This has to be the worst year ever for mealy bugs in the landscape. Why? I'm not realy sure just yet, but suffice it to say that whatever the whacky weather hath brought us this summer -- super wet to super dry and semi-moderate to immediately stifling temperature -- I've never had so many calls and email questions about mealy bugs in the 10-plus years of doing GardenLine in Houston.I've answered many mealy bug questions, but they were almost always about houseplants. In fact, mealy bugs are one of the scourages of house plants, but never hav I seen it on so many landsape plants at once.
For those of you who don't know, mealy bugs are white, soft-bodied insects that suck plant juices. And they are related to the family of insects that scale comes from as well. In other words, mealy bugs are just a soft version of scale.
They are often found nestled in the nooks and crannies of your plants, where it's hard to spray. Most commonly they attack the new growth and therefore are usually found near the growing tips, and where leaves join stems or along leaf veins. The bug itself is covered with white, waxy threads that protect them from predators and give them the fuzzy appearance. And that's why most of the calls and emails of late have all referenced how much it "looks like snow" on their hibiscus.
Which lets us treat it in so many ways, depending on what plant in question the melay bugs are attacking. Since it's in the scale family Malathion will work, but then again there are so many tropical plants you shoule NEVER, EVER spray malathion on, such as Hibiscus. Meanwhile, there are various other insecticides and organic rememdies that still work. As an example, in my landscape, my bulbines were being overwhelemed with mealy bugs up and down the bloom stem. I simply have been spraying them down once a week with and organic Spinosad. However, as is the case with many organics, it doesn't affect the eggs. So, thus the once-a-week approach. In that, I know I'm slowly but surely getting the adults reduce to a point they can no longer reproduce. For highly sensitive plants that can't take Malathion, there's also the two most recent home made controls we've posted on former email tips. Both have worked with varying degrees of success on tender foliage plants. And since one was designed specfically as an "organic" control for scale, there should be control in at least one of these.
- ¼ to ½ cup of Rubbing Alcohol
- 3-4 drops of Orange Oil
- 4-5 drops of dish soap
- Fill the Rest With Water
(All of this in a quart sprayer)
This was originally designed by me for my tropicals that were infested with Mealy Bugs on my back patio. I knew soapy water worked, and I knew rubbing alcohol worked on mealy bugs. So, I worked with those concepts and the idea that orange oil is a natural insecticide along with Neem Oil.
- 1 part Agricultural Molasses
- 1 part Garlic Oil
- 1 part Seaweed Extract
Blend these 3 equal parts into a one gallong spayer, for landscape plants. While this can smell bad for the first few minutes, the smell does go away in minutes and you not only get a natural insecticide, but you get lots of great soil building elements that drip to the soil below.
As for minor infestations on house plants, using cotton swabs dipped in rubbing alcohol still seems to be the best control method, along with soapy water. But as noted earlier, this is an ongoing control method as eggs are often not eliminated with organic controls. Bottom line: Try to be consistent in your care, and check bug-prone plants regularly. As these insects are under a protective hairy covering, direct contact with a pesticide is difficult.
Until next issue, here's to Great Gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively weekend mornings from 8 to noon on Talkradio 950 KPRC.
Be sure to check out Randy's event page to see where else Randy will be for the next few weekends. Bring your plants, bugs, and diseases for identification purpose.
And you can still purchase a copy of my new book
Until our next issue, here's to great gardening from the GardenLine, heard exclusively weekend mornings 8 a.m.-noon on TALKRADIO 950 KPRC.
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