plant. 

The adults and larvae feed on all stages of mealybugs. These mealybug predators are most effective in severe infestations where food sources are readily available. When no mealybugs are available, they will feed on aphids, immature life stages of scale, mites, thrips, whitefly, and other soft bodied insects.

Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder that can kill mealybugs by puncturing their bodies. Get the food-grade version and sprinkle a generous amount on the soil. This will not only diminish the mealybugs but also avert future infestations. Diatomaceous earth is fossilized shells and is an organic insect killer. It works by penetrating insects’ exoskeleton and draining their tiny bodies of fluids but is completely harmless to human beings and pets.

A lot of people are really happy using Neem oil as it disrupts the growth and development of pests  insects and has repellent and antifeedant properties. I personally have not used it only because there are a lot of conflicting reports about bees and neem oil, and bees are SOOOO important.  Apparently the neem must be ingested in order for it to be toxic to bees, so definitely avoid spraying on flowers, and please be sure to follow instructions on the label. Best of all, it’s non-toxic to honey bees and many other beneficial insects.

Mix 1 oz. / gallon of water and spray every 7-14 days, as needed. One application of neem oil probably won’t kill all the mealybugs on the plant. Because mealybugs have a rapid lifecycle, you’ll need to routinely kill the newly-hatched bugs every week until all of the mealybugs have been killed off. 

Watch our full video on Mealybug eradication below or keep reading!

Mealybug Prevention

So ow do we avoid evil mealybugs altogether? 

Well the best thing you can do when you buy new plants or get succulent cuttings from a friend, is to thoroughly inspect them.  Never introduce a mealybug-infested plant to your precious garden or the infestation will spread to your other plants. 

If you find mealybugs on a new plant, pick them off, or squish them dead like I do and then dispose of them.  Next, do your alcohol or insecticidal soap treatments the moment you notice some infestations. Make sure it is completely free of bugs before you mix them with other plants.

It is also important not to overwater your plants. By doing so you are encouraging lots of soft spots for mealybugs  to munch on. And we certainly do not want that.

Also, avoid overfertilizing your plants.  High levels of nitrogen can cause mealybugs to reproduce faster. If your plants don’t need a nitrogen fertilizer, use a non-nitrogen fertilizer instead.

Are Mealybugs harmful to humans?

Another questions I get a lot is if mealybugs are harmful to humans. Mealybugs do not bite humans, although coming into contact with these little devils can sometimes cause skin irritation. The sticky residue mealybugs leave behind can be hard to remove from clothing. Wash your hands and clothing after coming into contact with mealybugs to avoid any potential impact.

Really the only harm mealybugs pose is to humans is their wallet!! Well and really their heart too, because nobody wants their precious plant babies dying from disgusting mealybugs.

Where do Mealybugs come from?

Mealybugs are tiny so they are easily undetected from a myriad of sources like potting soil, from other plants, fresh produce from the grocery store or farmers market. The Pink Hibiscus Mealybug, Maconellicoccus hirsutus, was first reported in Egypt in 1912. It was found in the Caribbean in 1990’s and it spread throughout the islands. By 1999 it was in Belize, Venezuela, Mexico and California.

How to Control Fungus gnats?

Another plant pest is Fungus gnats. You can water your plants with a mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide (with no additives) and four parts water. The solution will kill the larvae, but is harmless to your plant. The hydrogen peroxide will fizz and that will be music to your ears, as that is what kills the larvae and the eggs. I like to reapply the hydrogen peroxide solution once a week until any presence of fungus gnats are gone. You can also place those little yellow sticky traps near the infested plant.

I hope you learned something new today and I REALLY hope that IF you have an active mealybug infestation that you can eradicate it quickly with these tips!

We hope you enjoyed our post on how to get rid of MEALYBUGS and SAVE your plants!

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