How to Get Rid of Succulent Mealy Bugs

Have you noticed a small, fuzzy white substance crawling on the stems or leaves of your prized plants? If you have it is probably a sign that your succulent is infested with mealy bugs.

If allowed to live on the plants for a prolonged period, succulent mealy bugs can cause the plants to wither and die. This means that prompt action is necessary.

Whether you have noticed mealy bugs on your succulent leaves, or simply want to learn how to spot the warning signs, this article is for you. We will take you through everything that you need to know, beginning with an explanation of what mealy bugs are before looking at ways to treat and prevent infestations.

1 Succulent mealy bugs

Infestations can deform or destroy even the healthiest plant collection. 

What is a Mealy Bug?

Mealy bugs are one of the most common pests. A stubborn insect, once established on a plant they can be difficult to get rid of. Part of the Pseudococcidae family, mealy bugs are unarmoured scale insects.

Appearing to resemble small bits of cotton resting on the leaves of your plant, these destructive insects eat fresh growth and suck the sap from the plants. They can also excrete the excess sugars that they harvest. This sugary substance, better known as honeydew, coats the leaves and can attract ants to your plants.

Sooty mold, a black or brown powdery substance which forms on honeydew on the tops of leaves is one of the more visible indications that you may have succulent mealy bugs.

Another visible, though difficult to spot sign of succulent mealy bugs is the appearance of web-like white substances in the nooks and crannies of your plant.

If allowed to live on a plant for too long, infestations can cause the plant to fail. As well as being very harmful, succulent mealy bugs are also difficult to spot.

These hard to find insects typically live in clusters and often hide in inaccessible parts of the plant such as under leaves or in leaf axils. They can also hide between twining stems or, on some plants, under pieces of loose bark. This makes spotting the insects on compact specimens such as Crassula and Echeveria almost impossible.

2 Mealy bug
These destructive pests can can be difficult to spot. Mealy bug by UGA CAES Extension / CC 2.0

Often the first time that you know you have succulent mealy bugs is when the plants develop sooty mold or start to become deformed.

In ideal conditions succulent mealy bugs spread easily. One female insect can lay up to 600 eggs. These take just 6 days to hatch. This ability to spread and reproduce quickly means that as soon as you notice succulent mealy bugs you must take steps to get rid of them.

Delaying action can make saving the plants an almost impossible task.

What Causes Succulent Mealy Bugs?

The cause of mealy bug infestations on plants is often unclear. The pests can sometimes appear on even the healthiest looking plants.

Often infestations occur on plants that are overwatered. Learning how to water your plants correctly can help to prevent infestations from developing.

Over fertilizing your plants is another potential cause of infestations.

3 Mealy bug on a succulent

Infestations can occur on even the healthiest plants. Jade Plant Mealy Bug Infestation by sk / CC 2.0

In general, infestations are more common on indoor plants than outdoor specimens. This may be because indoor conditions are more temperate. However, outdoor plants can also become infested.

If you are new to caring for these fascinating plants, our Succulents Care Guide is designed to take you through the process, providing lots of useful tips and information.

How to Get Rid of Succulent Mealy Bugs

As soon as you notice any signs of infestation you must remove the infected specimen from the rest of your collection. Quickly quarantining the plant helps to prevent the insects from spreading to other plants in your collection.

After removing the plant, carefully inspect the rest of your collection for signs of infestation.

4 Isolate mealy bug infected succulents
Isolate infected plants to prevent the infestation from spreading.

Once you have separated the infested specimen the next step is to clean the plant.

Remove the plant from its pot. Rinse the entire plant under a strong, steady stream of water. The pot should be cleaned in a bowl of hot, soapy water. This should wash away any hiding insects.

After cleaning the plant, you can either replant it in a new pot or the cleaned old container. If you are reusing the pot, allow it to dry out before replanting. Use fresh soil to plant the succulent.

The old, infected soil should be disposed of in a waste bin. Do not place it in a compost bin or in your green waste.

Placing infected soil in a compost pile can infect the entire compost heap. This means that every time you use some of the compost around your garden you risk infecting other plants.

If you do not have fresh soil available, you can try sterilizing the old, infected soil. To do this, place the soil in an oven safe container covered with foil. Bake at 180 to 200 ℉ for at least 30 minutes.

Alternatively, heat the infected soil to 180 ℉ and allow it to cool before replanting.

While baking and sterilizing should kill most of the eggs that are hidden in the soil, it is safer to replant in fresh soil.

Other Methods of Getting Rid of Succulent Mealy Bugs

The method of dealing with succulent mealy bugs described above is possibly the most drastic option. Other options which are just as effective but possibly more time consuming can also be tried. The following succulent mealy bugs control methods are all chemical free and easy to apply.

Mass produced, chemical controls provide effective solutions. However, many people, understandably, try to avoid using these products, particularly on their houseplants. Luckily there are a number of safe, effective alternatives available.

 

Rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), neem oil or a simple soapy water mixture are all effective solutions.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a cheap and effective control that also works on infestations of spider mites and aphids. A 70% solution such as Swan Isoprophyl Alcohol 70% is both effective and safe to use on plants.

To apply, simply spray the affected leaves and stems. Allow the solution to sit on the leaves. As the solution works, the white insects start to turn brown. This is a sign that the rubbing alcohol is killing the pests.

5 Mealy bug on a leaf

Rubbing alcohol is safe to use on infected foliage. Pseudococcidae by Anthony Kei C / CC 2.0 

Safe to use, rubbing alcohol evaporates within a few minutes meaning that it kills the pests whilst causing no lasting damage. Repeat this treatment once a week until the infestation is completely cured.

