Have you noticed white spots on your cactus? The chances are those are mealybugs.
These pests can be very irritating and there are numerous ways you can get rid of them.
However, it’s not a “one size fits all” solution. Depending on how much of an infestation you have, you may need to utilize different methods.
These could be simply by scraping them off, or you may need to go much further and use an insecticide.
But it’s not just about getting rid of them. You’ll want them gone for good, and it can be difficult to know if you have due to their tiny size – but they soon colonize in serious numbers!
This guide will show you not only how you can get rid of them, but also keep them at bay for the long run.
Read on to learn more.
What Are Mealybugs?
Mealybugs are minute sized bugs that are usually attracted to indoor plants.
Normally these are succulents like tropical plants and of course, cacti.
They are some of the most common types of indoor plant pests and they do become a serious problem.
They like feeding from the internal juices of your plants, which over time will significantly weaken them.
In turn, the plant’s growth is negatively affected, its general health will deteriorate and eventually the plant will die.
By looking at images of mealybugs, you will instantly be able to identify them right after that, especially if you’re unfortunate enough to see them in person!
The most common way that an infestation begins is from where you sourced the plant.
Many plants are brought home which already harbor eggs or adult mealybugs.
Therefore, it’s critical that you properly examine your cactus before you bring it back to your home.
However, this isn’t the only way they can access your home. Another common way they arrive inside is through our clothes, from other flowers – and even your pets.
Despite looking unpleasant, they are not harmful to us – so you don’t need to worry about being bitten or crawled on when you’re least expecting it.
Additionally, they will not infest your home itself unlike some other pests, so you also can rest easy there.
Evidence Of Mealybugs On Your Cactus
The most obvious way of knowing that you have a mealybug infestation is by what we mentioned earlier in this guide.
You might notice lots of white spots or fuzzy pieces that look similar to cotton latched on to your cactus.
You may not be able to see this from a distance, so it’s important that you get up close to your cactus and properly inspect it.
Surrounding areas of the white spots may appear slimy, wet and shiny which can be due to a few reasons. It’s either due to the mealybugs waste or mold that is soon to spread throughout the plant.
Typically, this is down to honeydew which is produced by mealybugs, along with other pests.
Speaking of this wet-look though, this may also be a sign of mealybugs in the soil.
In other words, if you notice the soil appears wet, but you know you have not given them any water – the chances are, this is down to mealybugs.
Additionally, you may see your cactus deteriorating in health and how it looks.
It may start to lean or bend on one side and possibly change color to brown or yellow.
When you inspect your cactus for mealybugs, you’re looking for bugs that are (at their largest), a pinhead size and can definitely be seen without the need for optical aids.
Prior to mealybugs settling, you can spot them by their gray shade colors and a lined back.
However, once they have settled – you’ll start to see what looks like cotton, as they begin to provide protective barriers for their eggs.
It’s quite possible for an infestation to be quick because some of the male mealybugs have the ability to fly, however generally they crawl from one cactus to another.
So, if you have numerous plants together, an infestation can be rapid.
How To Exile Mealybugs From Your Cactus
The best way is prevention, but it’s critical to try to catch them before they multiply. If you do this, it’s actually pretty simple to remove them one by one.
All you need to do is get yourself a Q-tip or cotton swab and dip it in some rubbing alcohol. Then, simply swipe the mealybugs off your cactus individually.
While this may sound simple, the challenge is not necessarily getting rid of the mealybugs – it’s getting every mealybug.
This is why it is so important to properly examine and inspect your cactus after you do this.
Ensure that you keep up with your inspections over the coming days and weeks too.
While you may have thought you’ve got them all, they can be difficult to see sometimes and it only takes a few left to cause another infestation.
If you do notice more in the coming days, repeat the process with another Q-tip or cotton swab and inspect it once again.
It’s important that you use different sides of Q-tips for each mealybug to prevent them spreading unnecessarily.
For larger infestations, it’s likely you will need to use a spray to remove them from your cactus.
However, it’s critical to note that you will probably need to repeat this process several times over a number of weeks for mealybugs to be completely exiled.
You can also do some other methods which may also work. Here’s some of the methods you can use, along with the best chance of getting them gone for good.
Homemade Dish Soap Spray
The good thing about this method is that you most likely have all the ingredients you need already at home.
