Have you recently spotted little white bugs on plants or flowers in your garden? These could be mealybugs. The most common type of mealybug is the long tailed or citrus mealybug. They can look like white fuzz on plants leaves and stems.
They are very teeny in size and mainly oval-shaped, white in color and up to 6mm long. They also have bat-like wings that stick to plants making very difficult to remove by hand.
Mealybugs feed on plant sap but they don’t actually eat leaves, stems or fruits – they suck the juices from within. If you have a mealy bug infestation, your plant may end up in big trouble!
Read on to understand what mealybugs are and how to eliminate this pest, saving your plant.
So What Exactly Are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are sucking insects that feed on plant sap and damage plants by stunting growth and weaken the plant. Mealybugs excrete a sticky, sugary substance called honeydew which encourages mold.
They damage indoor and outdoor plants by piercing the leaves, stems or branches with their mouths, injecting a toxin as they feed which causes yellowing and leaf drop.
Mealybugs can attack a wide range of plants but seem to favor new growth and softer, succulent plant tissue.
They particularly like greenhouses where they cause severe damage – they can be difficult to eradicate once established. Mealybugs are most active when the weather is warm (20-30°C / 70-85°F) and humid.
How Do the Little White Bugs Get on Plants?
It can start out with just little bug! The female mealybugs lay their eggs in a cotton-like white wax on the plant leaves and stems. When they hatch they begin to eat and suck the plants juice.
Mealybugs cause serious damage to young plants but more established trees can cope with low numbers of these bugs without too many problems.
However, if the numbers are high then mealy bugs can cause serious problems by sucking plant juices resulting in wilting and discoloration of leaves.
Another problem with mealybugs is that they attract ants which interfere with their control. You should be able to identify a mealybug infestation by checking your plants for white cotton-wool like growths.
How do I know they are Mealybugs and not Something Else?
The main telltale sign of mealybugs or any pest for that matter is damage to the plant. Mealybugs will not kill a healthy plant but they cause serious problems to young and sensitive plants.
A mealy bug infestation looks like little pieces of white cotton on the leaves of your plants. Mealybugs reproduce very quickly, so it is important to take action to control them as soon as you notice them.
If you find them during early stages of your plants growth, cut off the infested stem. You can also dip or place a longer stem into a jar with rubbing alcohol to kill them.
Mealybugs are common in moist environments and can be controlled with proper care. Remove mealybug infested leaves and stems to control the population, using rubbing alcohol on a q-tip or cotton ball to remove bugs from plant surfaces (be careful not to get this in the soil).
Dispose of infested material in a sealed bag to prevent adult bugs from escaping.
Since the mealybugs are so small, you might not see how many there really are. You will just see the white cotton puffs grow and grow.
What do Mealy Bugs Look like?
Mealybugs have a white cottony/waxy body with no hardened covering. They also can have waxy legs or extensions around its body and backside.
This picture show these insects in various stages of life – eggs, young, older and adult stages. One of the main reasons mealybugs go unnoticed so long after they have infested your plant is because they are so small and nearly impossible to spot without a magnifying glass or 10x hand lens.
Always the tale tell sign are the little puffs of cotton which are really the egg sacks and molted skins. Most mealy bugs that you find on plants are female. Each female can produce hundreds to thousands of offspring, commonly without mating.
Are Mealybugs harmful to humans?
Mealybugs don’t pose much danger to people, other than frustration, but they can kill your plants. They are one of the most annoying indoor and outdoor garden pests to deal with because they are so tricky to get rid of.
Fortunately, if you tackle them early and use several control methods simultaneously, it is possible to eradicate them without losing your plants.
How do you Recognize a Mealy Bug infestation?
Mealybugs look like tiny pieces of cotton wool that stick to leaves or stems and they vary in color – some are white, some yellow and others grey.
They hide during the day under leaves and stems but move around at night, so you may find them on the surface rarely.
An infestation on your houseplant will look like cottony growths on your plants that appeared out of nowhere.
Mealybugs are clever little devils, they like to hide and then come in for the sneak attack. It seems like overnight there’s white cottony growth on plants that appeared out of nowhere.
Why are there Little White Bugs on Your Plants?
Mealybug infestations are an indication that something in your growing environment is not quite right. Check that there is good airflow and keep leaves clean of dust which provides protection for small insects.
Keep your crop healthy with regular feeding and watering. Monitor for plant pests and treat or isolate any infested plants immediately before the problem spreads to other plants in the same room.
How do you get Rid of mealy bugs?
Getting rid of mealybugs isn’t easy because once you have an infestation, it can be hard to contain and will require a lot of effort and diligence to get rid of them.
You will need to isolate any infested plants, clean the area and possibly use chemical pesticides to completely eradicate mealybugs from your growing space.
So how to get rid of little white bugs on plants… keep your growing area clean by tidying away dead leaves and old growth so that the mealybugs don’t have a food source. Use an insecticidal soap or alcohol applied with a spray bottle to bring them under control and keep their numbers down.
Neem oil is a great organic pesticide that can be used to kill mealy bugs. Mix it with water and spray it on the infested plants.
Most people have rubbing alcohol in their cabinets at home and is a easy fix for plants in need. It can kill bugs really well but you need to dilute it first. Mix 90% rubbing alcohol 1:1 with water.
Spray all over your plant and in every crevice you see. Leave on for 5 min and then rinse off with lukewarm water. Within a few days you should see your plant happier and healthier.
There are a few ways to use hydrogen peroxide to kill mealy bugs. One way is to mix it with water and spray it on the infested plants. Another way is to pour the hydrogen peroxide directly on the mealy bugs.
Finally, you can dip a cotton ball in hydrogen peroxide and dab it on the mealy bugs and plant leaves.
You will want to be very careful when using hydrogen peroxide, as it can harm the plants if used incorrectly.
If you can do this before they become a problem it will be easier to eradicate the mealy bugs, stop them from multiplying and prevent further damage to your plant.
The best way to prevent future mealybug infestations is to keep your growing area clean. Inspect new plants for signs of mealy bugs before introducing them into your indoor garden. Never move an infested plant around as this will spread the problem to other areas.
Can I use Chemicals on those little White Bugs on Plants?
Yes you can use chemicals on mealy bugs, but in my opinion this should be a last resort or you have a bad infestation. These guys are really tough to get rid of so its understandable that chemicals might need to be used.
Carefully read all instructions and safety information before using any pesticide, select the appropriate chemicals and always wear protective clothing when using sprays.
It is unlawful to use any chemical in a manner that is inconsistent with the label directions.
Mealybugs are one of the toughest indoor garden pests to get rid of – how did you get rid of yours? These little white bugs on plants and flowers can be quite the nuisance but with a little luck, you can eliminate them and save your garden.
Share your tips in the comments section below.