How to Get Rid of Mealybugs From Your 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, just ask the 327,000 people on our Instagram. From their cute, unique looks to their easy to handle maintenance qualities, succulents are no doubt a living room’s latest occupant.

These popular, eye-catching plants set an ambience 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 leaves, stem 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 plants sap found in the tissues. They use their long sucking mouth parts known as stylets to draw out tissue sap. Given the fleshy nature of fat plants, it’s no brainer why succulents are their favorites.

As mealybugs feed, they secrete honey dew, 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, they result to 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.

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 to 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 makes it hard for mealybugs to get noticed. They only attract attention once their population explodes.

Mealybugs secrete a sugary substance (honey dew) that attracts ants. These ants act as protection for the mealybugs in exchange for the sweet stuff. (Talk about bargaining with insects).

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 are looking all neat and green then the next day a whitish mist of cotton-like substance plagues your succulents. Mealybugs can come from anywhere, take a look at the most common causes of mealybugs below.

  • A new plant brought indoors.
  • Planing 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 against mealybug infestations on your beautiful succulents.

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 that the quarantined succulent plant is NOT within the same room as your other succulent plants.

Water Pressure

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

To generate the desired pressure, simply place your thumb on a garden hose. You can also use your sink’s spray-faucet. Since mealybugs like hiding, a special succulent watering bottle may be helpful in reaching them in their leaf crevices. We use this 2 Pack of Succulent Water Bottles from Mkono. 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 mealybugs rear their ugly heads, just repeat the treat.

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.

Isopropyl Alcohol

Very effective and inexpensive solution that knocks those bad boys 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 the 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 has evaporated, all mealybugs should be dead in a few minutes. The grayish bugs turn deep red while the cottony substance disintegrates.

The 70% isopropyl alcohol is completely safe for succulents and they won’t get burnt or damaged. This is because succulents possess a thick cuticle, some sort of 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.

Azamax

This is an organic, broad-spectrum pest control product that is derived from neem oil. Not only is it effective against mealybugs, but 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.

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 gets the job done! For general pest control simply add 1 Tablespoon per 1 Gallon, this Neem Oil is pretty strong!

Check the product label before using as it has to be diluted before using. 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.

Last update on 2020-03-20 / Amazon

Biological Control Methods

You can introduce predators on 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 literally 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?)

ALSO READ:

4 Tips to Keep Mealybugs Away

  1. Regularly check for any pests. Catching pests especially mealybugs early on make 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 that is free of any pests or eggs to your succulents.

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 in general. Growing these beautiful succulents comes with growing pains.

Did this article help answer your succulent-care questions? We sure hope so! If not, no worries. Succulent City is devoted to aiding all succulent lovers, and that’s why we created a line of ebook guides! Check out our in-depth tips on Different Types of Planters or even 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.

Why Your Succulents Keep Dying (Newbie Guide)

Whether you’re a newcomer to the succulent world just looking for a pop of color or a long-time cactus convert, succulents and cacti can often be NOT quite the low-maintenance dream they’re cracked up to be. From root rot to mealybugs, the culprits can be varied and often times confusing. But with these quick tips to help you identify and remedy whatever issue arises, you and your succulents will be happy and healthy again in no time! (That Crassula Ovata or Jade Plant will grow like no other).

Watering Your Succulents

Overwatering Succulents

Succulents are frequently native to hot, dry climates, and therefore have evolved to take advantage of every drop of water they can. (Talk about thirsty plants).

This means that when they get too much water they are at risk of developing root rot, a condition stemming from roots sitting in standing water or high-retention soil. An overwatered succulent will start to wrinkle like a finger after too long in the bath or become spongy and yellowed.

Luckily, if caught in time it is easy to fix — all it takes is not watering your plant for several days until the soil dries out completely. In order to prevent overwatering, however, you should be sure to water your succulents only about once a week and plant them in pots with plenty of drainage and soil that doesn’t retain water for very long. Check out our article about when you should water your succulents, it’s helped more than 3000 people.

Cactus and succulent friendly soil is readily available at hardware stores, nurseries, and even some grocery stores, and can also be made at home. But here are some I found on Amazon for those that like things delivered. (Including me).

Under Watering Succulents

While over saturation is by far the more common issue, it is also possible to water your succulents too little. This can occur both if your succulents are watered too infrequently, or if they are in too tall a pot. We recommend a short and stubby succulent pot. Check this 6″ Ceramic Pot out, this will give you an idea for what to keep a look out for when purchasing planters for your succulents!

Succulent and cactus roots are very shallow, so tall pots with what would generally be considered healthy drainage can draw water away from roots before they have a chance to soak it up. Under watered plants are generally relatively easy to identify, as cactuses tend to shrivel up and pucker while succulent’s upper leaves will begin to dry out and get crunchy.

The solution here is pretty clear: simply water your plant more, aiming for a good soak about once a week. It is often easiest to pick a day to be the succulent watering day, thereby making it a routine that is easy to remember and work into your lifestyle. (Plus, your succulents will look forward to this day).

Watering Succulents from Above

While this is less of an issue for cactuses, succulents often have lots of nooks and crannies near the base of the plant that will catch and retain water if watered from above. This can begin to decay the base and stem of the plant and can be challenging to notice until it is too late and the core of the plant is rotten.

If you notice leaves starting to rot from the base up it is best to pluck those leaves and attempt to remove any standing water or rotten foliage.

However, the best way to avoid this issue is to water your succulents at the base rather than with a spray bottle and avoid letting water land on the tops of the leaves.

