How To Get Rid of Mealybugs on Cactus Plants: An Easy Guide

By

If mealybugs have infested your cactus plants, you are not alone.

Mealybugs are a frequent problem for cactus plants, and getting rid of mealybug infestations may be difficult.

These pesky bugs can be hard to get rid of, but fortunately, some easy steps will help exterminate mealybugs on cactus plants!

This article has all the information you need to know about mealybugs and how they affect cacti.

What Are Mealybugs?

Mealybugs are mealy-looking bugs that can invade your cactus plants.

Mealybugs feed on the sap of a plant, and they do not have wings or antennae, making them easy to identify.

They tend to be found in clusters around the branches and stems of affected plants.

There are many mealybug species, but mealybugs that feed on cactus plants have a rough waxy covering which gives them their name.

They vary from light to dark brown and are often found along the veins of leaves or flowers.

The most common mealybug species on cactus plants are the citrus mealybug (Planococcus citri) and the longtailed mealybug (Pseudococcus longispinus).

What Causes Mealybugs on Cactus?

Mealybugs on cactus plants are a common problem.

These pests seem to be appearing more often as mealybugs have been found in greenhouses and homes worldwide.

They feed off of sap from succulent plants so that they can harm your cacti or other succulents, including agave, aloe vera plant, jade plant, etc.

The main causes of mealybugs on cactus are the following:

Overwatering

Mealybugs are most often found in moist environments, where the mealybugs can feed off of plants that are watered too frequently or not allowed to dry out completely.

Poor Airflow

Mealybugs on cactus need a humid environment for their eggs to hatch and grow successfully.

When humidity levels remain high inside your home, the mealybug population can explode.

Temperature Extremes

Mealybugs thrive in hot and humid conditions, while they may die off during the winter months when temperatures drop below 50 F (or approximately 11 C).

High Humidity

Mealybugs are attracted to moist areas with high humidity.

They can be found in windowsills, potted plants that live indoors or outside, and even greenhouses where humid conditions prevail year-round.

Bad Soil Quality

Mealybugs on cactus can also be a sign that your soil is of poor quality and needs to be replaced.

Plants with all-purpose or low-quality soils will not grow as well, leaving them more susceptible to infestation from pests such as mealybugs.

Infested Plants

Newly acquired plants can carry pests such as mealybugs.

These bugs may be hidden in a plant’s soil, or they could cling to its leaves and branches after moving from one location to another.

What Do Mealybugs Look Like on Cacti?

It is easy to spot a mealybug infestation on cactus plants.

Mealybugs are tiny white bugs that look like fluff or cotton at the base of leaves and stems, especially near where new roots emerge.

They have piercing-sucking mouthparts which they use to feed off plant sap.

In addition to this harm, their large numbers can cause damage by blocking out light needed for photosynthesis in the affected areas.

The most common signs of a mealybug infestation on cacti are:

White Bugs or White Fluff

Mealybugs on cactus plants look like white fluff.

They are tiny and oval-shaped with a waxy, cottony appearance which is where they get their common name from.

Their bodies have two tubes that run lengthways along the bug’s body, and these appear as long lines of cotton when looking at them.

White, Cottony Egg Sacs

Mealybugs can also produce white, waxy-looking egg sacs that are typically found on the soil underneath plants.

These egg sacs contain 100-400 eggs and will hatch between one to three weeks after being produced.

They may look similar to woolly aphid or scale insect egg sacks, so it is essential to identify the eggs sacks before treating plants correctly.

Sticky, Honeydew-like Substances on the Leaves

Mealybug secretions can look like a sticky, honeydew-like substance left on leaves and stems.

The bugs excrete these secretions as they feed, and it is usually left on the top of leaves where they feed.

This substance may also attract other bugs, such as ants.

Frass (Mealybug Poop)

Another sign of a mealybug infestation is the appearance of frass on and around plants.

This bug excrement looks like small grains or pieces of sand and may be stuck to leaves with honeydew secretions.

Shriveled or Wilted Leaves

Mealybugs can cause leaves to turn yellow or brown, wilt, and fall off.

This is because the bugs feed on plant sap, which contains water that helps keep plants healthy.

Curled and Distorted Growth

Mealybugs can cause leaves to curl, twist or become distorted. This is because they feed on sap which also contains nutrients needed for plant growth.

Ants

Ants are often present in areas where mealybugs feed.

This is because they like to eat the honeydew secretions that bugs produce while feeding on plants, and ants will also protect mealybugs from predators trying to get rid of them.

Ant colonies can be very large if there’s an infestation nearby.

Flower Drop

Mealybugs can also cause flowers to drop.

This is because they feed on plant sap, which contains the nutrients needed for flower production.

So if there are no more nutrients available, then flowering will stop even though it hasn’t finished yet.

How To Treat Mealybugs on Cactus Plants

If you have spotted any signs of mealybugs on cactus plants, you should first quarantine the plant and start treating it. This is to prevent the spread of bugs to other plants nearby.

The best ways to treat mealybugs on cactus plants are:

Use an Insecticide Spray

An excellent product to use is a horticultural oil or insecticidal soap spray.

This will kill off the bugs and their eggs, then wash away secretions that attract ants (which can protect them).

