Houseplant Pest: Treating Mealybugs
This unforgiving pest is one of the worst. I know many a plant enthusiast who has come across mealybugs though and lived to tell the tale. The secret to beating this highly mobile, invasive pest is patience and diligence. Like with treating grubs in outdoor conditions, the mealybug has different generations you are working to defeat and so it really takes two types of treatment. A systemic and a topical foliar cleaner. There are many options for both.
One of the first rules when bringing a new plant into the house is to double-check them before they come home. I also always like to use some granular systemic on plants as a safety protocol. Then I kind of just keep my eyes on any new plants. Once plants are through this quarantine period though, generally, you should be safe to relax. Although sometimes, stragglers survive.
If a plant has become infested and you are determined to save it, then the first step is to rinse off as many pests with a shower of water. Regular rain in an environment is one variable that naturally helps clean plants off. Regular rinsing is always a great, non-invasive care tip. You may also find it helpful to turn your plant on its side and rinse it.
Next, I like to use a rubbing alcohol and water solution to spot clean. Some people mist this solution on as well. Mealybug tissue is soft, and they are easily burned by the isopropyl alcohol, so it’s a good topical treatment in addition to soap or neem oil.
After a topical rub down of the plant using water and alcohol, I then like to use insecticidal soap and neem oil* (Depending on the plant). Some plants can have issues with different care regimens so it’s important to learn about your plants' requirements before assuming their needs. That being said, we recommend using both treatments if possible. Insecticidal soap is another level of cleaning on top of the alcohol which just increases your likelihood of success. Then, using neem oil is great because it will stay on the surface of your plant and literally suffocates pests, making it harder for mealybugs to move around.
After you have done your topical treatments, you are ready to sprinkle a little granular houseplant systemic on your soil surface and water it in. Systemic takes time, but it will absorb into the plant and make it toxic to invasive pests. This will help you target established and unhatched generations of the pest.
It's also important to note that mealybugs and other pests are nature’s garbage collectors… meaning that they arrive and feed on plants that are stressed or unhealthy. Another preventative and long-term solution is to feed your soil with House Plant Magic. This helps thicken the plant’s cell walls, it’s tissues become more robust and the plant thrives. If it’s too difficult for a mealybug to get nutrients from a plant, it will move on and eventually die off.
Ultimately you will want to repeat these steps at least twice to ensure you are pest free. This is a whole process that can work but as we said before, diligence is the key to overcoming mealybugs, so don’t give up.