Mealybug on houseplants: symptoms and treatment > Garden

Mealybug: what is dangerous and how to fight

Mealybug — an insect that can live only with the help of another living organism. Parasitizing on one victim, the worm immediately finds the next. It was once used to produce red paint, but now it is known as the largest parasite in scale.

  • What does the parasite look like
  • What is dangerous and where does it come from
  • Signs of plant damage
  • Risk group
  • Preventive actions
  • Active control measures

What does the parasite look like

Science knows more than 2,200 species of mealybug family. On its oval body, it has a white wax, resembling flour from afar. That is why this name is given. Males of the family are usually larger than females. The average size of a mealybug is 6-8 mm (like a ladybug larva). Although its size is small, it can be found in the early stages of plant disease.

What is dangerous and where does it come from

A mealybug is comparable to a time bomb for flowers. It is dangerous because the plant easily becomes infected and quickly dies. The latter is due to the fact that the insect simply sucks the juice. The pest can be located both in the root system and in the leaf axils.Let us examine in more detail where the mealybug is taken.

So, mealybug can be found anywhere in the world. They multiply quickly. A female can lay up to 400 eggs at a time. On plants, they appear for various reasons.

For example, you yourself could bring it on clothes, of course, if you contacted an infected plant. At the same time, the option that the pests arrived themselves was excluded: the insects belong to the order of the half-winged, whose wings are poorly developed. And female individuals are wingless.

Signs of plant damage

Of course, a mealybug is dangerous, but you need to know how to deal with it on houseplants. Initially, it is necessary to determine if there is an infection on the leaves, root system or shoots.

The first sign can be called the fall of the leaves or their quick drying. For example, mealybug on cacti causes yellowing of the stem itself.

In rare cases, modified flowers indicate an infection.

Risk group

Any plant can be attacked by a parasite.

A mealybug in dracaena is dangerous for one reason: the insect easily lays its eggs in places where the leaves come into contact with the stem. With treatment, you may simply not notice this fact, and all methods of struggle will be in vain. Therefore, carefully inspect the plant.

The parasite loves to eat from the roots — the root system. Therefore, the mealybug in violets is often there.

Preventive actions

In order not to deal with the problem in the later stages,when the plant is about to wither, preventive measures are needed. To prevent the appearance of the parasite will help elementary inspection. If you do it regularly, it will not be necessary to use chemicals for treatment.

This option is also possible: they noticed an infection at the initial stage during transplantation. Then sterilize the pot. Then treat the whole plant with a liquid prepared from calendula and water (100 g of grass per 1 l of water). If the insect does not touch the roots, then wash the leaves and stem with soapy water.

Active control measures

The mealybug on the orchid leads to the modification of the shoots: if the infection occurred in the early stages of development, you must immediately understand how to get rid of the problem correctly.

There are two options: insecticides or folk remedies. The first will help get rid of the problem in a short time. The latter will be safe.


Insecticides are considered effective due to their chemical action on the larvae of the worm. After all, removing an adult, you get rid of half the problem. The main thing is to remove the larvae.

Any insecticide is suitable for the fight against the parasite. Among the famous «Aktara», «Confidor Maxi», «Fitoverm», «Calypso», «Confidant». All preparations have instructions for use.

Folk remedies

Insecticides can be expensive. Come to the aid of popular recipes to combat the parasite.

  1. Garlic solution. You will need 1 head of garlic and 1-1.5 liters of boiling water. Chopped garlic is poured boiling water and infused for several hours. The plant must be wiped with a solution.
  2. Soap + alcohol. Any kind of soap is diluted with ethyl alcohol in water. The proportion is 1: 1: 1. The main thing — to avoid falling on the substrate. The next day, carefully wipe the plant from the solution.
  3. Citruses. Any citrus fruit is useful for fighting insects. Zest is filled with boiling water, there are no strict restrictions in proportions. Allow the composition to cool and spray. Plus method in a pleasant smell.

Folk remedies you can use more often than chemicals. Also, recipes are suitable for prevention.

