Mealybugs – You Can Get Rid of Those Cotton Balls!
I have my succulents and a few other tender plants under lights in my garden shop in the basement and I turn the lights on each morning and off again each night. One morning I saw a small white cotton looking thing on the stem of a Mini-Jade plant ( actually a Portulacaria afra) and thought…Hmmm, haven’t I read about these types of things somewhere?
A few days later, I remembered to search it out and Googled “white residue on plant leaves.” OMG, the mealybugs are invading and that puts all my plants in danger. I immediately went down and took that planter off the shelves where it sat among the other plants.
I carefully examined the other plants and didn’t see any evidence of mealybugs (Pseudococcus), but that doesn’t mean they are not spreading.
These things spread like an army of Wights in the Game of Thrones! Those little white puffs that look like cotton fluffs are basically the “waxy tent” the little Momma Mealybug creates and then sets up housekeeping on your plant. She lays eggs in her tiny wax-strand tent resulting in little tiny babies who develop their own waxy strands as they grow.
These mealybug nymphs will crawl all over the plant…and on to the next…and the next. That is why it is important to get rid of them at the first sign since they can spread easily to the next plant.
If you rub off the white puff with a Q-tip, you may see an orange/red stain. Yep, mooshed critters. These tiny things can get all over the plant and mature gradually to clear-to-pinkish waxy dots getting bigger and bigger until they become the fuzzy white waxy critters called the mealybugs.
These crawling nymphs are what allows the plant to be quickly engulfed unless they are controlled. Perhaps one will take a ride on your watering can spout and inadvertently be spread to the next plant.
What To Do If You Find Mealybugs?
First of all, shudder and start itching all over. Maybe that’s just me. But you need to immediately isolate the infected plant from your other plants. Keep a sharp eye on the uninfected ones so you can isolate them too if needed.
I went down and moved my planter to the other side of the basement garden shop. Setting up a light there, I started to look through the plant and see what I could see.
Finding quite a few of the cottony/waxy patches here and there, I realized that I may have a fighting chance to save my Portulacaria afra. I love that plant. It’s basically my “mother” plant to take cuttings from, so I don’t want to lose it.
Treating for Mealybugs
For my infestation, after reading all the information I can find around the Internet, I used rubbing alcohol in a mixture of soap and water and oil. I took a spray bottle and made a mixture of 70% isopropyl alcohol and measured an equal amount of water to dilute it.
In my case, 1 cup of alcohol and 1 cup or more of water. ( I had an almost empty bottle of alcohol so this made it quick and easy and ready to go.) I put about a teaspoon of Dawn liquid (not the bleach kind) and shook the mix gently. Also add a teaspoon of vegetable oil. Shake the mixture before each use.
This mixture will be a fixture in my garden shop for quite a while since I plan to treat every 5-7 days for a while until I see no more “cotton balls.” Then as a safeguard for any nymphs or eggs hatching later, I will repeat every few weeks.
I am spraying the soil surface and the planter the mini-jade is in to be sure I am not overlooking any crawling critters. It takes about 4+ weeks from egg to adult so don’t think the battle is over until you’ve been “clean” for a long time.
Test this mixture on your plants first to be sure it doesn’t harm the plant.
Just an FYI, we sure to wash your hands thoroughly whenever you handle your plants since one little nymph can take a ride on your knuckle and go to the next plant you touch. Be safe, not sorry.
Did My Solution Kill The Mealybugs?
So far, it seems to have done the trick and I have everything under control. I am keeping my Mini-Jade away from the others plants just as a safeguard, though. You never know when these Wights will come back.
Guess I will need some Dragon Glass then, right?
I have just been through the Great Mealy Bug Invasion of 2018!
I started out using an alcohol solution as you suggest. Then I threw away some of the worst infected plants. I had to resort to a chemical for a few weeks and then back to the alcohol and the infection seems to be cured. I’m not sleeping on the job those critters come back. I almost always put some oregano essential oil in my watering can as bugs don’t like oregano. Thank you for your wonderful web site
Glad you are getting a handle on it. Mine seems to have helped but I hate saying that since it might come back just to show me how powerful they can be. But I am keeping a watchful eye out now. Thanks for your nice compliments!
I hate mealybugs! They’re the worst pest I’ve dealt with indoors because of the way they hide in the nooks and crannies of the plant: sometimes I’ve had to start plants over from cuttings. So bloody hard to find and kill. The only good thing about them is that they don’t spread by flight so quarantining an infected plant is easy.
I hope I have found all mine. So far so good. I hope I don’t have more still coming. The next generation.