White Fuzz on Succulents: Causes and Remedies

If you notice white fuzz on succulents, your plant is suffering from mealybugs. In this article, we tell you what it is and why it appears, how to detect it and how to permanently eliminate it.

white fuzz on succulents
White fuzz on succulents

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Mealybug: The white fuzz on succulents

The mealybug is, without a doubt, one of the most common pests and the one that usually gives the most headaches to anyone who grows succulents. The objective of this article is to explain in detail what the mealybug is, how to detect it, and, of course, how to eliminate it from your succulents.

For this, we are going to share some home remedies to eliminate them from your succulents. In addition, it is important to note that the home remedies that we show you in this post not only serve to eliminate the mealybugs in succulents but you can also use them as a prevention method by applying them periodically to avoid the appearance of this plague.

Currently, there are more than 7,500 species of mealybugs, although the best known and most widespread in the world is the so-called cotton mealybug (Phenacoccus solenopsis). It is the specific species that usually attacks succulents and cacti.

white powder on succulents

The mealybug is a whitish insect no more than 4 mm in length that hides between the roots, under the leaves, or in the part between the stem and the leaves, so, at first, they can be difficult to detect.

There are several types of mealybug and the most common, which you have probably encountered or will encounter, is the cotton mealybug.

For all those people who are not yet familiar with this pest: the mealybug can be your worst enemy. It is a pest that can become a big problem if it is not controlled in time. In addition, the mealybug passes from plant to plant very easily and can infect your entire collection without you, many times, even noticing it until you have several compromised plants.

These undesirable hosts feed on the sap of our succulents and cacti, especially in the newly growing parts. When feeding they cause small wounds that:

  • make them more prone to infection and rot.
  • they can leave marks like scars on the leaves
  • can make succulents look bad
  • make them look weak and
  • make them not grow evenly

Negative effects of mealybugs on the health of succulents

  • Deformations in the growth and formation of calluses
  • Accelerated wilt of stems and leaves
  • Premature fall of flower buds
  • Necrosis of stems and roots
  • Transmission of viruses
  • Wounds in tissues that are infested by bacteria and / or pathogenic fungi

How to detect mealybug in your succulents

One of the most obvious clues to know that your succulents have a plague of mealybugs is to discover a kind of “cotton”, which are actually nests of eggs and are proof that they have been roaming the plant for some time.

Did you know this?

The females are the parasites

In this group of insects, the females are the ones that feed on the sap of the plants, and the males are only born with a single objective—reproduction (they last a few days). In most species, the females when they reach adulthood remain totally immobile in some areas of ​​the plant species in order to extract the sap that will serve them as food. Being immobile, they need some predator protection mechanism and for this reason, many have developed (from the evolutionary point of view) a hard and waterproof protective shield shaped like a scale that isolates its entire body from the outside.

This shield is the main cause that many contact insecticides (Example: Cypermethrin) are totally useless for the control of these pests, their elimination from plants being complicated (only systemic insecticides are effective).

Another problem with these insects for plants is that most species give off a sugary substance that facilitates the proliferation of pathogenic fungi and attracts ants that will protect them from predatory insects.

The males have wings

Only males possess wings in order to seek females to reproduce while females never develop them (they do not need them).

In any case, mealybugs are not invincible pests as there are numerous home methods and many chemicals to eliminate them. It must be taken into account that the speed of elimination of these pests depends on the level of colonization of the affected plants, that is, the faster we detect them, the faster we will eliminate them.

How to eliminate cotton mealybug on succulents

mealy bugs on succulent plants

Next, we are going to give you 4 very simple tips so you can learn how you can eliminate the pest of mealybugs from your succulents.

  1. The first thing you should do when you detect that one of your plants has mealybugs is to check all of them. As you already know, they spread very easily, so it doesn’t hurt to make sure you identify all those affected by mealybug.
    Take a good look at the places where they hide, in the stems near the substrate, in the newly grown leaves and in the lower part of the leaves.
  1. Quarantine affected plants. Separate your plant or plants with mealybugs from the others because when you start to treat them, they try to find “new homes” to stay. You don’t want perfectly good plants to be affected. The best thing, then, is to keep the plants with mealybugs away as a preventive measure.
  1. Control the irrigation of your plants. Mealybugs are very comfortable when there is excess moisture. If you let it dry between waterings, you make life more difficult for these pests.
  1. It is quite common for the mealybug to appear on our plants sometimes in life, or even several. Normally they appear because we add to our collection a plant that had mealybugs and ends up contaminating others, so it is always advisable to check all newly acquired plants and make sure they are free of pests.

