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Beyond the plant: Mealybugs can hide anywhere

Mealy bug on an orchid

Cleaning off mealy bugs
with cotton swab and alcohol

Mealy bugs are prehistoric looking white insects with a fluffy white coating. Up close, they remind me of trilobites. They insert their proboscis into plant tissue and suck out the plant juices. Then excrete honeydew, a clear sticky substance made up of mostly sugars, onto plant leaves as well as pots, saucers, table tops, etc. I have had mealy bug issues on some of my houseplants ever since I brought in a rescued Clivia (or was it that Darwin orchid?)

Regardless, mealy bugs have kept me on my toes ever since. I have handpicked them from the folds and undersides of leaves and at the base of plants. I have washed plants with water and also resorted to a few select pesticides (Note: Few of these plants are pollinator-attractive, and those that are are kept indoors when blooming, out of the reach of bees, butterflies, etc.). Unfortunately, even my best efforts could not rid my plants of mealy bugs.

Immature mealy bugs
on the bottom of a clay saucer ...

When summer came along and some of these plants headed outside onto the deck, I was cleaning my plant bench in our living room. Picking up a saucer that was under one of the Clivias, I spotted something white and found a mass of mealybugs under the saucer. Then I picked up a board that another Clivia sat on through the winter and there on edges of the bark were mealy bugs. I also turned over the bamboo runner that covered my plant bench and found more mealy bugs, snug between the sticks. Argh! I couldn't believe I had missed this. No wonder I couldn't get rid of them.

Thoroughly motivated, I washed the saucer and board, threw away the runner and then did a thorough cleaning and vacuuming of all surfaces around the bench and the window sills. Sanitation and diligent scouting is always the first step for keeping indoor plants pest free. Sometimes you have to look beyond the plant itself!

... And in the bark
on a wooden board!

For more on mealy bugs and other houseplant pests:
Managing insect pests on indoor plants

Author: Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator - Horticulture

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