Monday, September 09, 2013

Common House Plant Pests - Part 4: Mealybugs - Planococcus citri

I was asked to rescue this Jade plant (Crassula ovata) for a friend. They were wondering what the white stuff was covering the base of each leaf.

This Jade plant has seen better days. Leaves are distorted, the growth is weak; becoming susceptible to attack. Every leaf axil was invested with Mealybug. Their typical white, powdery coating is a dead giveaway. Female adults are hidden beneath, sucking sap from the host plant.

A close up, showing white fuzzy cotton insects at each leaf node (joint).

I hate using chemicals. High pressure water is by far my favourite control for Mealybug. Don't worry about damaging leaves. The spray from a garden hose is not that harsh. Don't use a pressure washer, just a hose attachment for the garden.

* Note: Be sure to spray on a driveway or area where the Mealybugs cannot transfer to another plant. In the summer months, Mealybugs can easily survive and find other hosts in your garden.  Treat your plant in this manner on a hot summer day. The Mealybugs will fall to the pavement and because their food source is gone, they will die in the hot sun.

Use either the Jet or the...

Flat setting on your hose end sprayer.

Liberally spray the plant in all directions. Under the foliage, on the top of the foliage - reaching all the nooks and crannies. This pressure will help dislodge leaves that need to come off anyway. Not to worry.

After you've sprayed the plant thoroughly with water, make sure any dislodged Mealybugs that have fallen on the top of the soil in the pot is also sprayed out.

Soil is generally compacted enough in pots. Spraying this hard won't wash all the soil away. Spray on an angle and tip the pot if necessary.

Spray the saucer on both sides thoroughly. The more thorough you are, the less likely the Mealybugs will return.

Spray the pot, under the rim, beneath....EVERYWHERE. Mealybugs are persistent and they hide in any corner, nook or crack.

Remove any damaged, old, wrinkly leaves. Be sure to spray with water at the leaf axil after leaves have been removed. Eggs or small, in-star Mealybugs may still be there.

Use rubbing alcohol as an additional control after you've thoroughly sprayed the plant. Apply with a cotton swab and paint the leaf axils, buds, bases of the leaves/stems.

Be sure to get all the leaves, axils and any where you may have noticed Mealybugs before the treatment. It's an arduous task, but worth it. You can actually kill off the Mealybug by painting alcohol over its body. It kills them on contact. The alcohol removes their outer white coating and makes their exterior skin dry out.

After painting all the leaf axils and other areas you may think the Mealybugs have been, wipe the pot down with a cloth drenched in rubbing alcohol or a bath of 1 part rubbing alcohol to 3 parts water and 1 tsp dish soap. This will prevent eggs or crawler bugs from surviving.

An alternative is to repot with a sterilized/clean flower pot. If you do so, be sure to clean the former pot and store in an area where if any Mealybugs were to survive, they would soon die off from lack of any food source.

Once you've treated your plant, resituate in a bright area, away from other house plants until you know the infested plant is clear. Add a layer of fresh potting soil and use houseplant fertilizer every two weeks when watering. Monitor your plant every other day for re-infestations. Retreat until no more Mealybugs are to be found.

In the winter, Mealybugs don't like the cold. If you can't spray as I did on the driveway but you want to kill off the Mealybugs; bring the infested plant towards a cold window sill. The Mealybugs will move away from the coldest side of the plant to the warmer leaves. Once they congregate, remove with a cotton swab doused with rubbing alcohol.

Hope this helps.

Check out my updated post on the results!


  1. Thank you so very much for this post. I had a 20 yr old Jade that did not survive an aphid infestation. I was living with a roommate and she brought a new plant into the home. Well, it took over and killed my beautiful Jade. I was devastated. This was about 8 yes ago. I was talking to my husband last night about how I miss my Jade. He came home tonight from work with one for me. Unfortunately, it has a very small mealy worm problem going on with it. I immediately took it to the upstairs porch where there are no plants, grabbed my phone and googled what to do. Your post was extremely helpful. Thankful for the time and effort you put into this. The pictures really helped. :) Fingers crossed, that it will work for my new plant baby. Thanks again.

    1. Thanks, Amysue! Be persistent. The above Jade plant took about 3 weeks of cotton swab dabbing of alcohol to nip the meal bugs dead. They hide in all the nooks and crannies, and the young mealy attack the tender, newest leaves - so keep it separated from any other plant until you don't see any bugs left. Cheers!

  2. I bought a new African violet that infected my older jade plant with mealybugs, any ideas for saving the violet also (more delicate leaves)? Thanks. - Marie

    1. Pubescent (fuzzy) leaved plants that get mealy bugs are tricky. Personally, I'd get rid of the African Violet. Not worth the energy to rid it, unless you use strong pesticides. To keep the plant, take a leaf cutting first, rinse under water, making sure there's no mealy bugs and root it.

  3. Thanks Heidi! This was very helpful. I have a huge jade plant that became infested. Since it is winter here in Colorado I had my husband carry the monster plant up to our bathroom and sprayed the plant from every angle. Now I am applying the alcohol and wiping off anything that is white. I think my plant is going to survive...thanks to you! Do you think it is safe to pour alcohol over the soil to get rid of any bugs in the soil? I have perlite pieces and it's hard to tell if I have any mealy bugs there or not. Thanks! Tracy

  4. Alcohol on soil - I wouldn't. Alcohol will dry out roots if it seeps through. Best to scrape off a top layer of soil. Wait a few days. Water from beneath, so the soil dries out on top - hopefully drying out any eggs or mealy bugs that remain. Replace removed soil with fresh bagged potting soil. It will help keep mealy populations down.

    I will have to post a picture of the jade in this blog post. I shudder to see how it once looked. It doesn't look remotely the same.

    Be patient; vigilant and keep dabbing with alcohol. I saved another jade plant COVERED with mealy in November, using a power washer on a low setting. It was so bad. No amount of water from the hose would dislodge all the mealy bugs. It damaged some leaves, but thankfully the 15 year old plant is bouncing back now. Crazy bugs, eh? Bye for now, Heidi

  5. A friend of mine who saw pictures of my Jade on my blog referred me to this post. I live high up in a condo and I don't have a power sprayer to remediate my bug infestation. Possible to do this in a kitchen sink? Or is it better to head to a friend's house and spray the bugs away outside?

    Thanks in advance! V-

    1. Mealy are tough to rid. Best do it at a friend's house. Unless you have a high pressure sink attachment, I would do it outside. Good Luck V!

  6. You are a charm Heidi! Searched all over the web with nothing that really helped-your pictures are wonderful and so helpful. I have put your website in my Favorites to access from now on. I am a plant and Jade addict 🤗

    1. Wow! Thanks so much. Here to help fellow plant lovers. Cheers!


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