Mineral Build Up

Tap water can be full of all manner of minerals from calcium to fluoride to chlorine. While these are all beneficial for their human uses, depending on the levels in your local tap water they can be downright harmful to succulents.

If you begin to notice a white crusty build up on your leaves or the soil around your plant, you may want to consider either switching to watering with distilled or filtered water, which can sometimes be a hassle, or simply letting your water sit for a day or so before use to let any sediments or minerals filter to the bottom of the container.

This practice, while not always necessary, can limit the amount of contact these minerals have with your succulents.

Diseases & Parasites in Your Succulent Plants

Mealy Bugs

Mealybugs are similar to the aphids that appear in outdoor gardens in that they usually show up in large numbers and leave what looks like little bits of dirt on the leaves of your succulent. Unlike aphids, however, mealybugs are generally a whitish grey and can appear on indoor plants.

They spread quickly, so how can you get rid of mealy bugs from your succulents?

The first step in quelling an infestation is always to quarantine any infested succulents. As long as that step is taken first, the follow-up treatment is relatively easy. Simply mix up a solution of three parts isopropyl alcohol to one part water and spray your succulents daily until the mealybugs clear up, usually only a couple days.

While this may sound dangerous, this solution will not burn your plants and as the alcohol evaporates quickly, you shouldn’t run into any issues with root rot. More often than not mealybugs are attracted to succulents that have been overwatered or over fertilized, so they are also a good sign to reassess how you’re caring for your succulent.

Having a mealy bug problem? Check out our guide on How to Get Rid of Mealy Bugs

Scale Insects

Scale bugs or insects are small shelled bugs of a dark brown color that attach themselves to stems or leaves and suck the moisture from your succulents. While it is best to treat them in their larval stage, they are often hard to locate and are readily treatable in adulthood too.

Unlike mealybugs, scale insects can simply be picked off by hand if you have some time. They can also be treated with the same three to one isopropyl alcohol to water solution as the mealybugs, although they may take more time to respond to the treatment due to their protective shells. (It’s like armor to them).

If you find that the alcohol solution is simply not working you can also use neem oil, which is usually available at your local hardware store. Neem oil can be very concentrated, so be sure to follow the directions on the container to avoid burning your succulents as well as the scale bug. (We definitely don’t want to hurt our baby succulents).

Luckily scale bugs are not a time-sensitive pest as long as you begin to treat them before your succulent plant starts to shrivel, so attempting several treatment methods won’t harm your beautiful succulents.

Other Succulent Pests

There are a variety of other, less common insects, fungi, and diseases that can make your succulent home, but more often than not the three to one isopropyl alcohol to water solution will kill an insect infestation and neem oil will target insects, mites, and fungi.

If you are unsure what category your infestation falls under, begin with the alcohol solution, as it can’t damage your plant. If that doesn’t work, move on to a neem oil solution while being mindful with the directions on your particular container to avoid burning your succulent.

Always begin by isolating the affected plant to avoid the issue spreading. If neither of those solutions work, consider bringing the plant into your local nursery. Like a trip to the doctors! They may be able to identify the issue more specifically and suggest another viable solution.

Succulent Home

Succulent Planter

A thriving cactus or succulent will eventually outgrow its pot, either above or below the soil. Why is that? Because they are adapted to dry environments, succulents and cacti roots are shallow and tend to grow horizontally, so they can quickly outgrow a pot that is too small or narrow.

If you notice that your succulent isn’t growing anymore, or is beginning to die, it might be time to consider repotting. Rehoming your plant into a slightly larger, and specifically wider, pot can do wonders for growth and the overall health of your plant. Here’s an article we just wrote about the tips and tricks in repotting succulents, it’s quick and easy!

Succulent Climate & Temperature Tolerance

Succulents can be sensitive to extreme cold, so keeping them in above freezing temps is an important part of keeping your plant happy. A succulent that has gotten too cold can look burned, with parts of the upper leaves beginning to brown, droop, or shrivel up.

If you like to sleep with your windows open in the winter and you live in a colder environment, perhaps consider keeping your succulents in a different room when the weather begins to drop below freezing at night.

Succulent Lighting

Succulents thrive in bright sunlight, so housing them in places that don’t receive much natural light can cause stretching as they seek the light they need.

A stretching succulent will get much taller, with leaves spread widely up and down the stem to maximize the amount of light each leaf receives. If you begin to notice stretching simply move your plant to a location with more light, as once stretching has occurred it’s impossible for the plant to return to its original height.

Here’s a highly reviewed indoor grow light on Amazon we’ve found that is perfect for your indoor succulents.

When your succulent is in bright sunlight, it is also important to avoid leaving water droplets sitting on its leaves after watering, as the water can focus the light and it risks burning your leaves. This is another reason to be sure to water your plants from below the leaves. Learn how to properly propagate succulents for the most effective position for light.

ALSO READ:


Hopefully, these tips can help you identify and resolve any issues that arise during your succulent care endeavors and keep your plants healthy for years to come.

It is also important to remember that it is completely natural and healthy for some leaves to die at the plant grows. So leaves at the base of your plant drying up and falling off is NOT in any way a poor reflection of your care for your succulent family.

Did this article help answer your succulent-care questions? We sure hope so! If not, no worries. Succulent City is devoted to aiding all succulent lovers, and that’s why we created a line of ebook guides! Check out our in-depth tips on Succulent Drainage Requirements or even The Most Common Issues Amongst Succulent Growers today!

If you’re new in the succulent world, here are some beginner succulents that are quite easy to take care of when you first begin. Happy growing!

>