There’s a running joke between my husband and I that the first thing I tell someone after admiring the succulents in their home is, “oh, yup, you have mealybugs.” How embarrassing! Really though, it comes from a good place. I want to help people that (like me) don’t know they have a problem. Now this is always quickly followed up with a helpful “…and here’s what you can do about it.”
The first time I had an infestation of mealybugs, I thought it was a good thing. It was popping up in new growth areas and I thought “Oh cool, it’s growing!” Not until my Jade plant started dropping leaves like crazy did I become concerned. That same Jade temporarily came back to life after I treated it, but it ultimately went to Flora Heaven.
So what the heck are mealybugs? They are a really common houseplant pest. They come from warmer climates and can come into your home (or outdoor plants) by bringing home infested plants from a nursery. They spread from plant to plant and feed off of growth points. They are white, tiny little guys that form cottony nests where they are feeding. They can even live in the roots.
How can you spot them? You should inspect your plants regularly for pests and any issues they are having. These little guys are really good at hiding. They are visible to the human eye, but tend to wedge themselves into hard to see places like leaf joints and the undersides of plants.
… So what can you do about it? First things first, move the infected plant away from your healthy ones. Not just over a foot or two, but instead move it into another room. A really easy way to kill them is to dip cotton swabs in rubbing alcohol and wipe them off. Keep in mind, the lifecycle of a mealybug is about 30 days. So even if you get the nests up the first time, you will need to continue this regimen about once a week for at least a month to ensure you got every last one of them. Some other options include the use of insecticidal soap sprayed onto the plant, a homemade mix of dish soap and water, neem oil, and I’ve even heard of using Windex. Always read the label, some of these treatments can cause light sensitivity and give your succubabies a sunburn if exposed to light directly after application.
How can you prevent getting them? The best thing to do is quarantine your new plant baby once you buy it to give yourself time to see if any issues come up. Who wants to do that though? Not me! But hey, at least I told you what you should be doing.
Sometimes the easiest fix is being picky at the nursery. Really look your potential plant child over before making the purchase and once you go home, get into the habit of looking for them on all of your succulents.
If you live in climates which require you to move your succulents indoors during winter, get into the habit of spraying all of them with an insecticidal soap before you bring them in and also in the spring the first time you put them out.
Now who’s ready for me to make a house visit?? :)
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