Beautiful succulent close-up with some white residue from mealybugs

How to Get Rid of Mealybugs: A Step-By-Step Guide

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When I brought home my second set of succulents as a new gardener, I quickly discovered mealybugs all over them. My daughter accidentally knocked over one of my large echeverias and the lower leaves fell off, revealing an infestation of the nasty insects.

Mealybugs are small, sap-sucking pests that can wreak havoc on your plants. These pests are particularly fond of succulents, and can quickly infest an entire collection.

Mealybugs feed by piercing plant tissues and sucking out the sap, which can lead to stunted growth, wilting, and yellowing of leaves. In extreme cases, mealybug infestations can kill plants outright.

Fortunately, getting rid of mealybugs is relatively simple. I’ll walk you through everything you need to know about mealybugs on succulents—including what causes them, the signs to look out for, how to prevent them, and any natural remedies and insecticides you can use to get rid of them.

What Causes Mealybugs on Succulents?

Mealybugs are attracted to succulents for two main reasons: the plants’ sap (which the bugs feed on) and the warm temperatures often found in succulent gardens. While mealybugs can infest any type of plant, they’re particularly fond of succulents because these plants have relatively weak defenses against sap-sucking pests.

To make matters worse, mealybugs reproduce rapidly—a single female can lay hundreds of eggs in her lifetime. This means that an infestation can quickly spiral out of control if left untreated.

Mealybugs are also known for being difficult to get rid of once they’ve taken up residence on a plant; even if you manage to eliminate all the adult bugs, their eggs can hatch and restart the cycle all over again.

Related: Types of Succulents with Pictures

The Signs of Mealybugs on Succulents

Mealybugs often go undetected until they’ve already done significant damage to a plant. However, there are a few early warning signs you can look out for:

1. White Fuzz

white fuzz on a succulent stem from mealybugs

One of the most distinctive signs of a mealybug infestation is the presence of white fuzz on the stems or leaves of a plant. This fuzz is actually a type of wax that the bugs produce in order to protect themselves from predators and harsh weather conditions.

When I first discovered that my succulents had mealybugs, the white fuzz was my first clue. Being new to houseplants and bugs in general, my first thought was that the fuzz might be mold from neglect in the greenhouse. However, a closer look revealed the tiny, white mealybugs scampering around my plants.

2. Sticky Leaves and Dark Spots

Mealybugs excrete a sticky substance called honeydew as they feed. Honeydew can attract other pests (like ants) and cause sooty mold to grow on your plants. Sooty mold is a black fungus that covers the leaves of affected plants and inhibits photosynthesis.

One of my first echeverias displayed signs of the sooty mold first. I was hoping the damage was reversible, but the plant never recovered. I did, however, catch the mealybugs before the mold spread to other plants.

Related: How to Water Succulents

3. Wilting or Yellowing Leaves

As mealybugs feed on your plants’ sap, they deprive them of the nutrients they need to stay healthy. This can lead to wilting or yellowing leaves—particularly if the infestation is severe.

It can be easy to miss the leaves as they wilt away because mealybugs tend to attack the babies and lower leaves first. If my daughter hadn’t spilled my plant and knocked the bottom leaves off, I may not have seen all the wilted leaves beneath the healthy ones!

4. Slow Plant Growth

If mealybugs are present in large numbers, they can stunt the growth of affected plants by sucking too much sap from them. In extreme cases, this feeding behavior can kill plants outright.

5. Cotton Masses

Egg sacs filled with hundreds of tiny pale yellow nymphs (baby mealybugs) are commonly seen at leaf joints or beneath leaves toward late spring / early summer seasons. I actually found some sacs on my plants in late summer, which is not as common but still happens.

Related: Best Succulent Centerpiece Ideas

10 Things to Do to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Succulents

mealybug on a gollum jade succulent

If the signs are all pointing toward your succulents being infested, then they probably are. Don’t fight reality, just fight the darn bugs! Here are some things you can do to get rid of mealybugs once and for all.

1. Isolate Infected Plants

Remove any affected plants from your collection and isolate them in a different room. This will help prevent the spread of mealybugs to your other plants.

Mealybugs spread quickly, and before you know it, you can find them chilling on a completely different plant across the room. So, the farther you can keep them apart for a while, the better.

2. Treat with Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is one of the most effective methods for dealing with mealybugs on succulents. Simply soak a cotton ball or Q-tip in 70% rubbing alcohol and apply it directly to the bugs. The alcohol will kill them on contact.

You can also mix the rubbing alcohol with water in a squirt bottle and spray the solution directly on your plants. This will kill the bugs on contact and also help to prevent future infestations.

I actually had 91% rubbing alcohol on hand and simply diluted it with water. I used my continuous misting spray bottle to mist my plants and the soil. Make sure to do this outside and leave them in a shady area for the better part of the day until the alcohol dissipates.

Check your plants regularly for signs of mealybugs and treat them accordingly. I like to do a rubbing alcohol treatment every few weeks after I discover an infestation just to be safe.

