One threat often lurks unseen below the soil – root mealybugs. These subterranean suckers can wreak havoc on our prickly plant pals. Succulent enthusiasts are usually well-versed in spotting and treating common pests like foliage mealybugs and aphids. Let’s take a closer look at root mealybugs and how to protect succulents from their hungry hideouts underground.
What are Root Mealybugs?
Root mealybugs are small, soft-bodied insects that resemble their above-ground cousins. Only reaching 1/10th of an inch long, they secrete waxy filaments as they feed on root systems. Like other mealybugs, they give live birth to young and populations grow exponentially. While mostly subterranean, their wax and casting residues may be seen on soil surfaces.
Recognizing an Infestation
At low levels, root mealybugs may go unnoticed with only general signs of stress in infected plants. As numbers rise, look for bluish soil dye from wax residues. Leaves yellow and wilt severely as nutrients are sucked away. Check roots when dry soil allows mealybugs disturbed by watering to scatter for visual inspection.
Containers make root mealybugs easier to spot, often clustered between the root ball and pot rim. Carefully remove the plant, shake or wash off all soil, and inspect roots closely. Discard heavily infested plants as rehab is difficult. For others, dunking the bare root ball in 115-120°F water for 1-2 minutes eliminates hitchhikers in crevices. Replant in sterilized soil and monitor diligently.
Preventing Landscape Infestations
Abnormal ant activity near succulent base may indicate a below-ground problem. Gently excavate small specimens to check roots. Soil drenches containing safer insecticides like pyrethrins, organophosphates or pyrethroids targeted at mealybugs may help control larger populations. Imidacloprid can also treat non-edible landscapes when used responsibly.
Integrated Pest Management
Following careful practices that nurture healthy succulents is the core strategy. Use well-draining soil amended with perlite or sand to prevent soggy conditions mealybugs thrive in. Rotate plants or soil locations every few years to disrupt insect life cycles. Monitor for initial pests that may lead to root infections. Physical controls like hosing off soil prior to replanting also buys time. With diligence, you can preserve your prized pricklies pest-free!
With a bit of detective work and Integrated Pest Management tactics, root mealybugs need not doom your succulent collection. Staying vigilant below ground keeps these hungry hitchhikers from destroying your drought-defenders from the roots up.