How to Get Rid of Mealybugs From Your Houseplants

Do you love bringing plants into your home? While growing plants indoors can help create a relaxing and happy ambiance, it can also make your property vulnerable to some sneaky pests. Houseplants attract several bugs that  can damage and deface them. While most of these bugs don’t sting or bite, some species still pose a slight risk to humans. 

The Mealybug is an example  of one of the typical pests that indoor plants attract. This insect belongs to a group of small sap-sucking creatures that typically thrive in warmer climates. They can hide and nest in your plants without you realizing it. Addressing this issue early on is vital to the prevention of a mealy bug infestation. 

Because they love to sneak up on people, however, many plant lovers usually notice a mealybug problem a little too late. If you’re looking for mealybug information and treatment, you’ve come to the right resource. We’ll walk you through some of the best ways to get rid of mealybugs from your houseplants in this post. 

What Is a Mealybug?

Mealybugs belong to the family Pseudococcidae. They are a group of unarmored scale insects that grow in warmer climates. There are several species of mealybugs, and they all love to suck on indoor plants. These plant-sucking pests are generally slow-moving once they find a plant that’s suitable for feeding. They can infest succulents and almost any houseplants in homes, greenhouses, and businesses. 

What do these mealybugs and a mealybug infestation look like? How do they grow and reproduce? What kind of habitat do these pests need, and what do they eat? Get to know these insects and how to avoid an infestation by reading on.

Identification 

While male and female mealybugs look alike as immatures, they look different when they become adults. Adult males are rarely seen and they have wings resembling small flies. Meanwhile, adult female mealybugs have no wings and crawl from plant to plant. Generally, you can identify mealybug species by their oval bodies, distinct body segmentation, and cottony sacs. 

Life Cycle

The life cycle of both male and female mealybugs can vary depending on the species. The complete life cycle of mealybugs can take six weeks to two months, depending on the species and environmental conditions like temperature and humidity. 

Male mealybugs develop into winged adults and seek females to mate with. They exist solely to fertilize the females, and they only live a day or two. Female mealybugs die shortly after laying eggs.

Adult female mealybugs typically lay from 200 to 600 eggs in a cottony-like ovisac. Some mealybug species, however, give birth to live young crawlers. After several weeks, they grow into adults.

Habitat

Mealybugs are more common in warm climates, but they also thrive in greenhouses. You can usually find these pests at the base of stems on houseplants and other indoor plants. It’s easy to overlook them in small numbers as they’re inclined to squeeze into the plants’ crevices.

They become more noticeable after the first batch of eggs hatch. You can see them in all sizes crawling around or feeding on the plants’ surfaces, much like aphids.

Food Sources

Mealybugs prefer different feeding sites and host plants, depending on the species. While some feed on the roots of pot plants, others feed on fruits, flowers, or seed heads. Just like whiteflies and aphids, they insert their straw-like mouthparts into the plant tissue and suck the sap.

What Are the Common Causes of Mealybugs?

Like any other plant bug, mealybugs can come from anywhere. There are, however, specific factors that cause them to show up and create an infestation. One of them is the plant juices of certain plants they prefer to feed on. To show you what this means, mealybug species are heavily attracted to the following plants: 

Fruits

Mealybugs love to seek food on the stem end of some fruits, such as apples, plums, pears, and grapevines. Some species of mealybugs prefer to settle under citrus, making it their primary host plant, especially during late spring. Growing these fruits in your garden can cause mealybugs to appear. 

Ornamental Plants

Cactus, fuchsia, hibiscus, jasmine, and succulents are some of the ornamental plants susceptible to mealybugs. Introducing one of these as new plants in your greenhouse or garden will likely draw the presence of mealybugs.

Houseplants

Mealybugs are also attracted to most houseplants, such as ferns, orchids, and palms. Putting these houseplants outside during the summer can cause mealybugs to appear and infest your collection, especially if they’re stressed and under-potted.

Greenhouse Plants

The warm and humid environment of greenhouses is most appealing to various species of mealybugs. This is why greenhouse plants are particularly vulnerable to a mealybug infestation. Ants can also carry these pests into the greenhouse and other interiorscape environments. 

Clear Indicators of A Mealybug Infestation

Early detection of mealybugs is essential to control these pests and keep them from causing any serious damage to your houseplants via an infestation . However, these species tend to hide in protected areas, making them rather challenging to notice. Often, an infestation already exists and spreads before you can notice it. These indicators may help you spot mealybugs before they become hard to control:

Cottony / Waxy Deposits

Mealybug species leave a white and waxy deposit on plants that resemble a cotton ball. This residue can either be their egg sacs or the mealybugs themselves. In most cases, these white waxy coatings are the first sign of their presence.