Although the mealybug lives quietly and for a long time on domestic plants, many are puzzled by the problem of whether the parasite is dangerous for humans. No, it is not dangerous, but even useful — in fact, some species of its family are used for production purposes.

Timely care and disease prevention will increase the chances that the insect will not appear. But even if such a situation has occurred, it is worth assessing the damage as soon as possible and undertaking the above described methods of struggle.

How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On Your Houseplants, For Good!

Mealybugs are clever little devils, they like to hide and then come in for the sneak attack. It seems like overnight there’s white cottony growth on plants that appeared out of nowhere. Getting rid of mealybugs on houseplants can be tough, but it’s not impossible! Follow these mealybug treatment methods to kill them, and learn how to prevent mealybugs from ever coming back!

What Are Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are scale insects that can be from garden ants and they suck the sap out of the leaves and stems of plants, resulting in stunted or deformed leaf growth, yellowing of the leaves, and leaf drop.

These little white bugs on plants are most commonly found on new growth, along the veins of leaves, and at the leaf joints, but they can be found anywhere on the plant.

Mealybug damage is not as quick to occur or as devastating as it is when you have spider mites on houseplants.

But if a mealybug infestation goes left untreated, the plant will eventually die. Although it will usually take a long time for them to kill a plant.

What Do Mealybugs Look Like?

Mealybugs are tiny white bugs on houseplants, and most commonly look like white fuzzy stuff on plants leaves and stems. Mealybugs can also appear brown or cream colored, and waxy in immature stages.

At first glance they don’t look like insects, and are commonly mistaken for fungus or mildew rather than plant bugs.

If the white bugs you see on your houseplants look more like tiny white flies that fly around when the plant is disturbed, then those are whiteflies instead of mealybugs.

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Here’s how to get rid of whiteflies on your houseplants. Otherwise, if they look like fuzz on your plants, those are definitely mealybugs so keep reading…

What do mealybugs look like? This! Yuck, right?

Mealybug Life Cycle

The full mealybug life cycle is about 7-10 weeks. It takes a week or two for the eggs to hatch into nymphs, and then another 6-9 weeks for the nymphs to mature into adults.

There can be several generations of mealybugs, and their life cycles can overlap, meaning that once they get started, the population can grow very quickly.

Since the eggs and nymphs are so small, and it takes a while for the population to become large enough to be noticeable, most people don’t discover mealybugs on their houseplants until after the population explodes.

Different stages of mealybug life cycle

Where Do Mealybugs Come From?

Like I said before, mealybugs are sneaky. One day everything is fine, and the next day your plant is covered with with sticky white cotton, leaving many people wondering what causes mealybugs in the first place?

As with any other plant bugs, mealybugs can come from anywhere. The most common causes are…

  • Bringing home a new plant
  • Using contaminated potting soil
  • Putting houseplants outside during the summer
  • Fresh flowers, fruits or vegetables brought in from the garden
  • Mealybugs can even come from fresh produce or flowers from the grocery store!
  • Ants sometimes bring mealybugs to a houseplant so that they can feed off of the honeydew residue that’s produced by the bugs.

Adult longtailed mealybugs on houseplant leaf

How To Get Rid Of Mealybugs On Houseplants

As with any houseplant pest infestation, when you first spot a problem, begin mealybug treatment immediately.

The first thing to do is quarantine the affected plant(s) so that you can prevent mealybugs from infesting your other houseplants.

The next thing to do is to kill mealybugs using organic pest control products and methods. I don’t recommend using synthetic pesticides, because mealybugs are resistant to most chemical pesticides.

They also have the ability to develop a resistance to any chemicals they are exposed to on a regular basis.

So, skip the toxic stuff and use the safer pest control methods listed below instead! Learn more about natural houseplant pest control methods and remedies here.

Little white mealybugs on succulents

How To Treat Mealybugs On Plants

One way to kill mealybugs on houseplants is by touching them with a cotton swab that’s been soaked in rubbing alcohol.

The rubbing alcohol will kill the bugs on contact, but in order for it to be effective, it must come in direct contact with the mealybugs.

As you treat a houseplant, make sure to inspect underneath all of the leaves, around the leaf joints, in folds and at the base of the plant for mealybugs.

