Mealy Bugs – A Guide to Getting Rid of Them

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What do mealy bugs look like?

this is what mealy bugs look like up close on a succulent
Mealy bugs. Yuck.

If you notice any small cotton like spots on your succulents, especially on the stem, flowers or any new growth, you probably have a mealy bug problem. They can also infest the roots. The white, cottony blobs are actually the eggs you’re seeing. Mealy bugs themselves are tiny gray bugs that don’t move very quickly. Mealy bugs will kill your succulents by sucking the nutrients out of them. At the very least, they’ll deform and stunt new growth. Sometimes you’ll notice that as leaves start to grow out, they don’t have smooth edges like the rest of the leaves. This is an indication that mealy bugs got to the leaves just as they were beginning to grow from the apical meristemapical meristem region of cells capable of division and growth in the root and shoot tips in plants. Apical meristems give rise to the primary plant body and are responsible for the extension of the roots and shoots

mealy bugs are really attracted to crassula capitella for some reason
echeveria cubic frost
Mealies love Echeveria 'Cubic Frost'

Mealy Bugs Are Nothing Against Rubbing Alcohol

Mealy bugs are really hard to get rid of because they’re so small but if you can catch them early you may be able to save your plant.

When you first notice an infestation, dip a small paintbrush and rubbing alcohol and pick off all of the bugs and the cottony nests that you can find. A lot of people will suggest spraying your whole plant with rubbing alcohol but I really don’t recommend that because rubbing alcohol at any amount will cause chemical burns. So, to minimize the potential of further harming your succulents, use a small paintbrush or cotton swab dipped in alcohol rather than spraying down your whole plant.

After I pick off mealy bugs with a paintbrush, I rinse the whole succulent really well with water to remove any residual alcohol that might have collected in the crevices of the leaves. You won’t notice chemical burns until those leaves grow out.

echeveria lolita tray

Mealy Bugs on the Flower Stalk

Mealy Bugs in the Roots

If the mealy bug infestation is limited to the flower stalk, just cut off the stalk and throw it away. Mealy bugs LOVE new, soft growth and flower stalks are the perfect candidate for these suckers.

Cutting off the bloom stalk (also known as an inflorescenceinflorescence the complete flower head of a plant including stems, stalks, bracts, and flowers) will not harm the overall health of your succulent. In fact, your succulent will probably begin to look even better because growing a bloom stalk takes a lot of energy away from the main plant.

If the mealy bugs are feeding on the roots, you’ll need to get rid of that soil. Wash off the roots with water to physically remove the pests. It is sometimes hard to tell the difference between perlite and mealy bugs just by visually inspection, so be on the safe side and just get rid of the soil.

You can repot your succulent right away in dry succulent soil, but give it about a week or more before you water it again as their hairlike roots are inevitably damaged any time you repot.

Other ways to get rid of an active mealy bug infestation:

  • Neem oil
  • Homemade spray made from dish soap and water
  • A spray insecticide like Ortho Home Defense

Mealy Bug Magnets

In my experience, the succulents that ALWAYS seem to attract mealy bugs are:

Crassula capitella ‘Campfire’

Echeveria ‘Cubic Frost’

Echeveria agavoides

No matter how much I’ve treated the plants, repotted them, relocated them, etc. those little buggers always show up! 

Mealy Bug Prevention

You can prevent a mealy bug infestation by drenching the soil of any new plants you get with a systemic insecticidesystemic insecticide distributed systemically throughout the whole plant. When insects feed on the plant, they ingest the insecticide. or mixing in a granular systemic insecticide in your soil.

It is also a good idea to quarantine your new plants away from your collection for a couple of weeks to be sure that nothing came home on your succulents from the nursery or store where you purchased them.

After Treating Your Succulents for Mealy Bugs

With any of these measures to treat and prevent mealy bugs from wreaking havoc in your succulents, keep your succulents out of the direct sun so they don’t burn. Applying anything to the leaves will have washed off some of the protective layer of powdery farinafarina A powdery coating on succulents that provides protection from the sun and repels water.  Also known as epicuticular wax. Succulents that are covered in farina are said to be glaucous. It can be removed or damaged by the oils from your fingers, so handle your farinose succulents with care. (also known as epicuticular waxfarina A powdery coating on succulents that provides protection from the sun and repels water.  Also known as epicuticular wax. Succulents that are covered in farina are said to be glaucous. It can be removed or damaged by the oils from your fingers, so handle your farinose succulents with care.) and it will take time to recover. That layer of farina won’t recover fully, but I’ve seen it happen to a small degree so it is possible. Either way, protecting your succulents from the sun during the hottest parts of the day is helpful even with healthy plants.

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