How to get rid of mealybugs on plants

As a plant lover, it can be very hard to see your plant suffering. The worst part is when your plants have been infested by pests. The most common pests that affect plants are Mealy bugs. These are small, white insects that feed on the plant juice. 

While these pests are small in size, they can cause major damage to your plants and garden if left untreated. Luckily, there are several methods you can use to eliminate mealybugs, to keep your plants healthy and fruitful. 

How can you get rid of mealy bugs on my plants?

There are three main ways that you can follow to eliminate the mealy bugs in your garden. These are listed below:

  1. Rubbing Alcohol: This involves applying rubbing alcohol directly onto the plant, spreading it on all areas of the plant. Apply directly to the plant using a cotton swab
  2. Using Neem Oil: This is a safe chemical that is applied on the affected plant, and can also be used as a preventive measure. Mix 1 teaspoon (4.9 mL) of Neem oil and 2-3 drops of dish soap
  3. Using Insecticides: Insecticides are great for eliminating pests. Be sure to use insecticides that are designed for ornamental plants. Apply directly to plants after removing heavily infested leaves and branches

In this article, we will be explaining these points a little further to give you a clear picture and detailed steps of how you can get rid of the mealy bugs. Let’s start.

Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is one of the most effective methods of keeping the mealy bugs at bay. Want to learn more? 

Here’s what you will need:

  • Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol (70%)
  • Cotton Swab
  • Spray bottle
  • A pair of Latex Gloves

How to use Rubbing Alcohol

Below are the steps you need to follow

Step 1: 

You have to dip the cotton swab in the isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Make sure that the cotton swap is completely drenched in the alcohol, but not to the point of dripping everywhere as this can cause a mess and waste the product. 

Can I use any other alcohol?

Absolutely not. Do not use that 20-year old scotch that’s at the bar, or any other kind of alcohol that falls under this category. Using other types of alcohol could damage the plant that you are so desperately trying to treat. Only use rubbing alcohol. 

Step 2: 

After you have dipped the cotton swab in the rubbing alcohol, rub the cotton swab over the surface of the infested plant. 

Here, you have to make sure that you get underneath the leaves as well as inside the gaps on the branches. Remember, mealy bugs tend to hide, especially in places where they know they can’t be found (but of course that’s the whole point of hiding).

As such, it is important you should completely cover the infested plant with the rubbing alcohol.

Step 3:

If you have larger plants, that’s where the spray bottle comes in. Fill the bottle with rubbing alcohol and just spray it over the surface of the large plants that have been infested. 

Step 4:

After you have swabbed and sprayed your plants, you can then remove the mealybugs manually. Make sure you wear a glove though. 

How will you notice them?

These pests look like small, white bugs and they have waxy coating, which gives them a cotton appearance, so I’m pretty sure that won’t be very hard to notice. 

Pick these pests off the plant and dispose of them in the trash. And, that’s done.

Step 5:

You should repeat step 1 to 4 on a weekly basis until you don’t see the mealy bugs any longer. Since mealy bugs are fond of hiding, you’ll likely need to apply rubbing alcohol a couple of time before they’re all killed. And I must add: Even when the mealy bugs seem to have disappeared, it’s a good idea to do a few more applications- just in case.

And when the mealy bugs have been completely eliminated, you will know. Your plant will look healthier and greener. 

Helpful Tip:

The reason why you are wearing gloves is because mealybugs have a waxy coating that covers their bodies. While the coating isn’t exactly harmful, gloves can help to keep your hands clean throughout the process. 

And don’t worry. Mealy bugs don’t bite.

Using Neem Oil 

Neem oil is one of the most effective oils that you can apply to ward off the mealybugs from your plants. What’s more, Neem oil is very cheap and available in almost any store. Fun fact: Neem oil is a vegetable oil that comes from Neem trees.

Here’s what you will need:

  • Neem oil 
  • Water
  • Liquid dish Soap
  • Spray bottle

How to use Neem Oil for Potted or Shaded Plants 

Here are the 4 main steps you can follow. 

