Mealy Bugs, What Is That?
Several hundred insect species have been identified as mealybugs, together known as mealybugs. Nearly 300 of these species are located in North America. They are small oval sap-sucking insects between 1/10 and 1/4 inch in size, which secrete a waxy substance to protect themselves. When mealybugs appear on the stem or leaves of plants, they have a white cottony coating, making them easy to identify. Mealybugs are warm-weather insects, so they mainly infest houseplants and greenhouses and are rarely seen outside in northern climates. In warmer climates, however, they can cause serious damage to entire crops.
Scale insects have a close relationship to Mealybugs. Mealybugs destroy their host plants by sucking the juice, and like many pests, they prefer new growth. Their damage usually results in yellow leaves on the plants, resulting in fruit, vegetables, and flower buds falling off too soon. Honeydew, a waxy excretion of these ants, encourages the growth of sooty mold fungus in a bad infestation.
What Do Mealybugs Look Like?
The Mealybug is a tiny white bug commonly found on houseplants. It appears whitish in immature stages, and can be brown or cream colored.
At first glance they don’t look like insects, and are often confused with fungi or mildew instead of plant bugs.
The white bugs you see on your houseplants are likely whiteflies rather than mealybugs, since they fly around when disturbed.
If they look like fuzzy fuzz on your houseplants, they are definitely mealybugs, so keep reading… The mealybug looks like this! Also, yuck!
Houseplant Aphids: How to get Rid of them, Forever!
Mealybug Life Cycle
There are about seven to ten weeks in the full mealybug life cycle. An egg takes about a week or two to emerge into a nymph, and that nymph takes another six to nine weeks to mature into an adult.
There are more than one generation of mealybugs, and their life cycles can overlap, which means once they get started, the population can grow very rapidly.
Due to the size of the eggs and nymphs, and the time it takes for the population to get large enough to be noticeable, most people don’t discover mealybugs until the problem has become big enough.
There are different stages in the life cycle of mealybugs.
Where Do Mealybugs Come From?
In the beginning, everything seems fine, but by the second day your plants are covered in sticky white cotton, leaving many to wonder what causes mealybugs.
Mealybugs can be caused by many things. The most significant are:
- Bringing home a new plant
- Using contaminated potting soil
- Planting house plants outdoors on a hot summer day
- Floral arrangements, fruits or vegetables brought in fresh from the garden
- Mealybugs can be found on fresh produce from the grocery store or flowers from the florist!
- A houseplant may be visited by ants in order to feed off the honeydew residue that the bugs leave behind.
7 Ways to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Plants
Mealybugs: Wash them away
A steady stream of water can dislodge mealybugs. Repeat the treatment if necessary. This method is best for light infestations and some plants cannot tolerate this kind of vigorous treatment.
Use Isopropyl Alcohol
Wipe and kill the mealybugs with an alcohol solution consisting of not more than 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Make sure to test the solution on one leaf first to make sure it won’t burn your plants.
Spray With Insecticidal Soap
There are insecticidal soaps available on the market (like Safer’s Insecticidal Soap), or you can make your own by using a dish detergent like Ivory Liquid. Find a soap that has no perfumes or additives that might harm plants. Mix the soap with water in a weak concentration (start at 1 teaspoon per gallon and increase as necessary). Spray the solution on plants.
Use Neem Oil
Need oil is a natural insecticide derived from the neem tree. In addition to its insecticidal properties, neem oil is also a fungicide. In the right circumstances, neem oil not only kills insects when it comes in contact with them, but it also serves as a systemic pesticide by being absorbed by the plants. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it can be used on both edible plants and ornamentals.
Introduce Predatory Insects
The mealybug destroyer is generally used for outdoor infestations or greenhouse situations. It is available for sale from commercial online retailers. Lace bugs, bees, wasps, and bees are natural predators of mealybugs.
Use Homemade Insect Spray
1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper can be processed into a paste in a food processor or blender to make homemade insect spray. The solution can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. Spray the solution on the plant parts where mealybugs are present. Mix into 1 quart of water for 1 hour. Strain through cheesecloth and add one tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Combine well.
Use Synthetic Chemical Pesticide
Several stronger pesticides are used against mealybugs, but caution should be exercised when using these chemicals, especially in indoor locations. These chemicals are toxic to pets and humans in varying degrees.
How to use pesticides safely indoors
What Causes Mealybugs?
Some plants attract mealybugs because they produce a lot of juices they like to feed on. In particular, citrus trees are particularly susceptible to mealybugs, which pose a serious threat to some commercial crops, such as mangos. Mealybugs can also infest a number of indoor plants, especially tropical species.
Mealybugs are attracted to plants that have high nitrogen levels and soft growth; they may appear on plants that have been over-watered or over-fertilized.
How to Prevent Mealybugs
As most plants have an innate defense mechanism, healthy, vigorous plants are less likely to be attacked than plants in poor health, under potted, or stressed condition. As a general rule, ensure your plants are healthy to avoid pests in the first place.
Even healthy plants can be infected by mealybugs. Most frequently, they are found on plants that have been stored in greenhouses for a long time. If you purchase a new plant, ensure it has been washed properly before adding it to your collection.
Here are some other ways you can protect your plants from mealybug infestations:
- It may sometimes be possible to prevent mealybugs by reducing nitrogen levels and hardening the growth of plants by reducing feeding and watering.
- In plant species susceptible to mealybugs, a solution containing neem oil may be applied to the foliage regularly.
- Plants that can tolerate such treatment can be kept from being infested by mealybugs by regular application of hard blasts of water.
- Even though mealybugs prefer more tropical temperature, reducing nighttime temperatures to 60 degrees Fahrenheit will discourage them from growing indoors.
You can destroy the plant before the mealybugs spread to other plants in your home if an infestation is not controlled by two or three applications of insecticide every two or three weeks.
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