These elusive plant pests like to hide, so check the plant from several angles, and also under every leaf. Also, brush away a little dirt to check the base of the stem at the point where it sticks out of the soil.

They can hide around the edges of the pot, as well as on the bottom. So be sure to thoroughly inspect that too, you may find some mealybugs hiding there.

It will take several treatments to get rid of all of the mealybugs, so be sure to treat your plant daily and kill any bugs that you see.

Rubbing alcohol kills mealybugs on contact

Make Your Own Homemade Mealybug Spray

You can buy an organic insecticidal soap spray, or make your own. My recipe for homemade mealybug spray is 1 tsp of Dr. Bronner’s Baby-mild Liquid Soap per 1 liter of water. The soap kills the bugs on contact.

If the plant is small enough, bring it to the sink or shower to wash the leaves with this soap and water solution, and then give it a good rinse. This will kill a large number of the mealybugs, and help to give you the upper hand.

Keep in mind that some types of soap can damage sensitive plants, so it’s best to test the solution on a few leaves before spraying the entire plant.

Insecticidal soaps don’t have any residual effect to prevent houseplant pests from coming back, so it’s important to continue to spray regularly until there are no more signs of bugs.

Use mealybug spray, homemade with organic soap

Mealybug Control Using Neem Oil

Neem oil is a natural pest control product that is a very effective for getting rid of mealybugs on houseplants. Not only will it kill the bugs, it’s also great for residual pest prevention as well.

You can buy concentrated neem oil for pretty cheap, and a big bottle will last a long time. Just be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

If you get the concentrate, you’ll need to mix in a little bit of soap to help the oil mix with water (I always use Dr. Bronner’s Baby-mild Liquid Soap since it’s so mild).

Even though neem oil has a residual effect to help keep houseplant pests from coming back, it can still take several applications to get rid of mealybugs.

It can also take several days of using neem oil to treat mealybugs before it starts to kill them, so be patient, and continue to reapply until the bugs are gone.

As an alternative to neem oil for mealybugs, a pre-mixed horticultural oil or hot pepper wax spray, and they also work very well when used directly on mealybugs.

Mealybug control neem oil and soap

My Proven Process For Long-Term Mealybug Control

Mealybugs are tough to get rid of, and the process can be super frustrating (trust me, I’ve been there many times myself)!

The best advice I can give you when trying to get rid of mealybugs on your houseplants is to use a combination of the methods I’ve outlined above, and be relentless in your fight.

You can’t just spray a plant once, and expect the bugs to disappear. It can take several weeks, or even months to kill the entire population.

Here is the process I use to get rid of these pesky white fuzzy bugs…

Step 1: Immediately bring the infested plant to the sink and thoroughly wash the leaves and stems with my soapy water solution (1 tsp of Dr. Bronner’s Baby-mild Liquid Soap per 1 liter of water), and give the plant a good rinse.

Then I inspect the pot from top to bottom, and along the soil line to see if there are any hiding mealybugs, and wash the drip tray with soapy water.

Check for mealybugs hiding under the pot tray

Step 2: Next I will wash the area where the plant was sitting with soapy water, and then use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to disinfect the area. If there are other plants nearby, I inspect them thoroughly for any signs of bugs (after washing my hands).

Step 3: Once everything has been cleaned and disinfected, I spray the plant with neem oil and move it to a location far away from any other plants.

Step 4: I check the infested plant daily for any signs of mealybugs, and kill each one that I see using a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

I will spray the plant with neem oil again after a week if I’m still killing mealybugs on it daily. I also inspect any plants that were sitting nearby the infested plant every day to make sure there aren’t any bugs on those plants (being sure to wash my hands after touching each plant!).

Step 5: If there are no new mealybugs found after several weeks of inspecting the plant, I’ll add it back to my collection, but try to put it in a new spot just in case.

How To Prevent Mealybugs From EVER Coming Back

Most of the time mealybugs don’t appear to move, but mealy bugs can crawl around on a plant and move to other houseplants in the area.