3. Spray with Organic Insecticide

I’ve also used this organic treatment by Earth’s Ally to kill mealybugs. It’s made up of natural oils like rosemary and peppermint. You can spray this insecticide on indoor plants, but I chose to take my plants outside for part of the day so that my house didn’t smell too strongly of peppermint!

Related: How to Care for Succulents Indoors

4. Use Neem Oil

Neem oil is a natural insecticide that can be used to kill mealybugs on succulents. Simply mix a small amount of neem oil with water in a squirt bottle and spray the solution directly on your plants.

5. Try an Insecticidal Soap

Insecticidal soap is another effective method for killing mealybugs on succulents. Simply mix a small amount of insecticidal soap with water in a squirt bottle and spray the solution directly on your plants.

6. Gently Wipe with a Clean, Dry Paintbrush

After treating your succulents for mealybugs, you can clean up any remaining residue with a dry, clean paintbrush or makeup brush. You can gently wipe away any egg sacs and white fuzz and easily crush them against a napkin or paper towel. It leaves some icky brown streaks, but it’s nice to get rid of any final remnants of the nasty pests.

7. Introduce Predatory Insects

If you want to get rid of mealybugs on your outdoor succulents without using a spray, then you can introduce predatory insects into your garden. Ladybugs and green lacewings are effective at eating mealybugs. You can purchase these insects online or at your local nursery.

Related: How to Care for Outdoor Succulent

8. Remove Affected Leaves

You may need to remove and dispose of any affected leaves. This will help to prevent the spread of mealybugs to other parts of your plant. Most of the affected leaves will look brown and shriveled, but some may look healthy on the outside. You can test them by giving them a gentle tug with two fingers. If they are affected by mealybugs, they will easily break away from the main plant.

9. Cut Off Affected Stems

If the infestation is severe, you may need to cut off and dispose of any affected stems or even the head of the plant. Don’t worry, your plant may still be salvaged if this is the case! I had to behead one of my biggest echeverias in order to stop the damage done by mealybugs.

Thankfully, beheading succulents is a common occurrence, and new plants can grow from both the head and the stem if they are in decent condition. Simply continue to remove the damaged parts and place the healthy parts aside until they sprout new roots. You can then replant them into fresh, well-draining soil!

10. Give It a New Pot and Fresh Soil

If you find extensive damage and signs of mealybugs burrowing under the soil and into the roots, you’ll need to repot your succulent. Remove the plant from its pot, gently crumble the soil from its roots, and remove any remnants of mealybugs. Then, choose a new succulent pot and place the plant into fresh, well-draining soil. Dispose of the old soil that likely contains mealybug eggs.

Optional: Propagate from Cuttings

If you need to remove an entire leaf or stem due to an infestation, you can propagate new plants from the cuttings. Simply allow any healthy cuttings to callous over for a few days and then pot them in new soil. Roots should sprout from the cuttings and grow into fresh, bug-free houseplants over time.

Related: Best Planters for Succulents

How to Prevent Mealybugs on Succulents

Mealybugs on a succulent leaf

The best way to deal with mealybugs is to prevent them from infesting your plants in the first place. Here are a few tips for keeping mealybugs at bay.

Inspect New Plants Before Bringing Them Home

It’s always a good idea to inspect any new plants before bringing them home from the nursery. Take a close look at the stems and leaves for any signs of white fuzz or sticky residue—both are red flags that a plant may be infested with mealybugs.

This is something I failed to do as a new succulent owner. I didn’t realize how rampant mealybugs can be even in a professional greenhouse. Now I make sure to inspect plants up and down before purchasing them.

Related: How to Start a Greenhouse for Succulents (Indoors or Out!)

Quarantine New Plants

Even if you don’t see any signs of an infestation when inspecting a new plant, it’s still a good idea to quarantine it away from your other plants for at least a week or two. This will give you time to closely monitor the new arrival for any signs of trouble and take action accordingly.

Keep Your Plants Healthy

One way to prevent pests like mealybugs from taking up residence on your plants is by keeping them healthy in general. Make sure to avoid overwatering, give them ample sunlight, and feed them nutrients so they’re better equipped to withstand an attack from pests like mealybugs—and recover more quickly if an attack does occur.

I’ve had to purchase a couple of grow lights for the succulents that are displayed in some of the darker corners of my home. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough windowsills to go around!

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Related: Best Succulent Gift Ideas

Don’t Let Mealybugs Kick You Out of Your Own Garden

While mealybugs are small insects, they can cause big problems for gardeners—especially those who grow succulents. These pests feed on plant sap and excrete honeydew as they go, which can attract other insects and cause sooty mold to grow on affected plants.

Mealybugs also reproduce rapidly, which makes them difficult to get rid of once they’ve taken up residence on a plant. By following the tips in this article—inspecting new plants before bringing them home; quarantining new arrivals; keeping your plants healthy—you can help prevent mealybug infestations before they start!

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