Eradicate Mealybugs while Safeguarding Your Plants: 4 Effective Ways

Along with the well-known aphids, the mealybug is one of the most common and harmful pests for our plants. Fighting the mealybug and eliminating it from plants is not easy, but today we will explain how to do it!

The lack of environmental humidity is one of the main causes of the appearance of this parasite, which is dedicated to absorbing nutrients from plants.

If you have had the misfortune to run into this pest or if you want to be aware, we will show you how to kill mealybugs without harming your plants.

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How to Detect Mealybugs in Plants

how to kill mealybugs

The mealybug is easy to eliminate if it is detected early. To do this, it is important to check your plants periodically, paying special attention to the back of the leaves, as this is where this pest is mostly found.

One of the ways to eliminate mealybugs from our plants is to wet a cotton ball in alcohol and clean the affected areas of the plant with it. It is important not to leave any live mealybugs behind, as it could infect the plant again.

If the infected plant is too large, or if you have several infected plants, the best way to eliminate the mealybug is by making a solution of rubbing alcohol, dish soap and hot water. Spray the plants with the solution once a week for a whole month to get rid of the pest.

Another homemade solution is to put half a dozen cigarettes in a container of water for an hour and a half and then water the affected plants with that water.

If the mealybug problem persists after trying these homemade solutions, you will need to get a specific chemical product for the elimination of the mealybug.

Types of Mealybugs

There are several types of mealybugs, but the most popular varieties of mealybugs are the following:

Citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri)

This type of mealybugs can attack a large number of plants, whether indoors or outdoors. They are soft-bodied, grayish-white or pinkish insects that can measure up to 4 mm in length and are usually found mainly in the axils of the leaves and other places that are difficult to access, such as between several tangled stems.

They secrete a silky, shiny white substance (similar to cotton) under which they hide the eggs, making the attacked plants sticky and prone to developing black mold.

Ground mealybug (Rhizoecus falcifer)

rhizoecus falcifer

This type of mealybugs mainly attack plants grown in pots, specifically cacti, succulents, geraniums, ferns, African violets and fuchsias.

They are up to 2 mm long and are usually covered, together with the roots, under a white serous powder.

Long-tailed mealybug (Pseudococcus longispinus)

Long-tailed mealybug occurs naturally in tropical and sub-tropical regions, but these days it is widespread throughout the world. The range of host plants of long-tailed mealybugs is less extensive than that of the citrus mealybug but it nevertheless encompasses many species of (ornamental) crops (e.g. croton, orchids, grapes, avocado, apple, citrus). The species often inhabits concealed places such as auxiliary buds and prefers a warm, humid environment.

The long-tailed mealybug is easily recognized by the long, posterior tail filaments, which are at least the length of the body itself. The length of the other filaments is roughly half the width of the body. The female is 3 – 4 mm long.

Obscure mealybug (Pseudococcus viburni)

pseudococcus viburni

The obscure mealybug has a very similar appearance to the citrus mealybug, but its body is covered with a thicker layer of wax, the filaments around the body are longer (20-50% of the body size) and the two tail filaments are always markedly longer than the others.

The obscure mealybug is sometimes encountered on tomato, primarily at the foot of the stalk. These mealybugs can also cause damage in ornamental crops such as passiflora, pelargonium, and orchids. Pseudococcus viburni is difficult to control biologically.

What Causes Mealybugs

As we have already mentioned, excessive environmental dryness is one of the first reasons why mealybugs can reproduce.

Indoor plants are the most attacked and in general are the ones that suffer the most from these insects. Largely due to specific humidity conditions.

The presence of high heating is a very important factor. This helps to increase the environmental dryness, therefore, it must be ensured that the environment does not dry out and thus not favor the appearance of the mealybugs.

One of the ways to increase the humidity in your home rooms is to place containers full of water next to the heating radiators, so the water vapor will humidify the room. Another less economical way for more effectiveness is to install humidifiers in your home.

If you have a very terrible infestation, the best way to deal with it is with an early detection, before the pest spreads all over the plant. Once the mealybug infestation appears, you must act immediately, eliminating all existing mealybugs.

If only a single mealybug remains on the plant, it will be able to reproduce again on the plant.

What Kills Mealybugs

Once the plant is infected with mealybugs, there are three methods to eliminate it:

  • By using rags soaked in alcohol or using soap and water
  • Chemical products can be used
  • You can also opt for biological methods

Eliminating Mealybugs the Natural Way

To eliminate the mealybugs with more natural methods, use a cloth soaked in alcohol and eliminate all the infestation of mealybugs by checking all the leaves of the plant.

For less accessible places in the plant you can use a cotton swab. Soak the cotton with alcohol and remove the mealybugs.

If the plant is quite large or you have many infected plants, you can spray the plants with a mixture of rubbing alcohol and liquid soap well diluted in water. After that, take a cloth or cotton and manually remove all the mealybugs.

what kills mealybugs

Another interesting way for difficult or more complicated areas for cacti with long spines is to use a brush soaked in alcohol or a mixture of alcohol and soap.