The worst part is that mealybugs will leave the houseplant to hide, and can live for a long time in spaces and crevices without having a host plant.

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So just when you think you have conquered the beast, they will come out of hiding and re-infest your houseplant when you’re not looking.

Bad infestation of mealybugs on cactus plant

Here are a few things you can do to prevent mealybugs from ever coming back…

  • Mealybugs can live in the soil of a houseplant, so if a plant is plagued by recurring infestations, you could try removing the top inch of dirt from the pot and replacing it with fresh potting soil. I recommend washing the inside rim of the pot after removing the layer of soil using soapy water and/or a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to be sure to kill any bugs that are hiding there.

Look for mealybugs in soil around the pot edges

  • Remove the plant from the area and clean any crevices where mealybugs could be hiding. Be sure check around the outside lip and inside edges of the pot and tray, and also the bottom of the pot for hiding mealybugs.
  • Once you have the infestation under control, move your plant to a new location to get it away from any mealybugs that might be hiding in the spot where the plant was sitting before.

Mealybugs hiding on bottom of houseplant pot

It’s hard to get rid of all of the mealybugs the first few times you try. Even if you are able to kill all of the adults, the eggs and babies are tiny and easily overlooked.

It can be frustrating, but it’s worth it to save your favorite houseplants.

If you are tired of constantly battling bugs on your indoor plants, then my Houseplant Pest Control eBook is for you! It will help you identify the bugs that are infesting your houseplants, show you exactly how to get rid of them, AND arm you with the tools you need to keep those nasty pests away FOR GOOD! Download your copy today!

Organic Pest Control Products I Recommend

Recommended Reading

More Info About Indoor Plant Pest Control

How do you get rid of mealybugs on houseplants? Share your mealybug treatment tips in the comments below.

About Amy Andrychowicz

I live and garden in Minneapolis, MN (zone 4b). My green thumb comes from my parents, and I’ve been gardening most of my life. I’m a passionate gardener who loves growing everything from vegetables, herbs, and flowers to succulents, tropicals, and houseplants — you name, I’ve grown it! Read More.


My bird of paradise has been infected by mealybugs for a few months now. I’ve used rubbing alcohol and Neem oil and continue to do so but the I keep seeing mealybugs coming back. I also cut off and threw away the leaves that were really badly contaminated. I’m so careful that I don’t even open my window anymore in case the plant gets further infestation. What else can I do to save my plant? Please help as it’s been really frustrating.

Amy Andrychowicz says

It can take several months to get rid of a mealybug infestation, so you may just need to give it more time. Stay persistent with your treatments, especially with the neem oil. Even if it looks like they are gone, I keep treating the plant and checking it daily for at least another month. And remember that mealybugs can hide in crevices around the plant. So clean the area regularly, as well as under the rim of the pot, on the bottom, and under the plant tray too. They are sneaky, and very frustrating to deal with. Be patient, and don’t give up! рџ™‚ Good luck!

I don’t have access to rubbing alcohol right now. Would rum, tequila or vodka work? Would hydrogen peroxide work? Without damaging the plant, of course. It’s a nice tall variegated dracaena.

Amy Andrychowicz says

I have never tried any of those to kill mealybugs, but you certainly could experiment with it. Just make sure you test it on a few leaves to make sure it won’t damage them, before treating the whole plant. If you don’t want to risk it, you could certainly try some of these other remedies instead of using rubbing alcohol.

Denise Grant says

Can mealy bugs spread to all my other palms ? I have royals that are massive ?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yes, mealybugs can spread to any of your houseplants. It’s best to isolate the infested plant right away, and then monitor the others for mealybugs while to work to get rid of them. Good luck!

Chris Smith says

What about using a systemic insecticide such as Imidochlorprid seeing as mealybugs are sap suckers.

Amy Andrychowicz says

You could try using neem oil as a systemic insecticide. I have never tried it myself, but have read that it works as a systemic. However, I would not recommend using any type of synthetic chemical insecticide. Mealybugs can build up a resistance to chemicals, and they are dangerous for humans and pets too.

