Succulent Pest Control: Controlling Mealybugs, Aphids, Scale Insects

Succulent pest control catches many by surprise.

Generally speaking, cactus and the many types of succulent plants experience few pest problems and are very trouble-free houseplants.

For the most part, fungal infections and other problems start with watering succulents improperly (overwatering) and/or insufficient sunlight.

Both of these mistakes in succulent care make plants more susceptible to fungal diseases and bacterial infections.

mealy bugs on succulents

Damaged plants compromised by conditions are also more susceptible to pests such as:

Controlling these small, tiny common pests can be hard.

These insect pests attack new growth, hide on the undersides of leaves and at plant joints where you may not see them until they’ve already done quite a bit of damage.

Furthermore, many of these pests have hard, protective coverings preventing insecticides from being effective.

Succulent Pest Control – How To Know If Your Succulents Are Infested?

If your succulent garden is affected by scale or mealybugs, you may notice a sticky substance (honeydew) or a black moldy appearance on or around the infected plant.

If you see this, examine the plant very closely and you’re sure to find tiny insects lurking in its folds.

If you miss these tell-tale signs, your first indication may be shriveled, wrinkled leaves. If plants experience severe pest infestations, the plants may die.

What Do These Pests Look Like?

Scale pests have a soft cottony appearance or hard dome-shaped covered shells. Scale insects attach themselves to plant stems and suck out the plant’s juices and sap.

If there are only a few, you can scrape them off with a knife blade or thumbnail.

scale insect pest feeding on leaves

Mealybugs are also tiny and seldom grow to be larger than 1/3″ of an inch long. These bugs have a cottony, white appearance and a protective waxy coating.

Mealybugs move about very slowly, and you will often find them clustered together on the spine or the veins of plant leaves.

They are good at hiding, so be sure to check the undersides of leaves and any crevices where they might hide.

mealybug feeding on underside of leaves

Root mealybugs live at the soil surface of your plant. They congregate together on plant roots to present the appearance of an inert, white mass.

You may mistake them for fungal growth.

Root mealybugs weaken plants’ by sucking out its juices. They also make it more likely that your plant will contract a fungal or bacterial infection.

Fungus gnats are quite tiny and look a bit like mosquitoes. You may notice them hovering around the base of your plant near the soil.

The flies won’t hurt your plants, but their larvae live in the potting soil and eat plant roots and organic matter.

A large established plant is not usually bothered by this, but very young plants may be killed or at least stunted.

pesky fungus gnats

Spider mites are tiny brown spots or dots as small as a grain of pepper. One of the best ways to determine their presence is to tap an infected plant leaf over a sheet of paper.

If spider mites are present, they will fall on the paper like bits of dust. Bits of white webs on plants also indicate a spider mite attack.

spider mites on bird of paradise leaf

 

For more information check out our in-depth articles on the life cycles of:

How To Get Rid Of Insect Pests For Pest-Free Healthy Plants

The best way to deal with any kind of plant pest is to establish a comprehensive integrated pest management (IPM) program. Here’s how:

Know You Plants Needs

Learn about your plants’ needs, and provide for them appropriately.

Healthy plants do not happen by accident.

Keep your plants healthy and practice good hygiene by providing:

  • The right kind of soil
  • Proper lighting
  • A controlled watering program

Strong healthy plants are less likely to attract pests and diseases.

Practice Good Grooming and Maintenance

Keep pests away by deadheading flowers and remove dead leaves to prevent attracting pests and fungus.

Repot as needed and check for root mealybugs when you do.

Don’t Let Plants Play With Strangers!

When bringing a new plant home, keep it in quarantine for a couple of weeks and keep a close eye on it.

At the first sign of any pests, treat them immediately or as a last resort toss the plant and get a healthy one.

Use The Simplest Solution First

When you first notice spider mites or mealybugs on succulents plant, try washing them off with a strong stream of water.

Very often, this will knock them off and you won’t have any more trouble.

NOTE: Spraying with water is an option. We DO NOT recommend putting any extra water on succulent plants

Give Your Plant A Bath

For severe mealybug or spider mite infestation, consider bathing your plant.

Remove the plant from its pot and give it a good all over washing.

Allow it to lie out in a well ventilated, warm environment for a couple of days and examine it again before planting it in fresh soil in a new (or sanitized) pot.

Remove Individual Pests

If you just see a few plant scales and mealybugs, try killing them and removing them using Q-tips or cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol.

Make Rubbing Alcohol Solution Pest Control Spray

To make a diluted alcohol pest spray solution mix

  • One part isopropyl alcohol
  • Three parts water

Place in a spray bottle to spray over the entire plant to kill spider mites and mealybugs.

Take care when spraying alcohol solutions. Succulents and cacti may be sensitive to rubbing alcohol that can damage and interfere with the waxy coating on plants’ exterior.

Use A Trap To Control Fungus Gnats

Make apple cider vinegar (ACV) traps for getting rid of adult fungus gnats.

Pour about an inch of ACV into the bottom of a jar. Put the lid on and poke some holes in the lid big enough for the gnats to enter.

Use empty spice jars for this purpose. This is very handy because the lids already have small holes.

Gnats are attracted to apple cider vinegar. They’ll go in to get it and drown since they won’t be able to find their way out.

You’ll be amazed by the number of gnats you catch.

Yellow sticky traps or tape also works on capturing fungus gnats.

Use An Insecticidal Soap

Insecticidal soap can be very effective in getting rid of aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, thrips and a host of other succulent pests.

Check out our homemade organic insecticidal soap spray recipe.

A teaspoonful of mild dish soap or dishwashing liquid in a quart of water applied as a spray can be very useful.

Be careful when using this spray. Like rubbing alcohol, soap may damage the plant’s epidermis and interfere with the plant’s natural oil and wax coating.

Always test any product you plan to spray on a very small and hidden area on your plant before spraying it all over the plant.

Apply Natural Organic Insecticides

Insecticides like pyrethroids and natural, organic insecticide sprays such as neem or horticultural oil may also be effective.

Be sure to read and follow the directions on the label of any product you choose to make sure it’s safe for use on your succulents.

Systemic Insecticides For Heavy Infestations

In heavy infestations, using a systemic insecticide such as acephate or imidacloprid may be necessary.

These systemic pesticide products are used as soil drenches that are taken up by the plant and reach the pests through ingestion.

Don’t use this type of insecticide on any blooming plant accessible to pollinators. These products are especially dangerous to bees.