Mealybugs are white and cotton-like insects that infest plant stems, twigs and leaves. These wingless insects insert their long mouths (called stylets) into various parts of the plant and suck out sap. While a few mealy bugs will not do much damage to a plant, en masse they can cause significant damage, and will cause a plant to wither. Fruits might also fall prematurely with mealybug infestation.
Mealybugs are prone to infest plants in warm climates, and can attach themselves to most fruits, flowers and plants. Controlling mealybugs involves several methods, which you can use any combination of. Here are a few ways you can get rid of these pests from your garden or crops.
- Healthy plants are a natural deterrent. As with any plant disease or infestation, healthy plants make for a natural deterrent against mealybugs. Start with healthy, organically-fertilized soil, and choose crops that are resilient to weeds and pests.
- Water down your plants. The first thing you can do is water down your plants with a pressurized hose. This can reduce infestation, but will not likely eradicate mealybugs totally. If water by itself doesn't work, you can use a mixture of soap or horticultural oil.
- Use organic insecticide. Extract from the Neem tree--neem oil--is a natural insect repellent. You can also use your own homemade insecticide. Simmer a concoction of onion, garlic, and red pepper. The solution from this can be used as natural insecticide, which can get rid of most pests (mealybugs included).
- Use insecticidal soap. You can also use insecticidal soap, which contains potassium and fatty acids, which can seep into the outer shells of mealybugs (and other pests), resulting in dehydration. Insecticidal soap often has a quick and lasting effect.
- Use predatory bugs. Insects like the lacewing, ladybug and the so-called "mealybug destroyer" can help keep mealybug infestations at bay. You can either purchase these commercially from gardening supplies stores. Alternatively, you can plant flowering plants and other crops that attract these kinds of insects, such as dill, coreopsis, and any bright-colored ones. When dealing with mealybugs this way, be mindful of any ant infestation, as well. Ants feed on the sweet dew produced by mealybugs as a by-product. Ants would also deter predatory insects from attacking mealybugs.
- Use alcohol. You can rub some alcohol (on a cotton ball or swab) to address light infestations. This might not work if you're dealing with a lot of mealybugs, though, as it can be time-consuming.
After treating your garden for mealybugs, remember to wash down your plants regularly. Keeping your plants' surface clean can help fight against mealybugs and other pests. avoid over-watering your plants, and feeding them with too much fertilizer. High levels of nitrogen in the plant will attract mealybugs.
If a mealybug infestation cannot be stopped by these methods after a couple of weeks, then you might have to destroy the infested plants and dispose of them, to prevent spread to other parts of your garden. This can be your last resort--it will be better to lose a few plants to mealybugs, than your entire garden.