Pest of the Week: Mealybugs

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It's this time of year when my outdoor gardening is mostly done (other than planting bulbs and caring for the leafy greens in the cold frames and low tunnels) when I start to accumulate houseplants. I can't help it. I can't not be around plants and soil. So I hit the nursery recently, looking for plants to add to my living room.

And it was at the nursery, on a cute little Jade plant I had in my hands, just about ready to bring home, that I saw them. Mealybugs, sneakily hidden in a leaf axis near the bottom of one of the stems.

Note: If you ever see a mealybug on a plant at the nursery, put it down, and walk out. Do not buy the plant or any other plant in the vicinity. Chances are pretty good that they're infected as well. And a mealybug problem is one you'd rather not deal with!

I'm glad I noticed that white, fuzzy stuff on my Jade plant. I ended up going somewhere else for a bigger, healthy Jade that is now residing on my desk. The problem with mealybugs is that they are a real pain to get rid of. That white, cottony looking substance you see is actually a defensive, waxy coating that is able to shed water and just about any spray or insecticidal soap you can throw at it. The best way to get rid of a mealybug infestation, should you have one, is to rub your entire plant with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol (which dissolves that waxy coating) then either go in with the insecticidal soap or a blast of water. You'll have to do this several times to make sure you get rid of the mealybugs completely and make sure you're isolating the plant until you're sure the mealybugs are gone so they don't spread to any of your other plants.

For Further Reading on Mealybugs:

Two of my favorite houseplant bloggers have written extensively about mealybugs, and I highly recommend reading their posts if you're dealing with mealybugs -- or just if you're a houseplant grower. If you grow houseplants, you'll probably end up dealing with mealybugs eventually!