Spot a fuzzy, little cotton ball on your houseplant? Looks harmless enough, right? Oh how I wish that was the case! Unfortunately what you have most likely discovered is a powerful life force sucking plant pest called Planoccoccus Citri or Citrus Mealybug. Welcome to mealybug infestations my friends. Buckle up, it's a bit of a ride!
These innocent looking creatures quickly reproduce to slowly destroy, or seriously stunt the growth of your green babies. It can be so heartbreaking. But you're not alone and we'll do everything we can to help!
Let's first gain some understanding around these insects before we begin combating them.
The mealybug life cycle is 7-10 weeks long. The eggs take 1-2 weeks to hatch into nymphs and another 6-8 weeks for nymphs to mature into adults. This is why their life cycles can easily overlap and populations can explode out of control quickly and quietly before you even notice. To make things worse, they can survive hidden out of sight in nooks and crevices for a short period of time even without a host plant which is why cleaning and treating all the surfaces on and around your plant is vital.(more on that in our step by step treatment process detailed later in this blog).
The way mealybugs harm plants is two fold. They suck the sap from plants which decreases your plants ability to photosynthesize which then stunts growth and the overall health of your plant. But that's only part of the story. They also produce a substance called honeydew which is the perfect environment for sooty mold to grow. Black sooty mold, as you may have guessed by the name, is not a good thing for plants to be covered with!
Over the past twenty years I've dealt with my fair share of mealybug in houselants with varying degrees of success. Succulents, cacti, palm and calathea seem particularly subject to mealy, but in my experience jade plants are the number one target. Mealybugs are found throughout greenhouses that grow a variety of houseplants, so host plants options for these little guys are far reaching. They prefer tropical plants like gardenia, geranium, palms, orchids, African violets, begonias, coleus, and as their name suggests, citrus. Tropical plants tend to grow in more hospitabie, warm environments, mealybug ideal home!
I envision them happily enjoying a leaf juice cocktail while eyeing their next hide out, somewhere comfortably wedged between stem and new leaf, or just under the bottom lip of the terra cotta saucer. Places where those pesky humans can't easily spot!
And then there are the ants. Yup, where there are mealy, there are probably ants nearby. In fact, ants may be responsible for transporting mealy bugs into your home and onto your houseplants!! Just as aphids and ants have a 'special bond' (I think we can safely call it symbiotic) same goes for mealybug and ants. Honeydew is excreted by soft bodied insects like aphids and mealybugs as a result of feeding on plant material.
And honeydew is like ant ambrosia.
So, to protect their meal ticket, ants shelter mealybugs from predators so they can continue to provide them delicious sweet treats! What's even more 'fun' and worth repeating, mealies can hitch a ride on their fast moving ant friends to travel from plant to plant. Another reason to treat and isolate any plant you find infested as soon as you can.
(Read our tips for best practices to isolate and treat plants with pests here
*Full disclosure friends, it is not always possible to save your plants once mealy bugs have taken hold. It depends on the severity of the infestation and the current health of your plant before you begin treatment. That said, I have successfully rid more than 3/4 of the plants I have treated if am diligent and follow these steps:
STEPS TO TREAT MEALYBUG
STEP 1: ISOLATE & REPOT
If your plant isn't too huge and repotting is an option, then follow these steps:
First take plant(s) to the garbage (not compost bin, you want to avoid the chance introducing new pests to the garden). Next, gently place the plant aside on the ground, a mat, or newspaper while thoroughly cleaning and scrubbing the pot with hot water and soap. Then, because we want to avoid havig to do this process again, grab a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and a cotton ball (or q-tip depending of the size of the plant), douse it until saturated, and then wipe down every surface of the pot and saucer. Mealy love to hang out in crevices and under surfaces and remember, crawlers and nymphs are teeny tiny so you may not see them at first glance.
If your plant is too huge and repotting is not an option, then go directly to STEP 4 and begin treating with Sacred Leaf and Sacred Soil tonics. You will need to increase the amount of time for full recovery.
STEP 2: RINSE & PRUNE
Take your plant to the shower or a hose and gently rinse with room temp water to remove as many mealybugs as possible. Be sure to get the undersides of leaves, crevices between stem and leaves, and the stems of your plant too. Then, with clean scissors or shears, prune away any damaged leaves or stems and discard.
STEP 3: REPOT
Use fresh soil to plant up your baby back into the cleaned and sterilized pot to give it a new start before moving on to the next step.
STEP 4: SPRAY and DRENCH
This is where the Sacred Leaf Tonic magic begins! Now that your plant is mostly pest free, (trust me, they are still there even if you can’t see them) it's time to finish the job and keep it that way while also offering extra nourishment to ward off any future attacks.
3-4 x apply Sacred Leaf Tonic with a double strength application of Sacred Soil Tonic 1x
2-3 x apply Sacred Leaf Tonic with a double strength application of Sacred Soil Tonic 1x
1-2x apply Sacred Leaf Tonic with a double strength application of Sacred Soil Tonic 1x
Fourth week and then ongoing maintenance for the next few months:
1x apply Sacred Leaf Tonic with normal strength application of Sacred Soil Tonic 1x
You got this and remember, while you treat you are simultaneously boosting the immune system of your green bbs too!
We welcome your before and after success stories here too! Feel free to take pics and send us an email so we can share your experience with our plant loving community!
Best wishes and happy growing!
Karina and Team SE