Step 1:

Clean the spray bottle and Mix water, liquid dish soap, and Neem oil in the bottle. On the amounts, use 1 teaspoon (4.9 mL) of Neem oil and 2-3 drops of dish soap. Here, you can pick any dish soap of your choice.  

Step 2:

After you are done mixing the water, the Neem oil and the liquid dish Soap, spray the mixture on the plant you’re treating until it’s completely soaked. 

Since the mealybugs like to hide, make sure you spray underneath the leaves, at the base of the branches, as well as over the top of the soil. The idea here is that the mealybugs should be choked with the Neem oil blend. The amount of time spent spraying will depend on the number of plants that have been infested and the magnitude of the infestation.

Step 3:

Having sprayed the neem oil on your plants, move them to a shaded where they will dry up. Don’t keep the plant in direct sunlight. Keeping your plant under extreme heat could lead to a burning effect. 

That said, it will be easy to control this factor when your plants are indoors, but if you’re spraying outdoor plants that are rooted in the ground, you should wait for a shady day when it’s below 85 °F (29 °C) out, or just spray in the evening hours when the temperatures cool down. 

Step 4:

As you do with the rubbing alcohol, spray the Neem oil mixture on the plant weekly until the mealybugs are gone. 

Applying Neem oil once won’t be enough to eliminate all the mealybugs. One application of Neem oil probably won’t kill all the mealybugs on the plant. Since mealybugs have a rapid lifecycle, you’ll need to kill the newly-hatched bugs every week until all of the mealybugs have been eradicated. 

Helpful Tip: 

Besides Neem oil, there are other alternatives you could use. 

  1. Peppermint Oil:

Peppermint oil has always been a great mixture for eliminating a wide range of insects such as spiders, but it also works very well on mealybugs. 

Instructions:

First put 10-15 drops in a spray bottle, add 8 oz. of water and spray away.

  1. Cedar oil

Cedar oil is also another effective alternative that is known for killing mealy bugs and various other insects, including mosquitoes, ticks- the list is endless. 

Cedar oil must be sprayed directly onto the insects, which causes them to suffocate and eventually die. 

Instructions:

Put about 6 to 10 drops of the Cedar oil and add 8 oz. of water in a spray bottle. Don’t forget to spray directly on the mealy bugs.

Using insecticides

Finally, the third method of taking care of mealy bugs is to use insecticides. The good thing about insecticides is that they are readily available and there are so many options to choose from. But, only go for ornamental insecticides.

Here’s a list of some great insecticides that fall under this group:

  • Acephate
  • Malathion
  • Carbaryl
  • Diazinon

How to use Insecticides 

Below are the steps you should follow on using insecticides

Step 1

Before you start applying the insecticides, first prune off any infested leaves and branches. If you are having a hard time finding out which ones are infested, just look for the branches that have a waxy, white coating on them. Pruning helps in eliminating some of the mealybugs, and it will make the insecticide more effective, especially since there will be much fewer places for the mealybugs to take hide.

Step 2

After removing the infested leaves and branches, spray the WHOLE plant with the insecticide until it’s soaked. Here, make sure that the insecticide reaches underneath the leaves as well as at the base of the branches on the plant.

As we mentioned before, use an insecticide that’s designed for ornamental plants. This should be indicated on the label. Using insecticides that aren’t made for ornamental plants could damage the plant, and eventually kill the plant altogether. 

Step 4

Apply the insecticide regularly until the mealybugs are nowhere in sight. Check the label to see how frequently you can use it without damaging the plant. That said, you will need to apply a couple of times before all the pests are gone.

Helpful Tip:

When using insecticides, it is recommended that you spray until the plant is soaked and dripping. 

Conclusion

As a recap, there are 3 main methods that you can treat or get rid of mealy bugs. If the infestation is at a small scale, go for the rubbing alcohol method, where you will soak a cotton swab in 70-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol and rub it over the surface of the infested plant. Alternatively, if the infestation is at a higher scale, use the Neem oil on the plants each week. Also, you can use insecticides.

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