Moulds

Mealybugs feed on sugary plant juices. Because of this, they excrete a sweet and sticky liquid called honeydew. It causes sooty mold fungi to grow on plant parts, causing infected plants to turn black. When these molds are present on any of your plants or surfaces in the landscape, it’s a sign that a population of sap-sucking-insects like mealybugs are present.

Dying leaves

Since mealybugs suck sap from plant phloem, they tend to penetrate the plant leaves and reduce their quality while feeding on them. If you spot yellowing and dying leaves, it’s a clear sign that mealybugs are infesting your houseplants and indoor plants.

Stunting

Some mealybugs attack the roots of houseplants and indoor plants. It’s where they usually live in association with fungi. As a result, high populations of these pests feeding on plant roots often lead to distorted or stunted plant growth.

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs? 

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Seeing your houseplants and plant leaves covered with white spots or mildew may indicate that they’re under a mealybug attack. But you don’t have to panic about this. Once you identified you have these plant pests, here are some mealybug treatment and management options you can try:

Biological Control

Introducing the natural predators of mealybugs into their environment, such as ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and lacewings, is one way to keep them under control. The presence of ants and using broad-spectrum pesticides, however, can kill these natural enemies, causing a bigger mealybug problem.

If you use this method, you must consult with someone knowledgeable about biological control. This way, you can ensure you can get the right predator for these mealybugs. 

Non-Chemical Home Remedies

There are several DIY home remedies that can help you eliminate mealybugs without harming your houseplants. Here are examples:

  • Get rid of the insects by handpicking or pruning them out from affected plants.
  • Dip the infested plants in clean water.
  • Remove heavily infested plants from the collective.
  • Eliminate ants so they can’t protect honey-producing pests like mealybugs from predators and parasites.
  • Consider growing plant species that are not prone to mealybug attacks for a certain period of time. 

Chemical Treatment

Removing mealybugs through biological control and non-chemical methods may not always be feasible, especially if the mealybug infestation is already full-blown. If these don’t work, you can use the following chemical treatments to kill the pests directly:

  • Spray the infested plants with insecticidal soap and water solution. 
  • Apply rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol via a spray bottle on infested leaves or use a cotton swab but ensure that you do a quick spot test first to avoid further damage. 
  • Use neem oil or horticultural oil to suppress the population of mealybug species.

Pro Tip

Mealybugs love to eat new growth on succulents. But if you can spot them early, you can kill them with just one round of 70% alcohol spray.

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Best Strategies to Prevent Mealybugs Infestation

As with most pests, implementing preventive measures is the best way to control mealybugs. Keeping your plants healthy can help keep these pests from causing any damage. But it doesn’t mean they’re free from any mealybug attack. 

The following strategies can help prevent mealybug infestations that are damaging to your houseplants: 

Be Mindful of Plant Selection

Avoidance is the best way to prevent mealybugs from infesting your plants. If possible, select plants that don’t typically attract these pests. Some of these bugs tend to stay away from certain plants with naturally toxic leaves.

Inspect Plants Regularly

Paying special attention to your plants, especially the newly grown ones, can help you detect these pests early and prevent infestation. Make sure to inspect them, particularly on the undersides of leaves and around leaf joints where mealybugs like to hide. It’s also best to check all new plant materials and quarantine them for days to ensure they don’t carry any mealybug species.

Avoid Overfeeding and Overwatering

High nitrogen levels and soft growth in indoor plants are attractive to various mealybug species. This only happens if the plants have too much water and fertilizer. Avoid overfeeding and overwatering to make the plants less susceptible to these pests. 

Control Indoor Temperature

Mealybugs prefer hot and humid temperatures. If your plants can tolerate colder temperatures, you can drop your indoor temperature to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This can keep these sneaky pests away from your houseplants. Because they’re soft-bodied pests, they cannot survive extended periods of cold. This is why it’s rare to see mealybugs during winter months.

For Mealybugs Pest Control and Management, Contact PestGuide Today! 

Dealing with a mealybug problem can be frustrating. These houseplant pests seem harmless, but they can create problems once they become a full-blown mealybug infestation. It’s always best to be proactive when controlling and managing pests. PestGuide is here to assist you with any of your pest control and management needs Reach out to us today and speak with one of our pest control professionals for free.

Let PestGuide handle a mealybug infestation in your home. Call us today to discuss the right mealybug treatment plan for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Mealybugs are generally not harmful to humans as they don’t bite or sting. Although on rare occasions, those mealybug species that prefer grapevines can spread viruses. Coming into contact with these pests can sometimes irritate the skin. To avoid potential impact, wash your hands and clothing if you touch them.

Don’t expect mealybugs to disappear on their own. Note that they can quickly spread, so you don’t want to risk neglecting them. Even after a few treatments, these species won’t go away.

It can take weeks or months to eliminate the entire population of mealybugs, which also involves constant vigilance. Diligently repeat the methods to capture all developing life stages of mealybugs – from eggs to nymphs to adults.

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