All you need to do is create a mixture of dish soap and clean water into a spray bottle. If you want a better chance though and if possible, it’s advised that you use neem oil.
If you can add neem oil to this mixture, it gives your cactus a layer of protection to make it difficult for mealybugs to pierce through next time.
Assuming you can get hold of neem oil, you’ll need to use three times as much neem oil as dish soap within your mixture.
An important thing to remember here too is that, while the largest mixture ingredient will be water, you’re advised to use bottled water or distilled water.
This is because in some areas, tap water contains lots of minerals that can actually benefit mealybugs.
Once you’ve got your bottle mixed up, spray all over your cactus – including all hard-to-access areas, because mealybugs can hide in miniscule cracks and hidden places.
Try not to go too overboard with soapy water though because in very high doses, it can be detrimental to your cactus’s heath.
This mixture works by suffocating the mealybugs, whereas the water will then drown them out and wash them away.
Do this method again in a few days if you notice any mealybugs left over.
As soon as you’re sure they have all gone, you’ll want to fill up a spray bottle with only distilled water. Mist the cactus so you can get rid of any soap residue that might be left over.
Isopropyl Alcohol Spray
Isopropyl alcohol, or more commonly known as rubbing alcohol, can also be placed into a spray bottle and used in similar fashion as dish soap solution to get rid of mealybugs.
It’s important that you use a maximum of 70% alcohol. Higher volumes of alcohol can be ineffective and might be damaging to your cactus.
You need to remember to keep your cactus out of direct sunlight if you use alcohol to prevent it from burning.
It’s best to do this method either in the evening or first thing in the morning.
The way that isopropyl alcohol works is by drying the mealybugs out throughout their bodies, which kills them almost instantly.
Once again though, this spray will only get rid of mealybugs if you get every single one.
And like with the dish soap solution, do not go overboard with the spray to reduce the risk of harming your cactus.
Remember, this is the “big” Q-tip solution because rubbing alcohol will be used for that.
Try to employ that method by catching them early – but if there’s lots present, then this bigger method might be something to think about.
Systemic insecticide can be purchased at many garden stores. They work by almost “injecting” themselves into the cactus, and when the mealybugs drain the juices, they suffer from the toxicity and die.
Generally, you can water the cactus with a mixture of water and insecticide and it works in a similar fashion to antibiotics rather than a cream, which is what the other two methods are.
Best Method For Long Term Results
Getting rid of mealybugs for good is by combining one of the two sprays with systemic insecticide.
This way, if you have any mealybugs still surviving within your cactus’s soil, you’ll be able to get rid of them in every possible way.
It’s advisable to repot your cactus after you’ve got rid of mealybugs too so that you can almost guarantee that no eggs or hidden bugs are leftover.
There are some different methods you may decide are better for you. There’s a natural way to get rid of mealybugs by introducing other bugs that eat them, but are harmless to your cactus.
Ladybugs are a good bug for this or you may decide to opt for green lacewings, which also eat aphids.
We’ve also seen some people decide to “bake” their soil in an oven in an attempt to kill off leftover bugs. We cannot be sure this works though, so it’s best to avoid that.
Preventing Mealybugs From Infesting Your Cactus
Prevention is the best way to deal with mealybugs. The first way you can avoid mealybugs is simply by not having an indoor cactus!
Another is to avoid bringing in outdoor plants near your cactus – but if you do, ensure you thoroughly inspect it for signs of mealybugs.
One way that is effective is by using a quarantine system. Essentially, you seal off the plant you’re bringing inside for about three weeks in a separate room and then inspect it for signs of eggs or general infestation.
It’s also a good idea to try to avoid using high-nitrogen plant fertilizer. This is because mealybugs are attracted to nitrogen rich soil and you’re increasing the chances of an infestation.
Is There A 100% Guarantee Method For Ridding Mealybugs?
Nothing is ever 100% when it comes to things like this. However, the best thing you can do is prevent the risks of mealybugs – but if you are unlucky, get them as early as possible.
If it goes further, use a dish-soap or alcohol spray and then a systemic insecticide for the soil.
The Bottom Line
Mealybugs can be a pain but there are ways to get rid of them. Just try to prevent them from getting to your cactus to begin with though for the best possible solution!