University of Maryland Extension

Mealybugs - Houseplants

close up of mealybugs
Mealybugs on potted cycad

  • Mealy bugs are covered with a powdery wax and the body tapers towards the tail.
  • They may have waxy tufts around the body margin and several tails at the rear end.
  • Mealybugs may be found at rest or slowly crawling on the undersides of leaves, on stems in flowers or even on the outside of the pot.
  • Cottony white wax is usually the first sign of their presence.
  • Mealybugs damage plants by sucking sap and their feeding can result in yellowing leaves, stunting, dieback or death of the plants.
  • They secrete honeydew that supports the growth of black sooty mold on plant parts.

Management

  • Check plants on a regular basis for the presence of mealybugs. Mealybugs that have been parasitized will be darker in color and exit holes may be visible where the parasite emerged.
  • Mealybugs are very difficult to control. Heavily infested plants should be discarded. 
  • Isolate infected plants so the infestation does not spread. 
  • Dipping a cotton swab in household alcohol and dabbing it on the individual mealybugs can control light infestations. Mealybugs treated with alcohol will turn light brown in color. Be careful not to get the alcohol on the leaves of the plants as they may be damaged.
  • For heavy infestations, spray the plants thoroughly with insecticidal soap for houseplants or a registered houseplant spray. Be sure to follow all directions carefully and make sure that the plant or pest are on the label. Multiple applications will most likely be necessary.
  • The other option, is using a systemic houseplant insecticide that is watered in around the roots.  
  • After treating monitor the plant for mealybugs each time you water. Retreatment may be necessary. 

 mealybugs infesting a cactus
Mealybugs on cactus

dieback on orchid with mealybugs
Dieback on Paphiopedilum (slipper) orchid

mealybugs on shrimp plant flower
Mealybugs on flower of shrimp plant. They
conceal themselves very well making them
difficult to control

close-up of a mealybug
Close-up of a mealybug under a waxy coating

mealybugs on coleus stem
Mealybugs on coleus

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