I use a mixture of garlic and neem oil. It works well to get rid of mealy bugs. I my case it seems to be the ants that are the culprits that move them around.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Great to know the neem solution worked to get rid of your mealybug problem. I’ve never tried garlic in mine, but the neem oil alone works great. Bummer about the ants bringing mealybugs to your plants, that is frustrating!

Can peppermint Castile soap work instead of the baby mild, or is it too harsh? I’m trying to kill an infestation I have that spread to several other plants, and I am trying to spray them often, but I’m scared that the peppermint is doing damage? In addition, I went so far as washing my umbrella plant in the shower, completely reporting it and washing the pot in soapy water, spraying the whole plant in peppermint Castille soap, but I saw baby bugs on it the very next day!! What did I do wrong?? Thank you for your help!

Amy Andrychowicz says

I don’t like to use soaps that have oils in them, because the oils may harm sensitive plants. If you think that’s what’s happening with yours, then I would stop using it and switch to baby mild.

You’re not doing anything wrong, it just takes time and persistence to get rid of mealybugs. They are one of the hardest houseplant bugs to get rid of completely, and it takes lots of patience. The one thing I would not recommend in the future though is repotting infested plants. You should never repot a plant that has a bug infestation, because it will further stress and weaken the plant, and it does nothing to get rid of mealybugs.

Have you tried using neem oil yet? If not, I would recommend adding that to your arsenal. It has a residual effect that will help to eliminate mealybugs faster, and keep them from coming back. Good luck, and hang in there!

I have some bugs on two bay laurels, one in front yard other in backyard. No other plants seem to be having them. These mealy bugs look like them the most, they are like 2mm snowflakes sitting on topsides of leaves in vein areas and on stems. They suddenly appeared only on these 2 plants, on the parts that are in shadow and most sheltered from wind seems like.
I live in Croatia on the coast, it’s been about 30 degrees celsius the whole month or so, with some rain here and there.

The bug that looks the most like them I found on this site:

Couldn’t find anything when searching for “white lice” or “kebul lice” tho.

Is this a mealy bug? I can send a pic of them I took with my phone.

Amy Andrychowicz says

They certainly sound and look like they could be a type of mealybug to me. You may just have a different species where you live than we do here. The organic control methods above should work to get rid of them. Good luck!

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Berenice Walker says

I’ve lost plants to those pests, these pests are my nemesis! I hadn’t had a problem with them for years… until now! (I lost a curly Hoya to them.) This year I’m having a problem with them.

I discovered them when I noticed one plant had “fuzz” on it. I took a toothpick & lifted it up. I took one of my magnifying glasses & noticed a little, tiny, beige bug with feelers trying to crawl away! Bingo, mealy bugs.

I did an immediate inspection of all ALL my plants, pre-treated them to prevent a break out on them.

I also washed down my entire plant shelf to keep them from crawling to the next plant!

Besides the alcohol, soaps, neem oil, etc; I added to my arsenal:

1) 2 different magnifying glasses & a jeweler’s loupe (you can get them at hobby stores or look online).

2) a special “isolation”chamber to keep the pests from falling off & crawling away. I live in an apartment & have one good window for light. I removed the plant from my succulent display. I took a black, plastic coffee can lid (you can use what ever size lid that’s appropriate for your plant). I take a piece of aluminum foil to go around the lid & create a wall tall enough (about 3 inches or more) & larger than the circumference of the plant. I also flair the lip outward to be sure of catching them.

Every day, I check,treat the plant, wash the lid & make a new aluminum wall. I just found 3 tiny bugs on the lid this morning!)

3) Since my area is so dry, & dusty I decided to run a humidifier close to my plants. I don’t know how much good it will do, but at least it will keep the dust down.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Shoot, so sorry to hear you found mealybugs on your plants! That’s no fun. Thanks for sharing your method of getting rid of them. Isolating the plant is very smart, and treating it daily will ensure you’ll eventually get rid of the bugs! Good luck, and keep up the good work. рџ™‚

hey! I’ve been having trouble with my plant, I’m not sure if it is mealybugs or something else. they look like little sesame seeds, and not very much fluffy stuff. would be great if you could help me sort it out.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Humm, sounds like it could either be aphids or houseplant scale to me. But mealybugs don’t always build up the fluffy white stuff until their population gets fairly large. So take a look at the photos above of the individual mealybugs to make sure that’s not what’s on your plant.

