Proper care and maintenance of succulents ensure that they grow healthy and produce vibrant colors and flowers. However, pests may be lurking in them without your knowledge. A common pest that is known to invade succulents is mealybugs. These insects multiply rapidly and thrive in moist and warm habitats.
Mealybugs on Succulents: Basic Information and Life Cycle
Mealybugs are small, oval-shaped, slow-moving insects of the family Pseudococcidae. They are often found on succulents and foliage plants, but rarely on flowering or bedding plants. These insects are related to scales; the citrus mealybug is considered the most damaging species.
If you notice cottony-like things in your plants, that means you have a mealybug infestation.
These pink, soft-bodied insects usually measure from 1/20 to ⅕ of an inch long, which makes them hard to spot without a microscope. They are elongated and segmented with waxy filaments, giving the impression that they have tails. These pests are covered with white or grey cottony wax and are sometimes mistaken as cottony cushion scales or wooly aphids.
However, mealybugs retain their legs throughout their life cycle, unlike their close relatives, the scales.
Mealybugs lay around 600 small, yellow eggs in a protective cottony mass. In places with high temperatures, they lay fewer eggs. Long-tailed mealybugs do not lay eggs but give birth to live young, just like aphids. After females lay eggs over a period of 5 to 10 days, they die.
Young females undergo three stages. They are mobile during their entire life cycle, while the nymphs, or immature males, also called crawlers, settle and spin a white waxy cocoon. The adult males are small and winged. They only live for a few days; a new generation develops every one to three months, depending on the temperature.
Mealybugs live off a plant’s juices or sap and eat through the leaves. The open wounds make succulents prone to bacterial and fungal diseases. The leaves become distorted, especially at the center part. These pests thrive in warm, moist environments, hiding deep between your rosette succulent leaves.
How do I get rid of mealybugs on succulents?
These are the things that you should do to get rid of mealybugs on your succulents:
- First, if you notice mealybugs on your plants, you must quarantine them and move them away from other plants. Be sure to inspect the healthy plants for signs of mealybugs.
- Next, clean your infected plants by removing them from their pots and rinsing them under a strong stream of water. The pots should also be cleaned with hot, soapy water. Allow some time for the plants and pots to dry before replanting them with new soil. Throw away the old soil.
- Kill any remaining mealybugs in your plants. Use a homemade or DIY spray with one of the following ingredients:
Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
The use of this ingredient is considered the most effective treatment against mealybugs, as well as aphids and spider mites. Dilute it with water and spray it on the plants thoroughly. The pests will turn brown and die, and the isopropyl rubbing alcohol won’t damage the plants since it evaporates in a few minutes. Repeat the procedure weekly until you do not see mealybugs anymore.
Neem oil and soap mixture
This mixture is a potent combination that kills all stages of mealybugs on contact. Simply mix 5% neem oil with water and add a few drops of liquid soap. Spray the mixture liberally on your plants. You can also spray the mixture in the soil as some bugs and eggs may be lurking there.
Do not use concentrated neem oil as it might burn the succulents. You can dab the mixture in a Q-tip or paintbrush and apply it to the plants. After a while, rinse the plants with water to wash off the dead bugs.
Make sure that you do not place the treated plants out in the full sun to avoid watermarks or sunburn. Keep them in the shade or out of direct sunlight for at least a few days.
- Finally, check the treated plants and repeat the process for a few days to see if there are still pests on them. Spray again after a week as a preventative measure. If you do not see traces of the bugs, you can place the plants back in their original spot in your garden or indoors and continue to monitor them.
Other Ways to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Succulents
Here are other ways to eradicate mealybugs on succulents:
By introducing predatory insects
While there are harmful pests, some insects are beneficial for plants. These insects include ladybugs, lacewings, and mealybug destroyers, which are natural predators of mealybugs. These insects are often used for garden and greenhouse infestations.
By using a homemade insect spray
You can concoct a homemade, DIY insect spray that is both useful and cost-effective. Simply combine one garlic bulb, one small onion, and one teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a blender and process it into a paste. Next, mix the paste into one quart of water and steep for at least an hour. Strain through a cheesecloth and add one tablespoon of liquid dish soap.
Mix the solution well. This can be stored for at least a week in the fridge. Spray this homemade insect spray at the bugs liberally and repeat the process until they are completely eradicated.
By using synthetic chemical pesticides
Synthetic chemical pesticides like imidacloprid may also be used, but take extreme caution during handling and application. These pesticides have varying degrees of toxicity to humans and pets.
Sickly succulents with unsightly marks or spots should be a cause for immediate concern, since these are clear signs of pest infestation. Mealybugs on succulents suck the sap out of your plants, weakening them and making them vulnerable to diseases.
Affected plants should be isolated and treated with rubbing alcohol or a neem oil and soap mixture. Synthetic pesticides can be used for extreme infestations, but in moderate cases, those mentioned earlier should work just as effectively.
Image: istockphoto.com / Sabine Wagner