Identify and Control Mealybugs

Finding white bugs on your plants? They could be mealybugs. HereÔÇÖs how to identify and kill them.

What Are Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are wingless, soft-bodied insects that protect themselves with a cottony coating. They are most prominently garden pests in the south, and houseplant pests up north. They're very active as youngsters, but settle down to eat when they grow up.

What Do Mealybugs Look Like?

When you're trying to identify the tiny white bugs on your plants, here's how you can tell if they're mealybugs:

  • Mealybugs have pinkish-purple bodies but often appear white or light gray once they cover themselves in a cotton-like wax.
  • They vary in size from 1/20 - 1/5 of an inch long.
  • Their oval-shaped bodies look like they have many legs around them, but this is actually part of their protective waxy coating.
  • The waxy coating may also develop long projections on the ends of their bodies that give the illusion of tails or antennae.
  • Female mealybugs lay hundreds of eggs in tiny, white, cotton-like sacs.

How to Prevent and Control Mealybugs

Mealybugs cover themselves in undigested sap, or honeydew, which they suck out of your favorite plants. The cottony coating protects them against predators and many control products, but you can outsmart them.

Here's how to stop a mealybug infestation:

´╗┐1. Take good care of your plants.

Healthy plants are less susceptible to mealybug infestations than plants that are hungry, weak, and stressed. If you only have a few mealybugs on your plants, try washing them off with a steady stream of water. Repeat as necessary. It may not completely eliminate the problem, but it can help keep a small problem from developing into a big one.

´╗┐2. Break down their defenses.

That cottony coating is good protection against many mealybugs sprays. There are two ways to get around it.

One method is to use a systemic bug control. Ortho┬« Rose & Flower Insect Killer Ready-To-Use is absorbed and held in the plant leaves and protect for up to 4 weeks. When the mealybugs feed on the plant, it kills them.

The other way is to smother them with an oil spray, such as Ortho® Fruit Tree Spray. Check the label to make sure your plant is listed and always follow label directions for use.

´╗┐3. Be persistent with mealybug treatment.

If mealybugs come back, reapply your treatment. Consistent application will beat them, even if it takes a little time

If not controlled, mealybugs can harm plants because they feed on the stems. This could lead to stunted growth, wilting, discoloration, and defoliation. But, now you have the knowledge and tools to protect your plants from those white, fuzzy bugs.