Your succulents are growing healthy and well, yet one day you notice some tiny fuzzy white substances crawling on your plant beloved stems, and if left ignored, the plants may slowly wither and die eventually. The fuzzy white substances are mealy bugs, one of the most common pest problems for succulents and a stubborn one that requires a long and thorough fight to get rid of them.
Notice that cottony looking thing on your succulent leaves? That’s mealybug, a common houseplant pest that eats new growth on the plant. The cause of it is unclear, but most of the time, they appear when your succulent is overwatered.
They’re like the worst pet peeve ever. Mealybugs like to hide under the leaves so it’s difficult to spot them in succulents with compact shapes like Echeveria or Crassula. Most of the time, before you realize it, your succulents already start to grow deformed. Mealybug is dangerous because it can spread very easily in ideal conditions. The female can lay up to 600 eggs and it only takes 6 days to hatch. Hence, once you notice any sign of mealybug, immediate measures must be taken to get rid of them.
The first thing to do when you notice mealy bugs on your succulents is to
quarantine the infected plants, move them away from other plants. Inspect the healthy plants to see if they have any signs of mealy bugs.
<Image: Mealy Bugs on succulent. Photo courtesy of Pinterest>
After that, prepare to clean your infected plants by taking the plant out of the pot and
rinsing them under a strong stream of water. Clean the pot in hot, soapy water. Letting the plant and pot dry then replant with new soil. Throw away the old soil in regular trash and not the green bin.
<Image: Mealy bugs on an Echeveria. Photo courtesy of Juicykits>
In case you don’t have ready-mix succulent soil available immediately in your house, you can put the soil inside oven-safe container covered with foil, then bake at 180-200°F for at least 30 minutes, or when the soil temperature reaches 180°F. Then let cool and replant. Our recommendation is to get new soil since there might still be mealy bug eggs left in the old soil.
Now moving to the most important part, killing mealybug. The first thing that comes to your mind probably is chemical pesticides. However, some of them can be quite harmful to succulents so we don’t suggest using them. Here are a few safe options that we’ve tried and find them pretty helpful:
First is rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol) or neem oil & soap mixture. Rubbing alcohol 75% is the cheapest yet most effective method against aphids, mealybugs, and spider mites. Simply spray the succulents thoroughly and leave it there. You will notice the bug starts turning brown, which means they’re dead. The alcohol will completely evaporate in a few minutes so it won’t damage the plants. Do this every week until you don’t see any more bugs.
Neem oil is another safe insecticide that can be directly to active infestations. It can kill all stages of mealybugs on contact. Mix neem oil at 5% with water, add a few drops of soap then spray it all over your succulent. Remember not to use concentrated neem oil since it might burn your succulents.
If you don’t have a spray bottle, you could use a Q-tip to paint-brush any spot with mealy bugs. After a few hours, rinse the plant with water to get rid of the dead bugs. Rubbing alcohol and neem oil can be found easily at your local drug stores or online. When using neem oil or rubbing alcohol, make sure you don’t put the plant out in full sun to avoid water marks or sunburn. Keep them away from the window or direct sunlight for a few days.
Check your plant and repeat the steps for a few days to see if there are any mealy bugs left. Then spray again after a week for preventive measure. You can also use neem oil to spray into the soil to kill off any bugs or eggs hiding there. After thoroughly checking and spraying for a few weeks, if you don’t see mealy bugs reappearing, put the plant back to its original spot, and keep checking every 3 weeks.
<Image: Use Q-tips to carefully pick out the mealy bugs. Photo courtesy of faithfoodfamilyfun.com>
Even though neem oil and rubbing alcohol are pretty safe, there is still a chance they might damage your succulent. So we recommend another natural remedy, which is using ladybug. Yes, you hear it right! These cute ladybugs are natural enemies to all kinds of problematic pests, including mealybug. However, we suggest using ladybug only when your plant is at early stage of infestation and for prevention.
<Image: Ladybug on plant. Photo courtesy of Pinterest.com>
And to prevent infection, there are some preventive measures you can take: isolate any new plant for 2-3 weeks to see if it’s infected, keep regular check on all the plants to stop the infection when it’s still small.
Also, you should get alert when ants start crowding your plants area as ants like the sweet water discharged by mealy bugs. Keep your plant area dry, clean, and free of rotting foliage or flowers.
If you don’t have enough time to inspect your succulents frequently, you can get some ladybugs to guard your plants for you.
At Succulents Box, we are inspected regularly by the California Department of Agriculture for pests and diseases. We check each succulent carefully before shipping to make sure they are healthy. If you notice anything unusual with your succulents, please notify us right away.
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