Bugs on Succulents

Bugs on succulents are unsightly and put your plants in great danger. These pests cannot be avoided, especially if you are cultivating succulents outdoors along with other kinds of plants. In this article,  get to know common bugs that attack and feed on succulents, as well as treatment options to eradicate them for good. 

Common Types of Bugs on Succulents 

These are the most common types of bugs on succulents:

1. Mealybugs 

Scientific name: Pseudococcidae

Size: 1/20 to ⅕ of an inch

Color:  white, light pink, bright yellow-green 

Mealybugs are soft-bodied, wingless, plant-sucking pests that are perennial problems in gardens and greenhouses. They appear as white cottony masses on the stems and leaves of succulents. They feed on the plants by sucking and drawing sap out of the tissues. 

An extreme infestation could cause leaf yellowing and curling, making the plants eventually weaken. These pests produce honeydew, which makes the plants sticky and encourages the growth of sooty mold. 

How to control mealybugs:

Control these bugs by dabbing them with rubbing alcohol using a cotton swab or paintbrush. It will kill them without harming the plants. Remove the dead bugs at once. You can also wash affected plants with insect-killing soap, but use it sparingly to prevent buildup. 

You may also opt to use pesticides if there is a heavy infestation of mealybugs. Beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, and mealybug destroyers also effectively control bugs on succulents. 

If there is evident damage such as black spots but no trace of mealybugs, it could be that they are lurking in the roots. Remove the plants from their potting and treat the roots with the solutions mentioned above before repotting. The leaves may die off, but the plants will most likely recover, especially if the infestation is detected early.  

2. Spider Mites   

Scientific name: Tetranychidae

Size: 0.04 inches (less than one mm)

Color:  red, brown, yellow, green  

Spider mites are very tiny pests. They are not insects, but a type of arachnid and a relative of spiders and scorpions. There are around 1,200 species. They thrive on the undersides of leaves, spinning protective silk webs and feeding on the sweet sap of succulents. 

You will know that your plants are infected with these pests if you notice yellow and rust-colored spots that look like scars. These scars can cause the plants to become weak, making them more prone to other infections.

How to control spider mites:

Scrape or remove these pests from your plants once you notice white webs and white spots on your plants. You may have to isolate the affected plants. Neem oil naturally repels spider mites and other natural pests. 

You may have to apply water pressure on outdoor succulents to remove the mites from the plants. For heavy infestations, you can also apply systemic pesticides to eradicate the pests, but this should only be a last resort. 

3. Fungus Gnats 

Scientific name: Sciaridae

Size: 1/16 to ⅛ of an inch (1.5 to 3 mm)

Color: grayish-black with gray or transparent wings

Fungus gnats do not cause serious damage, but they can be very annoying, especially if your plants are in an indoor terrarium. Large numbers of fungus gnat larvae can stunt plant growth because they thrive on the roots. These pests are attracted to moist soil and start to breed once they settle on the soil and plants. 

How to control fungus gnats:

Prevent these pests from invading your plants by placing top dressing such as pebbles, decorative sand, or bonsai-quality lava rocks on top of the soil. These materials cover the layer of soil that tends to attract the gnats. You can also coat your plants with an organic bug killer. 

Let the soil dry out completely between waterings so it won’t stay damp and moist. Sticky insect traps can also help catch the gnats. Only use pesticides if there is an extreme infestation. 

4. Scale 

Scientific name: Coccoidea

Size: ¼ inch long   

Color: brown, cottony white 

Scale insects may appear like small, circular bumps about the size of a pinhead. They produce protective scale-like coverings, thus, their name. The two main types are armored and soft. Armored scales have hard coverings while soft scales have soft, waxy coverings.  

These pests feed on plant juices by sucking the leaves and stems of succulents. As they continually feed on the sap, the plants turn yellow and eventually wither and die if not treated promptly. Soft scales also excrete honeydew, which attracts the growth of black sooty mold. 

How to control scale insects:

If you notice a few of these insects, scrape them off using your fingernails or tweezers. Pruning and removing affected branches can also help control them. You can try dabbing these insects with rubbing alcohol using a cotton swab to dissolve the shells, which will eventually kill them. 

Spraying these pests with a soapy water mixture is another good treatment option. You can also release ladybugs or mealybug destroyers that feed on soft-bodied scale insects.   

When treating bugs on succulents, systemic and contact pesticides and insecticides should only be used as a last resort. While these commercial pesticides are highly effective, they are potentially toxic and could harm plants, animals, and the environment. Be sure to use them with extreme caution and care. 

Conclusion

Succulent owners tend to pamper their plants, but this pampering can become the very reason why pests invade succulents. Overwatering can attract bugs to succulents, such as fungus gnats which are strongly drawn to moist soil. Mealybugs and scale could also ravage plants since they feed on the juice or sap of succulent leaves. You can effectively control these pests by spraying soapy water or rubbing alcohol on the affected areas. Commercial pesticides should only be used as a last resort.

Image: istockphoto.com / Ekaterina Prokosheva