Home remedies to eliminate cotton mealybug in succulents

Solution of isopropyl alcohol

One of our home remedies that we use the most and that has worked best is to use a 70% solution of isopropyl alcohol in water. Along with its proven effectiveness, we really like to use rubbing alcohol for a number of other reasons:

  • it is ecological,
  • it’s easy to get,
  • it’s easy to use,
  • and it is economical.

In addition, it also helps to get rid of aphids!

You must take into account something very important with alcohol:

After using it, you should not expose your succulents to direct sunlight—they should be in the shade or receive filtered light for a couple of days. We recommend applying alcohol in the late afternoon and taking advantage of cloudy and gray days to apply this home remedy.

If you have your plants indoors, this is not usually a problem. In the event that you have your plants outdoors,  you must protect them from the sun to avoid burns. This method is effective if, once applied, you are clear about what precautions to take with your succulents.

In the event that you are not very clear about this, we recommend that you use one of the other two methods that we propose.

Alcohol kills mealybugs on contact and is harmless to your succulents. But be careful, do not use this remedy on other plants because it burns them.

You can rub alcohol on a glass, ear swab or cotton swab and swipe it over each mealybug you see on your succulents. This form of an application takes a long time, especially if you have a large collection or several infested plants. Therefore, we recommend using a spray bottle.

Preparation of the recipe for isopropyl alcohol

You should use 70% alcohol. This is a good ratio because it is sufficient to kill the mealybug. Alcohol evaporates quickly and in this proportion, it will not harm your plants.

There are some brands that sell alcohol in this ratio, but if you can’t find it, all you have to do is add water to lower the percentage.

  1. Take a bottle, calculate 70% and fill it with alcohol.
  2. Fill the remaining 30% of the bottle with clean irrigation water. It can be filtered or boiled water. Shake the mixture a little and it is ready to be used.
  3. Spray your succulents with mealybugs with this mixture. Be sure to focus on the joint of the stem and leaves, at the base, and anywhere mealybugs may hide. We at Succulent Alley also spray a little on the substrate, in case there are hidden eggs there.

If your plants have numerous mealybugs, one application will not be enough, so wait 3 or 4 days and apply again. Many times the mealybug reappears because eggs are hidden in places that are difficult to access and, again, the pest proliferates. You must be on the lookout for this and apply the alcohol mixture again.

Precautions after applying the remedy of the isopropyl alcohol

Once you make sure that you have removed all the mealybug, you can remove your succulents from quarantine and rejoin your collection. Although alcohol does not harm succulents, nor does it burn them, it does make them more sensitive to sunburn.

After using alcohol, do not expose your succulents to direct sunlight; they should be in the shade or receive filtered light for a couple of days. We recommend applying alcohol in the late afternoon and taking advantage of cloudy and gray days to apply this home remedy.

So far, this is the remedy that has worked the best for us to eliminate the mealybug from our succulents.

Diatomaceous earth

Another home remedy that you can use to remove the cotton mealybug from succulents is diatomaceous earth.

Diatomaceous earth is a very effective ecological insecticide against some types of pests. We at Succulent Alley usually use this.

Solution of potassium soap

Finally, another home remedy to eliminate the cotton mealybug from succulents is the potassium soap that you can buy in any supermarket, grocery store, or on Amazon through this link. Here are more products that you can use for your mix.

Like the two previous remedies, the potassium solution with soap is absolutely ecological, harmless, and biodegradable, it does not harm the health of people and pets and serves not only to combat the cotton mealybug, but also the red spider, the aphid, the whitefly, among other pests.

The way to use it is really simple. You must mix a portion of this soap with hot water so that it melts and make the soapy solution.

Then you can apply it to your succulents, without any problem.

And you, do you know of any other remedy to eliminate them? Leave us a comment.