Far too often, plant owners and gardeners have to recoup their vegetation after facing destruction from a number of sap-sucking pests. One of these pests, the mealybug, can go nearly undetected as it causes extensive damages to crops and other vegetation.

Though approximately 275 species of mealybugs appear in the United States, these pests typically infest plants in warm, humid climates, like in states located in the southeastern region of the count ry. When found outside, they are common invaders of avocado and citrus trees, but may also infest ornamental plants and other houseplants when found indoors.

When a plant is undergoing a mealybug infestation, it can appear to have soft, white, cotton-like fuzz growing over its stems and leaves. This soft material isn’t actually harmless fuzz, but hungry mealybugs. These white, oval-shaped pests measure approximately one-sixteenth of an inch long and, when found in large groups, resemble small balls of cotton on otherwise colorful vegetation.

Usually, mealybugs seek out weakened, stressed plants when searching for a new feeding site. Once they latch their sharp feeding tubes onto their new host, they begin to suck out the plant’s sap and other essential nutrients and can infect the plants with various plant pathogens. After feeding, they travel to new areas on the plant and leave behind a stick y, sugary substance, which they also use to coat their bodies as an added layer of protection. Noticing the presence of this substance is one of the best ways to detect a mealybug infestation while it ’s still in its early stages.

However, this type of damage is rarely detected by unsuspecting plant owners. Instead, it can take weeks, or even months, for the extent of the destruction to b e noticeable. After a plant has been infested with mealybugs for a considerable amount of time, the leaves will begin to yellow and wilt due to the decreased nutrients available. Additionally, a plant that has been covered in the mealybug’s sticky residue may begin to grow black, sooty mold across the infected areas.

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs

Even those with green thumbs ma y not be able to fully protect a houseplant from a mealybug infestation. However, there are a few tips you can try to help remove any present mealybugs from your infected plants.

Use isopropyl alcohol

According to the University of Maryland, if your plant is facing a small infestation, isopropyl alcohol, or rubbing alcohol, can be used to help curb the pests. Wet a cotton swab or cotton ball with a light layer of isopropyl alcohol and apply it directly to the pests’ white, fuzzy bodies. The alcohol helps strip the protective, sticky coating from the mealybugs’ bodies and exposes the pests to the chemical. This treatment can also help wipe away the pests from your plant. Be careful to contact leaves with alcohol as is will burn the plant.

Remove infested plants

Sometimes, a plant is unsalvageable if the mealybug infestation is too far along. When this happens, it may be necessary to remove t he affected plant from your home to avoid letting the mealybug infestation spread to other nearby plants. Additionally, any tools, pots, and gardening materials that came into contact with the infected plant should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned.

Prevention

Inspecting your plants before you buy them will actually prevent you from bringing home a plant that is infested with mealybugs.