Though a few mealybugs won’t do too much damage to your plants these sneaky little critters can wreak havoc on both indoor and outdoor gardens if allowed to breed unchecked. They hide beneath the leaves and petals of plants making them hard to spot. Many gardeners won’t know there’s an issue until it becomes a serious infestation. Learning how to get rid of mealybugs is a must to keep a few bugs from turning into a garden-destroying infestation.
How to Identify Mealybugs
Mealybugs don’t move very fast but their small size, strange appearance, and ability to hide makes them difficult to spot unless you know what to look for. They are small and oval-shaped, with soft, pink, segmented bodies and a white cottony wax covering. This makes them difficult to see since they can look like fuzz on your plants when you do happen to notice them.
In many cases, you’ll notice issues with the plant before spotting the bugs. When a mealybug feeds, they bite into the plant and suck the juices out. This causes wilting and yellowing of the leaves, nodes, and stems. Mealybugs also secrete a sticky residue called honeydew. This attracts other insects and can cause sooty mold fungus that is a sure sign of an infestation.
As mentioned above, a few mealybugs won’t cause lasting damage to your plant. However, they breed quickly so you should deal with them as soon as you notice them. Left alone, they will eventually kill their host plant.
Mealybugs are also a warm weather pest, so are more often found in warmer climates. In colder, northern areas, they are more commonly found indoors or in greenhouses than on outdoor plants. In warm climates, they are found all over, indoors and out.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs
Getting rid of mealybugs isn’t a difficult process unless the infestation has gotten too large to manage. If you are vigilant, you can catch them early and prevent long-term damage to your plants.
One method is to try a homemade insect spray made by using a small onion, a garlic bulb, and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Combine them in a blender to create a paste, then mix in a quart of water. Let it steep for about an hour, then strain the mixture using a cloth. Add a tablespoon of dish soap, mix it well, and then transfer it to a spray bottle.
Use this homemade spray on any plant that shows signs of mealybugs. Repeat this process as necessary until the mealybugs are gone. This spray can be used on both indoor and outdoor plants as needed.
One tip is to gently spray a small portion of their plant and wait to ensure there’s no adverse effects. This a good tip to follow whenever you introduce something new to any plant to minimize any potential damage.
Rubbing alcohol doesn’t just remove mealybugs, it also kills them by penetrating the waxy substance on the mealybug’s bodies. Using this method, you don’t need to worry about them coming back or leaving one plant for another. It is best to stick with 70% isopropyl alcohol to ensure it isn’t too harsh.
To use, soak a cotton ball with the alcohol and wipe the mealybugs with it, starting with a single leaf. If the plant can handle the alcohol without damage, you can continue with the other leaves.
You can also try a solution using the alcohol after the initial cotton ball wipe-down to get any bugs you may have missed. This solution contains a cup of rubbing alcohol, a few drops of your favorite dish soap, and a quart of water. Mix them and spray down any plant that shows signs of a mealybug infestation. Be sure to spray beneath the leaves, stems, and other hidden areas.
Though this isn’t an option for houseplants, you can try using a powerful stream of water with your outdoor plants. They do need to be rather sturdy to handle the heavy spray of water, so don’t try this on your more delicate plants. It is best for light infestations that have yet to spread throughout your entire yard or garden, though it can help reduce the population of larger infestations as well.
Take your garden hose and set it to a steady stream, then spray all of the plants that you are sure the mealybugs have made their home. You can also spray nearby plants to get rid of any bugs that have moved in but have yet to show signs of their presence.
Derived from the neem tree, neem oil is a natural insecticide and fungicide. This makes it a perfect substance to help with a mealybug problem as well as many other pests. It kills these insects, and many others, on contact, plus it can be absorbed by the plant as a natural pesticide, keeping the bugs from returning. It is also safe to use on all of your plants, including the edible ones, so you can still eat the fruit and vegetables you’ve used it to protect.
Introduce Natural Predators
Though a bit more involved, this is another method of natural pest control. Though mealybugs and ants get along famously, there are a few natural predators that you can add to your outdoor gardens to keep the mealybug infestations to a minimum.
The best one is the black ladybug or Cryptolaemus montrouzieri. These are considered to be mealybug destroyers, getting rid of mealybugs while ignoring your plants. You can also add some lacewings, predaceous midges, and spiders to your garden to reduce the mealybug population.
It is best to stick with natural solutions to any pest problem, but sometimes an infestation is too large to get a handle on. For these cases, it may be a good idea to consider a stronger insecticide to kill those mealybugs and get your garden back under control. Choose one that is approved for mealybugs and use it only as directed.
You should be extra careful when using these, especially if you have pets or small children that play in your yard. Many of these chemicals are toxic and can cause illness or even death if used improperly or ingested, so keep pets and little ones out of the garden when chemical pesticides are being used. You should also be wary about using them on edible plants, and make sure to follow all directions to avoid unpleasant side effects.
How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs
As far as pests go, mealybugs are some of the easier ones to deal with. If you can catch them early then the damage to your plants is likely to be minimal. Even for a large infestation it’s possible to deal with them without excessive damage to your plants. With the tips above, you have several easy ways to deal with these pests, and take back your garden.