Insectidal soap is considered a very suitable soap for treating mealybugs and other pests such as aphids or spider mites, as well as fungi such as mildew and powdery mildew.

Eliminating Mealybugs the Chemical Way

To complete the above options, it is convenient to carry out applications of chemical products that are capable of eliminating mealybugs or preventing them from reappearing.

After removing all the mealybugs by hand, take a systemic insecticide for mealybugs and spray the entire plant well.

It is important to note that the affected plant must be separated from those that are not affected to avoid possible infections.

You should also check the plant and its leaves often. Pay special attention to the lower part of the stems and the underside of the leaves to check that none have survived.

The application of the systemic insecticide must be repeated every 15 days to combat mealybugs.

In the case of plants with very hard leaves such as yuccas or ficus, a neem oil insecticide can be used that, in addition to killing the mealybugs, gives the leaves a shine.

These application methods require a series of special care to avoid damaging the plant or to prevent the product from being ingested especially by people or domestic animals.

The Best Insecticides for Mealybugs

At Succulent Alley we recommend these insecticides to eliminate mealybugs from your plants:

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bonide products inc 912102 652 ready-to-use insect soap, quart, 1 Bonide Products INC 912102 652 Ready-to-Use Insect Soap, Quart, 1
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compare-n-save systemic tree and shrub insect drench - 75333, 1 gallon Compare-N-Save Systemic Tree and Shrub Insect Drench – 75333, 1 Gallon
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bonide (bnd022 - ready to use neem oil, insect pesticide for organic gardening (32 oz.) - 2 pack Bonide (BND022 – Ready to Use Neem Oil, Insect Pesticide for Organic Gardening (32 oz.) – 2 Pack
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How to use insecticides against mealybugs

When applying chemical products we will take into account the following recommendations:

1. Spray the plant in a well-ventilated place

It is important to spray the insecticides to fight the mealybug in a suitable place. Chemical products can be toxic to people or animals in the house.

If the plant can be taken out to spray at the terrace or garden, much better. Otherwise, you can open the windows and spray in the hallway at the entrance of the house while isolating the rest of the rooms, closing the doors.

If the plants are in rooms with animals and you cannot remove them, you must remove the animal from the room. Cats, fish, birds, etc. are prone to be affected by these products.

Sometimes you will not be able to get the animals out of the room as with the fish tanks. Then it is necessary to prevent the product from reaching the animals and for this you have to cover the cage or the fish tank.

2. Pre-wash the leaves of the plants with soap and water

The use of these products due to their oily nature provides great stress to the plants. If you wash the leaves, you will get it to breathe better and reduce stress.

Wash at the right distance and with the right amount of product. The application distance is usually about 50 centimeters. Shorter distances can damage the plant.

3. Apply the right amount of product

In the same way, your plant can be affected if you apply too much product.

It is important to know that you have to use the right amount to wet the entire plant but without the product accumulating. The most important part is the underside of the plant’s leaves.

4. Do not apply product on days that are too cold or too hot

Too hot or too cold puts too much strain on the plant, added to the stress of spraying.

It is also advisable not to leave the treated plant in the sun. Treated plants should be kept in the shade for at least 24 hours after spraying.

5. Read the manufacturer’s instructions well

It seems like a no-brainer, but it is the best way to avoid potential interactions or side effects on other plants and potential harm to people or animals.

Eliminating Mealybugs the Biological Way

You will understand by biological methods the use of other plants or animals to combat the mealybug.

Among the possible ones, the following stand out:

Using other plants to combat mealybugs

Among the most interesting plants are the following:

  • Fern
  • Tobacco
  • Oregano

Using other insects to combat mealybugs

The following table shows the series of insects that are used for the biological treatment of mealybugs:

Mealybug ladybird (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri)mealybug destroyer
Mealybug parasitic wasp (Leptomastix dactylopii)leptomastix dactylopii
Ladybird beetle (Rodolia cardinalis)rodolia cardinalis
Scymnus sp.scymnus interruptus
Larvae of Common green lacewing (Chrysoperla carnea)chrysoperla carnea larva


Are mealybugs harmful to humans?

No! The concern that mealybugs could be harmful to humans is unfounded. They neither have proboscis (sucking mouthpart) nor can they bite humans. The fine hairs on the surface are also harmless.

They also cannot infect humans. The only hosts available to mealybugs as a source of food are plants.

Where do mealybugs come from?

Mealybugs are often brought into your own four walls or into the garden by buying new plants. Take a close look at the plants in your hardware store or garden center. If you notice white cottony webs there, you should definitely keep your hands off the plant. The right location for plants is crucial to avoid a mealybug infestation. You should generally avoid locations with little light. Dry and warm heating air offers ideal conditions for mealybugs to spread. Therefore, you should make sure to ventilate more often, especially in winter, and not think about placing the plant over the heater. Avoid too high nitrogen fertilization.