How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On Succulents

How to get rid of Mealybugs on Succulents

Growing succulents is a captivating narrative wrapped up in a pleasant storyline. Think of it, succulents are some of the most adorable plant groups nature has to offer. From their cute, unique looks to their easy-to-handle maintenance qualities, succulents are no doubt a living room’s required occupant.

These popular, eye-catching plants set an ambiance of tranquility and charm. These qualities make succulents almost an obsession to most plant lovers.

However, as with any narrative, there will always be a horde of antagonists— the bad boys. Succulents are not exempt from a bunch of life-sucking, little pests that spread like a plague. The most common types of these annoying, itty bitty creatures are the mealybugs. And really, they’re quite a bug to succulent lovers. Mealybugs are without a doubt, the bane in the life of every gardener.

What Are Mealybugs?

Typically found in warm climates, mealybugs are teensy, fuzzy, elliptical insects that are usually grey-white or light brown in color. These wingless, soft-bodied insects form cotton-like mounds or powdery blotches on the leaves, stems, and fruits of affected plants. This white cottony substance is usually the earliest sign of a mealybug invasion, commonly mistaken for mildew or fungus.

Mealybugs survive by feeding off the plant’s sap found in the tissues. They use their long-sucking mouthparts known as stylets to draw out tissue sap. Given the fleshy nature of fat plants, it’s a no-brainer why succulents are their favorites.

As mealybugs feed, they secrete honeydew, a sugary substance that makes the plant sticky and promotes the growth of sooty molds. These molds attract bacterial and fungal attacks on the plant. Low levels of mealybugs don’t pose much of a threat to succulents. However, as they multiply, the result is a weak plant characterized by yellow and curly leaves.

Mealybugs are very cheeky pests. They hide in leaf crevices, joints where stems and leaves meet, and even in the soil. They especially like to hang out in new growth parts so they can get a good tissue sap suck.

What Causes Mealybugs On Succulents

Two things will act as a calling card for mealybugs.

1. Over-fertilizing

You have probably heard the English saying that too much of anything is terrible at the risk of sounding cliche. Cheesy, I know, but it applies perfectly to this situation.

A chemical reaction occurs when you spread excess fertilizer in/on the soil. If you remember high-school chemistry, you will know that any chemical reaction gives off energy. In this particular instance, the chemical reaction within the soil gives off heat energy.

Remember we mentioned mealybugs love warmth? Well, your steaming over-fertilized soil is irresistible to these guys – like a hot bubbling jacuzzi on a cold night.

Keep an eye out. They will come knocking soon should you fail to rectify this oversight.

2. Over-watering

Succulents are native to arid and semi-arid areas. Naturally, they learned to adapt to their environment over thousands of years. The result is that succulents generally do not require a lot of water to survive.

As previously stated, mealybugs love moist areas. Over-water your succulents, the water stagnates, and the area around your succulent becomes wet and swamp-like.

The wet soil creates a perfect setting for mealybugs to move into, and pretty soon, they may just be calling your succulent pot home.

One way to avoid this is by planting your succulents in a pot that ensures sufficient drainage. Excess water can drain out and leave your plants nice and dry.

Read the complete guide to watering your succulents in this informative article by Succulent City.

  • White streaks on stems and leaves that the plant leaves behind as it moves
  • Tiny cotton-like sacks are intended to protect the mealybugs and their eggs.
  • Curling leaves with distorted growth.
  • A serious infestation can cause leaves to dry up. If you are keen on inspecting your plant, the infestation is unlikely to get to this level unless the bugs hide deep into the plant to be invisible. Often this happens when the bugs hide between leaves and branches.

Mealybugs Lifecycle

Want to battle? Know your enemy.

The mealybugs that invade succulents and other plants are either females or juveniles. The males are wingless and lack a mouth. They don’t even buzz around plants. They are short-lived, with mating as their only purpose of existence. You can easily mistake them for wasps or flies.

A mealybug will take 7-10 weeks to complete its full life cycle. Eggs hatch into nymphs in two weeks while nymphs mature into adults in 6 to 9 months.

Mealybugs can occur in multiple generations with overlapping lifecycles. This means that their populations can grow exponentially once they invade a plant. The small-sized eggs and nymphs make it hard for mealybugs to get noticed. They only attract attention once their population explodes.

Mealybugs secrete a sugary substance (honeydew) that attracts ants. These ants act as protection for the mealybugs in exchange for the sweet stuff.

These female mealybugs lay approximately 600 eggs during their entire lifetime. Good thing is that they die after they run out of eggs (albeit leaving a gazillion junior mealybugs to carry on with the cycle).

Where Do Mealybugs Come From?

Mealybugs sneak up on you. One day, your plants look all neat and green. The next day, a whitish mist of cotton-like substance plagues your succulents. There are a few common signs of mealybugs on succulents, for example, you can see ants going around droopy leaves. Mealybugs can come from anywhere. Take a look at the most common causes of succulent mealybugs below.

  • A new plant was brought indoors.
  • Planting your succulents on contaminated soil.
  • Summer’s warm climate.
  • Bringing vegetables, fresh flowers, or fruits from the garden.
  • Fresh produce from the grocery store.

How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On Succulents

Fortunately, due to their slight lack of tenacity, there are a couple of ways to control mealybugs. You can use one or a combination of the following methods to combat mealybug infestations on your beautiful succulents.

