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Understanding Mealybugs

Mealybugs are tiny, oval-shaped insects that are harmful to plants because they suck plant sap from leaves and stems, decreasing a plant’s ability to achieve photosynthesis, thereby impacting yields. As they plague plants, they secrete a powdered waxy substance called honeydew to protect themselves.

This cottony and white substance makes their presence easily spotted on plant stems and leaves and can lead to subsequent diseases such as sooty mold. They cause this damage by sucking the nutrients and sap from plants they attack, causing damage to the leaves, including leaf yellowing, leaf, bud, and fruit drop. Mealybugs thrive in warm weather conditions and can pose a serious threat to entire crops in warmer climates. In cooler climates, they can also be quite a problem, primarily for houseplants and greenhouse environments.

Follow our robust guide for understanding mealybugs, so you can detect them early and manage them effectively and organically.

sooty mold disease on lemon leaves.

What Are Mealybugs?

When understanding mealybugs, these destructive garden pests are often attracted to plants with high sap content. Citrus trees, succulents, hibiscus, and fruit crops are particularly susceptible. With regular plant checks, you can catch problems early and give your plants the best chance at success.

Here’s what to look for when detecting and understanding mealybugs:

  • Inspect plants for small bugs that are 1/10 inch to 1/4 inch in size. Check tops and undersides of leaves paying close attention along leaf veins.
  • Look for fibrous cottony clusters on stems and plants.
  • Leaf yellowing and leaf drop are key signs of an infestation.
  • Keep an eye out for sticky dew on plant leaves and subsequent growth of black mold.

Preventing Mealybugs

The best way to prevent mealybugs is the cultivation of strong, healthy, and vigorous plants. Appropriate growing conditions like sunlight, temperature, water, and nutrients will keep plants thriving, so they won’t succumb to troublesome pests like mealybugs.

  • Amend soil with plenty of organic matter and well-decomposed composed and keep soil microbial life well-fed and healthy.
  • Strategically interplant with plants that draw in predatory insects that feed on plants.
  • Prune affected leaves or branches to help the plant thrive and eliminate the number of pests that you need to contend with.
  • Create a diversity of plants in your garden that will replicate the natural flora and fauna.
  • Understanding mealybugs are drawn to plants with high nitrogen levels and new growth can help you focus your efforts.
  • Overfertilization and excessive watering may attract them to your plant’s foliage.
  • For indoor plants that can endure it, drop evening temperatures to 60 degrees Fahrenheit to discourage the propagation of mealybugs.
big wasp on yarrow flower

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

There are several organic methods to help rid your plants of hungry and destructive mealybugs. While controlling garden pests is essential, you never want to eliminate an insect population or use pesticides because that can negatively impact the ecosystem’s natural balance.

Organic pest management strategies can go a long way to ensuring that your plants thrive and the circle of life is kept intact for all garden inhabitants. Once you identify that you have a mealybug problem, here are some great strategies to decrease the damage they can cause by controlling mealybug populations.

Attracting Beneficial Insects to Control Mealybug Population

Attracting beneficial insects can help you wage war on mealybugs and help build a healthier ecosystem in your yard for many years to come. Predatory bug populations can stop mealybugs in their tracks. Parasitic wasps, for instance, seek out mealybugs, sting them to paralyze them, and lay their eggs inside of their bodies.

Ways to attract beneficial insects to control mealybug populations: 

  • Encourage parasitic wasps, which naturally feed on mealybugs, by planting plants that draw them to the garden. Try planting forsythia, yarrow, and Queen Anne’s lace, alyssum, parsley, and other herbs in your garden to help build the army that preys on destructive mealybugs.
  • Place a birdbath or small trays of water around the garden so predatory wasps can land and drink.
  • Plant with diversity in mind to ensure the adult wasps have access to a nonstop supply of pollen and nectar.
  • Purchase a starter community of parasitic wasps and encourage them to take up residence in your garden. Release the insects when pests are beginning to emerge.
  • Order up a starter community of beneficial insects.

Remove Mealbugs With a Steady Stream of Hose Water

Dislodge mealybugs from their places on stems and leaves and interrupt their life cycle by hosing affected plants with a steady stream of water.

Mealybugs on leaves

Control Mealybugs Using a Water, Soap, & Herb Spray

Mix one garlic bulb and one teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a blender to make a smooth paste. Incorporate one quart of water and allow to soak for a couple of hours. Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth and add three teaspoons of liquid dish detergent. Add to a spray bottle and shake well. Then spritz the plant where mealybugs are present.

Apply Rubbing Alcohol to Remove Mealybugs

Mealybugs can be removed from plant leaves and stems with alcohol-soaked swabs.

Deter Mealybugs Using Neem Oil

Neem oil is a natural ingredient extracted from the neem tree that has insecticidal and fungicidal properties. Apply it to leaves and stems to control mealybugs if other methods have not been effective, as neem oil can negatively impact beneficial insect populations as well as garden pests.

Protect Your Garden From Mealybugs

Plants at variable stages of growth can react in different ways to homemade or organic pest deterrents. The best approach to managing pests is to build up a healthy ecosystem in your garden so you will not need to use sprays. And yet, even in the healthiest gardens, some outside assistance may be needed.

To protect your plants and the good bugs:

  • Test your mixture on a small area of the plant to see how the plant reacts.
  • Spray plants in the early evening, so the sun does not intensify sprays and burn plants.
  • Look out for beneficial insects before spraying. Oils, soaps, and other natural remedies can smother any soft body insects on contact.

Share The Garden Love

wasp on white alyssum
mealybug damage on plant

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