How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

Updated on December 12, 2017
OldRoses profile image

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

Mealybugs with their characteristic waxy coating
Mealybugs with their characteristic waxy coating | Source

While pruning some shrubbery, I found white fuzzy stuff on the stems and leaves. When it moved, I realized it was insects. I was shocked to learn that they were mealybugs. I thought mealybugs only survived indoors on houseplants.

Know your enemy!

Mealybugs are small armored insects that suck sap from plants, eventually killing them. Their bodies have a waxy coating that makes them impervious to insecticides. The females are 1/8 to 1/16 inch long and wingless. The males are smaller and have wings. The males don’t feed. They have very short lives, only living long enough to fertilize the females and then die. The females lay 50 to 200 eggs in a sac two to six times a year, depending on the species. Most species do not survive the winter. They need warmer temperatures which is why they are such a pest indoors on houseplants or in greenhouses.

Mealybugs don’t move far on their own. Most infections are the result of new plants being brought in that are already infested with them.

Ants can also move mealybugs from plant to plant. The mealybugs secrete honeydew, which ants eat. They are known to “farm” mealybugs, protecting them from other insects and harvesting the honeydew.

Ants farming mealybugs
Ants farming mealybugs | Source

Time Out

Always check new plants carefully for mealybug infestation before bringing them into your home or installing them in your yard. A good practice is to quarantine new plants for a few weeks before planting them in your garden or introducing them into your home.

Hose 'em down

An easy way to rid your plants of mealybugs is to spray infected plants with a hose that has a high pressure nozzle attached. This will knock the insects off of your plants. This won’t kill the insects nor will it get rid of them completely. It merely minimizes the infestation, making it more likely that your plants will survive.

Indoors, you can simply place infected houseplants in your sink and use the sprayer to remove the insects. Since the plants are smaller and you can be more thorough, this is a good way to completely rid your plants of this pest.

U Pick

For smaller infestations, you can remove mealybugs from your plants manually. Use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol to remove the insects from the plants. Alcohol dissolves their waxy covering, so this method also kills the insects.

Soap or Oil

Spraying infected plants with insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils or neem oil are safe, organic ways to kill mealybugs. All three are readily available at your local nursery or online. The oils and soaps smother the insects, killing them. Make sure when you spray that you get the undersides of the leaves and the stems of the plants.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

Outdoors, encourage beneficial insects to visit your yard by not using insecticides or herbicides which can kill or harm them. Ladybugs, parasitic wasps, lacewings and syrphid flies think mealybugs are delicious.

Most plants can tolerate mild infestations of mealybugs but when they become too numerous, they can literally suck the life out of your valuable plants or houseplants. Protect your home and yard from these insects using simple, organic steps.

Questions & Answers

  • Is there a way to keep mealybugs from the garden? It is not possible to pick them off tomato plants. Do they come out of the soil, or do they fly and lay eggs?

    Mealybugs were introduced into your garden either through new plants that were infested, or ants brought them in. Ants "farm" mealybugs for their honeydew which the ants eat. The mealybugs and their eggs live and die on your plants. They do not fly or live in the soil. If you cannot pick them off, you can hose them off or spray your plants with insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils or neem oil which will kill them.

© 2017 Caren White

Comments

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    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      9 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      Jim, as a Master Gardener, I always recommend organic solutions to gardening problems. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Jim Ferringer 

      9 months ago

      I tried soap and oil and still had Mealybugs. I finally used Systemic Granules byBONIDE, I now have zero Mealybugs

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      13 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      I love that idea! Organic solutions are always the best. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • profile image

      Danesh Kumar 

      13 months ago

      In Wayanad Dist, Kerala, we face this problem on coffee plants, found a cheap solution , spray diluted rice gruel water, water discarded after cooking rice, dilute it four time with water, and spray it, as it dries, the mealy bugs limbs become stiff, become immobile , and fall off..

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      14 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      They are a nuisance, aren't they? Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      14 months ago from Brazil

      I think these are the little critters which get on my tomato plants. I pick them off by hand but they seem to cause the plant's leaves to curl.

      I too am all for natural predators in the garden.

    • OldRoses profile imageAUTHOR

      Caren White 

      15 months ago from Franklin Park, NJ

      RoadMonkey, I wrote a hub on ridding your garden of thrips. I didn't know that they are a problem indoors, though. Have you tried insecticidal soap or neem oil? They smother insects. Spray the entire plant, expecially the undersides of the leaves where they hide. Let me know if it works for you! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • RoadMonkey profile image

      RoadMonkey 

      15 months ago

      Very useful, thanks. I haven't had mealybugs on my plants but one of my old indoor plants keeps getting thrips that I try washing off.

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