Mealybugs are a frustrating pest in any circumstance, but when it comes to houseplants they can become a true nightmare.
The ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) are especially vulnerable, as these plants rely on stored water to thrive. While we’ll be focusing on ponytail plant infestations, the following tips and treatment methods will work on most outdoor or indoor plants.
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What Are Mealybugs Pests?
Closely resembling a cottony version of pill bugs, mealy bugs are a multi-segmented pest that ranks with scale insects and spider mites as some of the most common and destructive plant pests.
They have a multi-segmented body covered in a protective waxy coating. These features lend to an almost cotton-like appearance.
The pest, which is believed to have originated in Florida, is endemic throughout the US. Some regional nicknames for this pest are:
- Citrus mealybugs
- Fuzzy Roly Polies
- Millie bugs
- Pink Hibiscus bugs
- Tiny white bugs
Most species are white, but other colors may include brown, cream, olive, pink, and yellow.
Mealybugs have a very short lifespan, living only about 30 days. Nymphs have a thick waxy coating. This coating disappears as the nymph matures.
Adult females are capable of laying 500 eggs in a single clutch where leaves connect to the stem or along the leaf veins themselves, allowing this pest to multiply exponentially if not dealt with quickly.
Unfortunately, you often won’t notice a mealybug infestation until they’re already well-established. They often hide in the roots (root mealybugs) of an infested plant and can easily spread to neighboring plants.
Their tiny size means they’re also pros at hiding in tiny crevices. Mealybugs are often mistaken for mildew or fungus, until you realize the infection is moving.
Thankfully, as with aphids, ants harvest mealy bugs honeydew. Spotting an ant trail leading to one of your plants is often a dead giveaway.
What Damage Does Mealybug Cause?
Mealybugs are known to devastate entire crops, but they feel even more at home in your own home where it’s warm and dry. This puts your indoor plants at high risk of an infestation.
These pests have long, piercing mouthparts which they use to pierce plants and drain the fluids. As a result, plant leaves turn yellow and begin falling off as the plant’s sap – literally its blood – is drained away.
Even worse, mealybug excrement is a form of gooey, saplike honeydew that becomes a perfect breeding ground for sooty mold.
The mold can stunt growth and interfere with photosynthesis which, when paired with the mealybug’s feeding, can destroy even well-established plants. Other bugs may also be attracted.
How To Control Mealybugs On Ponytail Palms?
Knowing how to get rid of mealybugs and having a bit of patience are all you need to beat mealybugs on Ponytail palms. There are three different approaches, all of which are safe for ponytail palms: chemical solutions, home remedies, and natural predators.
As a general rule, you should carefully remove any visibly infected leaves and separate infected plants from the rest of your houseplants to minimize cross contamination. Avoid overwatering, as this will harm your plant and mealybugs can survive underwater.
Focus on pesticides that contain pyrethrin and are marked specifically to handle mealybugs on the label. Pyrethrin is a non-toxic plant extract which works well against a variety of pests when mixed with other ingredients.
Organic Neem oil pesticide for plants is a great remedy for plant pest control. You can buy it directly at any garden center.
One of the best general pest control tricks is to directly dab them with a cotton swab containing 70% percent isopropyl alcohol. You can also gently rub down the foliage regularly to kill both bugs and fungi that might not be visible on the plant.
You may also wish to make your own neem oil spray or insecticidal soap. Check out 6 ways for controlling mealybugs at home.
An alcohol spray of 10% percent rubbing alcohol and 90% percent water or a 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl with a teaspoon of Dawn dish soap are both effective alternatives to hand washing..
Be sure to test any soap or rubbing alcohol treatments on a small area to ensure there are no sensitivity issues. Also, when applying any treatment, avoid applying to the plant in the heat of the day when plants are in full sun. Ensure the leaves dry quickly.
A lot of insects are natural enemies of mealybugs and won’t harm your ponytail palm. These include:
As these also prey on other common plant pests, they’re a great natural alternative.