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Signs of damage
Mealybugs have needle-like sucking mouthparts. Feeding activity can cause a yellowing of host leaves, distorted growth, premature leaf drop, and, with heavy populations, plant death. Mealybugs also produce large amounts of a sweet, sticky liquid waste product called honeydew. A black fungus called sooty mold may grow on the honeydew.
How to prevent
This pest is usually brought into the interiorscape on an infested plant. Therefore, one of the best ways to manage mealybugs on houseplants is to carefully check plants being considered for purchase and reject any infested plants. Quarantine new plants for 7-10 days in an isolated spot, and check for signs of mealybugs or other household pests before adding the plants to your interiorscape.
Provide proper cultural control so that the plants are vigorous and can tolerate moderate mealybug feeding without suffering too much damage. Do not over-water or over-fertilise — mealybugs are attracted to plants with high nitrogen levels and soft growth. Removing overwintering sites, such as loose bark, can help to reduce mealybug numbers. Predatory insects, such as lacewings, syrphid flies, ladybirds, and several small parasitic wasps, prey on outdoor mealybugs and can often keep their numbers down. An introduced beetle, Cryptolaemus montrouzieri, the mealybug destroyer, is available commercially for release in greenhouses. Avoid the unnecessary use of insecticide to minimise any adverse effect on these beneficial insects. Manage ants, which are attracted to honeydew produced by the mealybugs and will inhibit the activities of natural enemies.
1 Wash them away: Mealybugs can be dislodged with a steady stream of water. Repeat the treatment as necessary. This is best for light infestations.
2 Insecticidal soap: Insecticidal soaps are available on the market, or you can make your own by using a dish detergent such as Ivory Liquid. Try to find a product free of perfumes and additives that might harm plants. Mix the soap in a weak concentration with water (starting a 1 teaspoon per gallon and increasing as necessary). Spray on plants.
3 Neem oil: Neem oil is derived from the neem tree. Use according to label instructions. In addition to its insecticidal properties, neem is also a fungicide and has systemic benefits (meaning the plant absorbs it so it can control insects it doesn't directly contact). According to the Environmental Protection Association, neem is safe for use on vegetables and food plants as well as ornamentals.
4 Kitchen insect spray: This all-purpose insect spray. To make a batch, combine 1 garlic bulb, 1 small onion, and 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in a food processor or blender and process into a paste. Mix into 1 quart of water and steep for 1 hour. Strain through a cheesecloth and add 1 tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Mix well. The mixture can be stored for up to 1 week in the refrigerator.
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