Beware of the Mealybug
by Carl White Master Gardener
To those who are unaware, this is one garden pest whose life objective is to destroy your garden or flowers. Though so small, about 1/10th of an inch, 5 of these small insects will become 500 in only a few days. The active insect is the female that develops a hard shell about her and in this adult stage is harder to kill. They feed, quickly drain life from the plant, lay their eggs then die. Males develop with wings and when found on plants, they live only to breed and quickly die.
Infestations are most common in warm, humid weather. In winter, they overwinter as nymphs and eggs and quickly spread when it is warm. As the mealybugs start growing, they develop a wax-like white, powdery cotton like coating which shields them and protects their eggs. When purchasing new plants, it is important to examine for small critters or eggs on stems or under leaves before buying. Green growing leafy plants as well as succulents are all subject to mealybugs.
Mealybug infestations begin with active nymphs that feed on plant sap and close examination of the plant will reveal them. Treatment is best at this stage, nymphs are easily washed off or killed with soap. The insects excrete honeydew which attracts ants, the ants protect the mealybugs and can transport them to adjacent plants.
Ridding the pests can be done with insecticide soap sprayed on the plant to kill and wash them away (repeating as necessary) and using a mixture containing Neem Oil. See directions for use. Cautiously use strong insecticides due to pet and human contact. Heavily infested plants are best destroyed, examining surrounding plants for possible infestation, and start over.
Dedicated to making your gardening better, contact your Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service, 432-498-4071 in Ector County, or Midland at 432-686-4700 for questions and answers.