Mealybugs are one of those pesky insects that are accused of causing mayhem in gardens and greenhouses. They are equally infamous for their tyranny on indoor plants, ranging from green vines to flowers and ornamentals.
Mealybugs are prominent in places with warmer climates and love the snug environment in most homes. Like many other houseplant pests, they feed by drawing sap out of the plant tissue. They also tend to favor new growth, with some species attacking the roots as well. At low levels of population, they might not inflict significant damage. However, you need to keep a close eye on them before they swell into large numbers.
How to Identify signs of a Mealybug Infestation?
If you take a close look and come across a white cottony clump on the leaves, stems, or flowers of your plants, it’s most likely to be a mealybug colony.
Also called “woolly aphids”, these soft-bodied bugs are usually covered with a white or gray mealy wax (hence their name). However, small nymphs are light yellow and lack a waxy coating.
The only mealybugs that dwell on plants are the females. They are distinctly segmented and have long-sucking mouthparts. But they’re still really small; look out for signs of sooty fungus growth on the plants.
Feeding on plant juices results in a sweet and slimy secretion called honeydew. So you may notice industrious ant communities making their way onto your plants as well!
What damage is caused by Mealybugs?
These annoying white bugs pierce their way into leaves and stems, removing the plant’s essential fluids. Gradually, it leads to the yellowing and wilting of leaves in foliage plants. You may also witness reduced plant vigor and stunted growth in young ones. In flowering plants, they can cause discoloration of petals and new buds to prematurely fall off. If the infestation becomes severe, the honeydew produced by the bugs will aid the development of harmful sooty molds. That’s another storehouse of pest trouble!
How to get rid of Mealy Bugs?
When dealing with a small population it is usually easy. But Mealybug infestations are not to be taken lightly.
Here’s what you should do to foil a heavy outbreak and contain the spread in its early stages:
1. Wash the pests away with a steady stream of water. Make sure you remove any suspicious white mass attached to the leaves or stems.
2. Put on some garden gloves and wipe off the pests using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. Repeat this treatment until they’re completely gone.
For stronger infestations, we recommend the following measures to restore normalcy in your garden:
Let beneficial insects rescue you from your misery! Unleash lady beetles, lacewings, and mealybug destroyers on them, and watch the pest population dwindle drastically!
Use a safe insecticidal soap or natural oil such as neem on the affected parts. This will deter the growth of sooty molds and discourage future infestations. Plus it’s a non-toxic solution, so it won’t drive away the beneficial insects!
However, if the infestation becomes large-scale despite employing the best control methods, you may need to:
Prune leaves, branches, or any other heavily damaged areas and immediately trash them. Consider destroying the plant before the mealybugs spread to other plants in your home.
Which plants are vulnerable to mealybugs?
Mealybugs are a nuisance for indoor as well as outdoor houseplants. They’re known to feast on a variety of annuals, vines, flowers, and even larger foliage plants. If you have any of the following green or colorful buddies at home, you’ll need to be a little extra cautious.
- African violets
- Schefflera or the Umbrella plant
- Cactus and Succulents
- Pothos plants
(This is not an exhaustive list since mealybugs are versatile pests and tend to attack a wide host of plants)
Keep growing your plant (and pest) knowledge
Mealybugs don’t necessarily mean impending disaster for your plants, but you’ll always want to avoid a full-blown outbreak. Combating mealybugs can often turn out to be a painstaking process for you (and your plants). Rather, imbibe healthy practices and hone your defenses to keep them away for good!
Being a plant parent comes with its own set of joys and responsibilities. While plants ensure that your home looks and feels fresher and brighter, you must also ensure that they are protected from such invasive pests.