The white bugs I have on a tree is like gum when you try and pull it off. They look like they start out as brown scale and when mature they become this white mealy sticky mess! I live in South Africa and just wanted to know if you know this type of bug?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Yuck, sorry to hear your plant in infested! There are thousands of different species of scale insects, so it’s hard to say exactly what may be infesting your plants. Mealybugs are a type of soft-bodied scale insect, but other species have hard outer shells. Here’s a post about getting rid of hard-shelled scale insects that may help you out… How To Get Rid Of Scale Insects On Houseplants. No matter the exact species you have, the treatment for controlling them is very similar.

I washed and removed all soil from my african violets and put them in glasses full of water – immersing only the roots of course. It’s somehow gratifying to see the bugs crawling out in despair. But how long should I keep the plants in water, in case there are eggs still hatching? 2 weeks? Adult root mealybugs have died, but I don’t know if the violets will get an overdose of water in the long run.

Amy Andrychowicz says

It’s great to hear that you were able to get rid of most of the mealybugs by removing the soil and putting the plant in water. I wouldn’t leave your African violet in water for too long. It can weaken the plant, and may eventually cause root rot. I would repot it into fresh, clean soil and continue to spot-treat the mealybugs daily until they are completely gone.

What if it’s not a house plant, but outside planted in the garden?

Amy Andrychowicz says

You can use the same methods described above to get rid of mealybugs on outdoor plants too. Once you get them under control, then stop using any type of pesticide (like neem oil), and work to attract beneficial predators to your garden. Wasps, ladybugs, and praying mantis are examples are great predatory insects that feed off of pest insects in the garden, like mealybugs. Don’t use any pesticides in your garden, and plant flowers and host plants to attract them. That should take care of the mealybug infestation naturally.

Katy Harrell says

Will neem oil or soap spray harm lizards, monarch eggs/catapillars or any other beneficial or harmless creatures? Does it kill aphids and thrips too?

Amy Andrychowicz says

Neem oil is an organic, naturally occurring pesticide. So yes, since it’s a pesticide, it will harm all types of bugs, good and bad. I stick to using it on my indoor plants only, and not in the garden just for that reason. I’m not sure about lizards though.

Hi Amy, I would love some advice. I have plants all over my home. I first noticed a new plant had mealy bugs. I killed the bug that I saw, wiped down leaves and sprayed the whole plant with homemade neem/soap spray. I also took out the top inch of soil and put in new. Then wiped down the pot with alcohol. I moved the plant to another room away from other plants. I check another plant that was purchased the same day as the other…indeed it also had little fuzzy bits. No actual bug was found. I repeated all the same steps and kept these two plants away from others. Now a week later I have found three other plants with mealybug. These other plants were not even in the same room. One from the kitchen, one from the living room and one from a bedroom. I am beyond upset and confused how they are spreading. I probably have around 40 plants total. I am sick with fear that they will all get infected and I will lose all my plant babies. I need help and guidance. Should I go ahead and spray every plant once a week? Why/how do you think the mealybug has spread room to room? Please help.

Amy Andrychowicz says

Oh no! So sorry to hear that your plants have mealybugs! If they were all purchased at the same time, then that is likely where the came from (they were on the plants when you bought them). Mealybugs can also be spread from plant to plant on a watering can, pruning tools, or even if they get on your hands or your shirt or something. They are so sneaky that it’s really hard to know for sure. I always be sure to use a different watering can on infested plants, and also wash my hands and disinfect my tools before touching any other plants. It takes several treatments to get rid of mealybugs, so you definitely need to continue with your neem oil spray on a regular basis, even after you don’t see anymore bugs. I will treat my infested plants for 6 months or more to be sure the mealybugs are gone for good. I don’t treat any other plants until I see mealybugs on them. So, if I were you, I would just isolate the infested plants, and then monitor the others closely for several weeks.

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