#1. Quarantine Affected Plants

This is the first step to take when dealing with a mealybug invasion. Once they start multiplying, they spread like wildfire, jumping from one plant to the next.

Therefore, move the affected plant away from your other succulent plants. Be sure the quarantined succulent plant is NOT within the same room as your other succulent plants.

#2. Water Pressure

You can use mechanical water pressure to hose off adult mealybugs and hopefully their eggs. This is the simplest and cheapest method.

Simply place your thumb on a garden hose to generate the desired pressure. You can also use your sink’s spray faucet. Since mealybugs like hiding, a special succulent watering bottle may help reach them in their leaf crevices. If you don’t have a set of these in your plant care kit, we highly recommend adding one. Keep a close watch on the plants and if the succulent mealybugs rear their ugly heads, just repeat the treatment.

This method can work best in sturdier plants like cacti and agave but is unsuitable for brittle succulents like sedum morganianum, otherwise known as the burro’s tail.

Be careful not to drown your succulent with this method. Repot if necessary to avoid plant rot.

#3. Isopropyl Alcohol

A very effective and inexpensive solution that knocks those bad bugs off your succulents. Depending on the extent of the invasion, you can use a spray bottle or a simple Q-tip to remove these pests. For small infestations, simply dip a Q-tip in 70% isopropyl alcohol and gently scrub the affected plant.

If the majority of the plant is covered by pests, use a wash bottle and spray the plant with isopropyl alcohol. Don’t worry about drowning the plant since the alcohol will quickly evaporate. (Obviously, don’t spray it too much either, be considerate).

Pay close attention to their hiding places and saturate them with alcohol. After the alcohol evaporates, all succulent mealybugs should die in a few minutes. The grayish bugs turn deep red while the cottony substance disintegrates.

The 70% isopropyl alcohol is safe for succulents and won’t get burnt or damaged. This is because succulents possess a thick cuticle, a barrier found on the leaves to prevent liquids from getting in or out of them. This is the adaptation that’s behind their water-saving prowess.

#4. Azamax

This is an organic, broad-spectrum pest control product derived from neem oil. Not only is it effective against mealybugs, but it also squashes aphids, spider mites, and other pests. This all-natural insecticide is highly lauded as an effective pesticide.

Azamax is dangerous to aquatic life, so avoid using it near water features.

#5. Neem Oil

We’ve mentioned this in some of our previous articles but this antiseptic and antifungal pest control solution is an excellent fit for combating mealybugs. It keeps your succulent plants safe too!

We recommend this Neem Oil from Oleavine, it’s affordable and does the job! For general pest control, add 1 Tablespoon per 1 Gallon, this Neem Oil is pretty intense!

Check the product label before using as it must be diluted. Applying neem oil during the day may burn your plants due to the effect of the sun on the oil. Try applying neem oil on your mealybug-infested succulent plant at night instead.

Biological Control Methods 

You can introduce predators to your succulents that would love to feast on mealy bugs. A great example is a ladybug. They feed on several problematic pests, mealybugs included.

Alternatively, you can opt for the mealybug destroyer. Not kidding, that’s what a Cryptolaemus Montrouzieri does— it will crush mealybugs.

Introducing predators to snuff out mealybugs is a low-effort solution. This is best practiced in your outdoor garden as it might be tricky in houseplants. (You don’t want more bugs in your home anyways, right?)

4 Tips To Keep Mealybugs Away

  1. Regularly check for any pests. Catching pests, especially mealybugs, early on makes a huge difference.
  2. If you spot ants around your plant, that may be a sign that mealybugs are present. Isolate your succulent plant and begin treatment right away.
  3. Be mindful to check for pest infestation when introducing a new succulent into your succulent garden.
  4. Use a potting mix free of any pests or eggs for your succulents.

Other Common Pests

Other common pests affecting succulents include aphids and scale insects. Succulents may be affected by other types of pests besides insects. Some are prone to deer and other animals that feed on them. Slugs and snails can be a significant menace to some of the succulents.

Final Words

If all else fails, it’s okay. Sometimes we can’t fix every issue that arises with succulents but that’s the beauty of plants. Growing these beautiful succulents comes with growing pains.

Did this article help answer your succulent-care questions? Succulent City is devoted to aiding all succulent lovers, so we created a line of ebook guides! Check out our in-depth tips on Different Types of Planters or The Right Way to Propagating Succulents Successfully today!

If you enjoyed this article, give us a comment below! Let us know how you handle these pests, maybe we can learn something new too. Or come join the conversation in our exclusive Facebook group, Succulent City Plant Lounge. Also, subscribe and check for new activity on our Succulent City Youtube channel. We will be releasing some quality-packed videos sure to delight all succulent enthusiasts. 

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10 thoughts on “How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On Succulents

  1. I have always used the vegetable oil / dishwashing liquid method to eliminate pests from my plants. It’s very effective, but can get messy so I was surprised to hear about the alcohol. I’ve tried metholated spirit 1/10 mix but it had to be washed off within an hour or it burns the plants. I will certainly try this remedy.

  2. Gave this advice to a friend that had an infestation of mealy bugs. (the Alcohol method) and was happy to have you back my advice to her. Sometimes you remember a method, but need an expert to back you up. Thanks . Enjoyed quite a long time on your site

  3. I have a horrible infestation of mealybugs that got out of hand while I was ill. I have used the cotton swab and alcohol method in the past. But I have never had a infestation like this one. I am going to take your advice and spray them this time.

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