Neem Oil

Neem oil is another safe, effective solution that can be applied directly to the leaves. An effective control, it kills these stubborn little pests in all stages of their life cycle.

Mix the neem oil at 5% with water and a few drops of soap to create a solution which you can then spray all over the plant using a Plant Mister Spray Bottle.

Diluting the neem oil before use is important. Using a concentrated solution may burn the leaves. If you have never used neem oil before, our guide to using neem oil on plants takes you through the process in detail.

Neem oil can also be safely sprayed directly into the soil. This kills any bugs or eggs that are hiding there without damaging the plant’s root system.

If you do not have a spray bottle you can use a small paint brush to dab the solution onto any insects that you spot.

After a few hours, rinse the plant with water to remove the dead insects from the plant.

Both rubbing alcohol and neem oil are easy to source at drug stores or online. When using either product make sure that the plant isn’t sitting in full sun. Treated leaves that are exposed to full sun can become stained with water marks or develop sunburn. After treating, keep the plants away from direct light for a few days.

Check your plant a few days after applying the solution for any lingering signs of infestation. Repeat the treatment once a week for 3 to 4 weeks to ensure that the infestation is fully cured.

Once no signs of infestation are visible the plant can be returned to its usual position. Continue to check the plants once every 3 to 4 weeks for signs of infestations.

6 Ladybugs predate succulent mealy bugs

Ladybugs predate many harmful insects.

Another natural solution, which may not be practical for indoor plant collections is the ladybug. These are a great natural pest control for a range of destructive insects including succulent mealy bugs.

How to Prevent Succulent Mealy Bugs

As is often the case, preventing an issue from developing is often far easier than curing it. While not entirely foolproof there are a few steps you can take to reduce the chances of infestations of succulent mealy bugs from developing.

Isolate any new plant for 2 to 3 weeks before adding it to your collection. During this isolation period regularly check the plant for signs of disease or infestation.

Repotting new plants in a clean succulent-friendly pot filled with fresh potting soil can also help to reduce the chances of disease or infestation from spreading together to other plants in your collection.

Try to keep the area around the plant dry, clean and free from rotting or old flowers and leaves. Messy or debris covered soil provides insects with a potential hiding place. Messy topsoil can also be a breeding ground for disease.

7 Keep succulents tidy
Keep the area around the plant neat and tidy.

It can be difficult to know how often to water your plants. Each species or cultivar has specific watering needs. They also all have different fertilization needs. While some are heavy feeding plants others require little to no extra stimulant.

Establishing a watering and feeding routine that benefits the plant may take time and research but is worth the effort. While a healthy plant may still fall victim to infestations of mealy bugs it is far more likely to recover than a sickly succulent.

Other Common Succulent Pests

Gnats or fruit flies can also target your plants. Allowing the soil to dry out completely between waterings helps to prevent infestations. It also helps to kill any larvae that are developing in the soil.

Reducing the frequency and amount of water you apply wont harm your plants. Most healthy plants are able to survive for a few weeks without water.

One of the most reliable ways to get rid of gnats around houseplants is to set an apple cider vinegar trap. This is made by mixing a few tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar with a couple of drops of liquid dish soap in a plastic cup or container.

Cover the mixture with a plastic bag and poke some holes in the top with your finger. The sweet smell of the apple cider vinegar draws gnats into the plastic bag. Once inside, the gnats find it difficult to escape.

An alternative control method is to add a layer of Harris Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth to the top of the soil around the plant. This kills any adult larvae that come into contact with it.

Aphids are another common plant pest. Like mealy bugs, aphids draw sap from the plant, excreting honeydew in the process. This can draw ants to your plants or lead to sooty mold developing.

Aphid infestations can be treated with either a neem oil or alcohol spray. Soapy water wiped over or sprayed onto the leaves also treats most infestations. Or, simply, wash the pests away with a blast from a garden hose. Indoor plants can also be held under a running tap.

Spider mites can be treated with any of the methods outlined above.

Another honeydew excreting insect, scale can be treated by wiping the leaves with soapy water. You can also scrape the scale from the leaves. Just remember to sterilize the tools afterwards.

Ants are one of the more visible insects that can swarm the plants. Often an indication of another issue, ants are often drawn to plants by the honeydew that other insects such as scale secrete. If you notice ants crawling over the stems and leaves of your plant, check the specimen carefully for signs of other insects infesting the leaves.

Once the underlying issue is treated, the ants should go away. If ants continue to affect your plants you can treat the infestation by using citrus water as a repellent. To make citrus water, juice 3 to 4 lemons into a gallon of water. Stir well and pour the citrus water evenly over the soil.

8 Mealy bugs attract ants
Infestations can draw ants to your plants. _Z2A8344 odourous ants and mealy bugs by budak / CC 2.0

Mealy bugs, scale and aphids can, as we have already noted, not only draw ants to your plants they can also cause sooty mold to form on the foliage. Some plants such as roses or gardenias are more prone to developing sooty mold than others.

An unsightly fungus once the underlying cause of sooty mold has been dealt with, the sooty mold growth can simply be washed from the plant.,

Whether you grow succulents indoors or outside you are likely to encounter mealy bugs at some stage. These small insects are a destructive plague, spreading quickly across a plant collection causing deformity and damaging plants. They may even be the reason why your succulent is dying.

Once spotted, succulent mealy bugs can be treated successfully allowing you to continue enjoying your succulent plant collection.

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