How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Your Houseplants

  • 5 min read

Managing Mealybugs on Houseplants

It’s never fun to see pests around your houseplants, but as a part of nature, it’s not always your fault that aphids find comfort under the leaves of your beloved plant babies. While some insects, like praying mantises or bees and hornets, are welcome guests among the leafy, bugs typically aren’t welcome in the home. Mealybugs are one of the most unwelcome of these pests and are especially common indoors where friendly pest-eating bugs aren’t allowed. So, how do we deal with them?

What are Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are small, white or pink insects that grow between 1⁄20 of an inch to ⅕ of an inch long. They are oblong like pill bugs and have long, waxy filaments extending from their backsides. Mealybugs are covered in a white or grey-toned wax similar to succulent farina. They are often mistaken for wooly aphids or white scales. Although they are related to scale, mealybugs keep their legs throughout their lifespan.

mealy bugs on houseplant, how to get rid of mealy bugs

Mealy bugs are oblong like pill bugs and have long, waxy filaments extending from their backsides.
Photo by Vinisouza128

Mealybugs like to eat sap that appears from new growth in your plants. This sap is high in sugar, so mealybug waste (often called honeydew) also tends to contain lots of sugar. These sugars attract other pests like ants and aphids and promote fungal infections like sooty mold. Some mealybugs also spread toxins to plants through venom. 

[Signs of Mealybugs]Signs of Mealybugs on Your Plants

Mealybugs gather around stem tips, where a plant’s leaves meet the stem. The most common sign of mealybugs on your plants is the bugs themselves. Although small, they have a cottony, waxy appearance and will look like white, fuzzy dots on your plants. Other signs of mealybugs include

  • Sooty Mold, a common byproduct of mealybugs’ waste. It looks black and powdery.
  • Mealybug eggs on the plant. These eggs are yellow or white and have a powdery coating around them. 
  • Plant leaves yellowing or falling.
  • Wilting, discoloration, or stunted growth.
how to get rid of mealybugs, mealy bugs on houseplant,

Mealybugs gather around stem tips, where a plant’s leaves meet the stem.
Photo by Bosca78

[Why Are There Mealybugs?]Why Are There Mealybugs on My Plant?

Mealybugs most often appear when your plant is overwatered. Excess water in your soil makes an excellent breeding ground for pests, and high humidity can attract mealybugs to your plants with the scent of fresh sap. Some houseplants, like succulents, do poorly in humid conditions and with poor drainage. Other plants, however, prefer to sit in moist soil. So, what’s the best way to prevent them in the first place?

Ultimately, you’ll want to prevent your houseplants from being overwatered in the first place. Ensure your plants have well-draining soil and are kept in a pot with drainage holes. Ensure they’re getting plenty of sunlight, and don’t water them unless the soil is dry to the touch (unless instructed otherwise). When you finish watering your plants, make sure excess water drains entirely from your pot before putting the plant away. The time between watering will change depending on your environment’s light level, humidity, and whether or not your plant is dormant.

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

You’ve narrowed down the options, and it turns out that you’ve got mealybugs on your houseplant. First thing’s first, don’t worry! The sooner you catch a mealybug infestation, the more likely you are to save your plant. Immediate action is key.

Overall, there are a few ways to treat mealybugs without using expensive pesticides:

Rubbing Alcohol Treatment

Rubbing alcohol is a godsend when removing pests. It kills most bugs instantly, mealybugs included, but it can be harmful to sensitive plants. Using a cotton ball or cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol, rub the areas where you’ve seen mealybugs (and on the mealybugs) to kill them. You can also use rubbing alcohol to kill mealybug eggs and larvae. To ensure your plant isn’t damaged by the rubbing alcohol, use a 50/50 mixture with water to dilute your solution. Always test your solution by putting a little on a plant leaf before treatment to ensure you aren’t hurting your plant.

rubbing alcohol to treat mealybugs on houseplant, rubbing alcohol treatment

Rubbing alcohol is a godsend when removing pests.
Photo by freemixer

Hydrogen Peroxide Treatment

Just like rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide is a great way to treat pests, especially on more sensitive plants. A 50/50 hydrogen peroxide solution is especially effective for killing pest eggs, and you can spray it over your plant’s soil to kill any eggs hidden in the dirt.

Neem Oil Treatment

Neem oil acts as a natural insect repellent and can stunt an insect’s growth, development, and ability to feed. It’s much gentler than rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide, but you may need to use it in larger amounts to eliminate an infestation. To treat mealybugs with neem oil, create a neem oil solution by diluting the oil with water and mixing well. For best results, shake it in a spray bottle. Then, spray the neem oil solution directly onto your plant’s leaves. For succulents, use a cotton swab dipped in neem oil to spot-treat areas with mealybugs.

Neem Oil To Treat MealyBugs On Houseplants

Spray the neem oil solution directly onto your plant’s leaves.
Photo by bluecinema

Physically Removing the Bugs

A sharp stream of water or some accuracy with tweezers can help remove any mealybugs crawling on your plants. This solution is temporary, as it won’t remove eggs or honeydew from your plant. 

Get Some Help

If you don’t mind a few ladybugs or praying mantises lurking around your home, getting expert help from other insects is a viable option to control mealybug infestations. Although this solution isn’t the best indoors, it’s an excellent option for anyone with a greenhouse or patio that needs some pest control. You can order mantises and ladybugs online or find them in your local garden store.

Treating Mealybug Infections

Ultimately, you will need to fully treat your houseplant to get rid of the mealybugs once and for all. To do so, you’ll want to initially treat your plant, then repot it in a fresh pot following these steps:

Step 1: Quarantine Your Plants

After initial treatment, seclude your houseplant from any other plants you have to prevent infestations from spreading. Clean the area where you keep your plant to ensure mealybugs aren’t lurking around your furniture.

seclude your new houseplant to prevent pests to spread

Seclude your houseplant from any other plants you have to prevent infestations from spreading.
Photo by TravelCouples

Step 2: Clean Your Pot

Before repotting, disinfect your gardening tools and your plant’s new pot. You can use hydrogen peroxide or regular soap and water to do so. Regardless, this step is essential to prevent any future infections or infestations. 

Step 3: Repot Your Houseplant

Finally, repot your houseplant in its new, clean pot with fresh, well-draining soil. 

a guide to repotting houseplant
Repotting your plant is the final step in getting rid of mealy bugs.
Photo by Anna Ostanina

In conclusion, mealybugs may be a bit shocking to see on your houseplants, but they certainly aren’t a death knell. With the right care and a little repotting, your beautiful plant babies are sure to make it through alright!

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