Mealybugs are tiny, white, soft-bodied insects that resemble cotton and suck the sap from plants, causing leaves to yellow and fall off. They also secrete honeydew, which attracts ants and sooty molds. If you notice that some of your houseplants are declining, seemingly without reason, the culprit might be mealybugs. Many houseplants fall victim to the effects of mealybugs, including pothos, ferns, philodendron, jade plants, and more.
If you’ve spotted a few mealybugs on your beloved plant babies, it is best to act quickly and remove the issue. Not sure where to start? Learn all about the best methods for getting rid of mealybugs, along with the tools you’ll need, and even tips for preventing them in the future.
Tools You’ll Need
Before you can handle mealybugs, you’ll need to compile a few essential tools. Since there are a number of different methods, the items you’ll need may vary.
- Kitchen sink sprayer or garden hose
- Rubbing alcohol
- Cotton swab, pad, or cloth
- Insecticidal soap or horticultural oil
- Spray bottle
- Pruning shears
- Clean pot
- Well-draining soil
- Annual herbs
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
While the first step in dealing with a mealybug infestation is isolating affected plants, there are a number of different things you can do to target the issue. Learn all about the best methods to handle these pesky pests.
If you’ve spotted only a few mealybugs on one of your plants, the infestation is likely very small. You can remove them using the high pressure setting on a sink sprayer or garden hose, being careful to not damage the leaves. This should dislodge the bugs, clearing them from your plant. If the issue persists, try one of the methods listed below.
Another way to remove and kill mealybugs is to wipe them away with rubbing alcohol. You can either choose to spray a mixture of 10 percent rubbing alcohol and 90 percent water directly onto the insects, or use the same mixture on a cloth and wipe the leaves. Repeat weekly until the infestation is gone, or turn to a different method.
Soaps and detergents disrupt the protective wax coating and cell membrane of mealybugs, effectively killing them. You can easily find commercial insecticidal soaps online or in garden centers, or make your own by mixing 1 quart of water with 1 tablespoon of dish soap. Pour into a spray bottle and spray all over your plant’s leaves and soil, ensuring you coat the underside of the foliage as well.
Another way to smother mealybugs is to spray them with a horticultural oil, such as neem oil. Neem oil is great because it’s an organic product and is used as a pesticide, insecticide, fungicide, and an herbicide. Dilute the product by mixing 1 teaspoon of neem oil, 1 teaspoon of mild dish soap, and 2 cups of water. Fill a spray bottle and spritz the plant, saturating the leaves and the soil.
Repeat either method weekly until the bugs are gone. Remember to test the treatment on the underside of a small portion of a healthy leaf before using. You should do this because some plants may be sensitive and react poorly.
Pro Tip: Soaps and oils are best applied in early morning or late evening when the pests are less active. Remember to keep your plants in a cool, dark location to ensure the sprays are effective and the plant isn’t damaged.
If the more natural methods listed above don’t work, you may need to resort to insecticide. Imidacloprid is an insecticide that you apply to the soil that disrupts the nervous system of the insect, leading to paralysis and death. Essentially, the bugs ingest the product when they suck the sap from your plant. This method takes about three to seven days to work. Do not use more than once in a 16 week period.
Pruning and Repotting
If your plant is too infested and mostly dead, you can still try to save it. You should spray or wipe away any bugs and treat with insecticidal soap to ensure the leaves and stems are free of pests. Then, prune away dead foliage using sharp, clean pruning shears. Remove any old soil with your sink soaker or garden hose.
Repot the plant in fresh, well-draining soil and a clean pot.
When it comes to preventing mealybugs, and really any houseplant pest, such as aphids and gnats, there are lots of different things you can do! When you bring a new plant home, isolate it for two weeks. Keep an eye on it, watching for any signs of health decline and insects.
In the same token, if you do spot any problems with your plants, immediately relocate them so that they aren’t near other plants. You can apply neem oil as a preventative measure to other plants in your home to ensure they don’t become infested.
Companion planting your houseplants with annual herbs such as basil, dill, and parsley will attract green lacewings, a beneficial insect that kills mealybugs.
No More Mealybugs!
While mealybugs can damage your plants, you can use these methods alone or in conjunction with one another, depending on how bad of an infestation you’re dealing with, to get rid of them. And once they’re gone, make sure they are gone for good by implementing protective measures, such as isolating new plants, regular inspections, and companion planting.
Do you have any tips for handling a mealybug infestation? Share in the comments below!