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Mealybugs Natural Insect Pest Control

Mealy bugs on leaf female
Mealybugs on leaf
Mealybugs on leaf

Mealybugs are very small soft, oval insects that are usually covered with a white or gray waxy fluff. A mealy bug is about 1/10 of an inch long.

Mealybugs suck the juices from citrus, apples, pears, apricots, avocadoes, and grapes as well as ornamental and tropical plants. Honeydew excreted by mealybugs supports the growth of sooty mold fungus.

Female mealybugs have soft, oval, pinkish bodies; males have wings. Nymphs are similar to adults but smaller.

There are several species of mealybugs, most found in the southern United States. The longtailed mealybug is found throughout North America; it has a cottony appearance and two long anal filaments.

Female mealybug with eggs
Female mealybug with eggs

Female mealybugs lay eggs in a fluffy white mass. The eggs hatch in 10 days and the crawlers then develop for 1 to 2 months. There are many generations of mealybugs each year.

Mealybugs often feed in large, dense colonies which appear as white, sticky masses on leaves, twigs, or fruit. With large concentrations of mealybugs, sticky honeydew will appear with a dark, sooty mold growth over it.

Target Plants: Mealybugs feed on citrus, apples, pears, apricots, avocados, and grapes as well as ornamental and tropical plants.

Feeding Habits and Damage: Adults and nymphs suck plant juices feeding on all parts of a plant—stems, leaves, and fruits. Excremental honeydew left by mealybugs supports the growth of sooty mold fungus.

Organic Controls: Spray infested plants with stiff stream of water or soapy water, or spray with insecticidal soap.

Organic Control Calendar: Here is what you can do seasonally to control mealybugs:

  • Before planting: Remove weeds and plant debris from the garden; mealybugs overwinter as nymphs or eggs in plant debris and under tree bark.
  • At planting time: Mealybugs thrive in warm weather; they may not be present early in the season. Spray infestations with a strong stream of water.
  • While crops develop: Spray mealybugs infestations with a strong spray of water or with insecticidal soap. Control ants which farm mealybugs in order to harvest their sugary honeydew.
  • After harvest: Remove spent plants and debris from garden; mealybugs overwinter as nymphs or eggs in plant debris and under the bark of trees

Natural Predators: Lady beetles, lacewings, syrphid flies, chalcid wasps, and mealy bug destroyers (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri—to control mealybugs on citrus).

Scientific Name: Family Pseudococcidae; Pesudococcus adonidum (longtailed mealybugs); Planococcus citri (citrus mealybug); Pseudococcus comstocki (Comstock mealybug).

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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