Horticultural oils also coat plant leaves with natural substances, which suffocate the bugs too. Be sure not to get these products on flowers as they may damage them.

Pick Them Off by Hand!

Another way of treating mealybugs on cacti is to pick them off one by one using your fingers or tweezers.

A pest like this won’t be killed if you contact it; all you need to do is remove it from the plant and treat that affected area with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray.

Neem Oil Spray

Using neem oil spray can help get rid of mealybugs without killing beneficial insects like ladybugs that prey upon them (and other pests).

You’ll need to prepare this pest control mixture by mixing one tablespoon of organic liquid soap with two teaspoons of 100% pure neem oil in eight ounces of water.

Shake it up well, and then spray the solution onto all affected areas as needed.

Use Beneficial Insects

Using biological control methods – such as introducing beneficial insects like ladybugs, lacewings, or parasitic wasps into your garden – can help get rid of an infestation if other treatments don’t work well enough.

These insects feed on mealybugs (and other pests) by laying their eggs inside them, killing off the mealybugs themselves.

Isopropyl Alcohol

This is another treatment method that involves pouring some isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) over affected plants.

It will kill off mealybugs on cactus plants, but be sure to test the solution first in an inconspicuous part of the plant’s stem or leaves before applying it more widely.

This way, you won’t damage your potted plant if there are any harmful chemicals present.

Water Sprays

Spraying your plant down with water can also help kill mealybugs because it will wash away honeydew secretions and dead bugs stuck to leaves.

However, this method alone won’t be as effective for completely wiping out an infestation as the other treatments do.

Dish Soap

Dish soap is another treatment that can be used to kill off mealybugs on cactus plants.

This works well because the sudsy solution coats bugs and suffocates them as they breathe through their pores.

Just apply a few drops of dish soap onto the affected areas, leave it there for about an hour, then rinse your plant with clean water and dry it using paper towels or a soft cloth.

Systemic Insecticide

Another treatment method for mealybugs on cactus plants is to use a systemic insecticide.

This type of pest control can be absorbed by the plant tissues and will kill off bugs as they feed upon it – even though you may not see any evidence of them right away.

You should lookout for new ones, but this could take at least seven days before seeing results.

The best thing about using such products is that your plant won’t need to be sprayed because it’s already protected from within its tissues, so no honeydew secretions or dead bug carcasses will appear either!

Potassium Bicarbonate Soap Spray

Another organic remedy for treating bugs is to mix one teaspoon of potassium bicarbonate (baking soda) and liquid castile soap in half a liter or quart of water.

Put this solution into a misting bottle so you can apply it onto infested areas more efficiently, then reapply every three days until you see that mealybugs on cactus plants have disappeared.

Beneficial Nematodes

One final way to get rid of an infestation is by introducing beneficial nematodes into the soil around your plant because they will prey upon and kill off any invaders, such as mealybugs.

These microscopic worms can be used in indoor and outdoor environments, so it’s a good option for those who want to avoid pesticides or harsh chemicals when dealing with this problem.

How To Prevent Mealybugs on Cactus Plants

Prevention is always the best solution.

Even if you get rid of all your current mealybugs on cactus plants, they could come back again in the future unless you stop them from coming into your home or garden at any point.

So here are some general tips that can help keep these pests away:

Check All Plants Before Bringing Them Home!

This is one of the most important rules to follow when it comes to preventing an infestation.

A single infected plant will spread disease to every other potted plant in the vicinity, especially if all containers are adjacent to one another near windows or doors.

If you see cracks in stems and leaves along with cottony white secretions forming around their bases, then don’t buy them because they’re most likely infested.

Don’t Forget to Wash Your Hands!

Make sure you keep your hands clean at all times when touching plants because mealybugs on cactus plants can easily be brought into the house by people who don’t wash up after handling them.

They prefer warm, moist conditions and may enter your home through windowsills or potting soil kept outside for part of the year, whether it’s in a greenhouse, shed porch, or patio.

Always follow reasonable sanitation procedures when working with plant material, especially if it comes from an area where bugs are likely to be found.

You may never know what species of animals would frequent some regions over others.

This way, there’s no chance anyone can introduce pestilence into your home and garden.

Inspect Your Plants Regularly!

You should always check plants for mealybugs before bringing them into the house.

Make sure not to bring plants with sick-looking leaves, stems, branches, and roots inside. If there are small white spots, they might be eggs.

They can be on stems or leaves or even, in some cases, on the ground. If you see these, make sure to get rid of them right away because this could mean that there is an infestation nearby.

Keep All Plants Clean!

Ensure all your plants are clean by occasionally washing them down with a hose or misting bottle filled with water.

This will get rid of any bugs or eggs that are in your house. This way, they can’t lay more eggs and make more bugs.

You should do this if you see signs of an infestation before things get really bad. 

If the mealybugs are already on your cactus plants, then don’t touch them without gloves.

The secretions from these bugs can make you itchy and uncomfortable. If a mealybug jumps, you could be hurt without realizing it because they usually blend in with their environment well.

Avoid Overwatering!

Mealybugs on cactus plants usually invade if your plant is constantly soaked in water because this provides ideal conditions for them to breed.

So make sure you only water when the soil appears dry or starts to wilt, which will prevent them from surviving and thriving over time – especially since they need lots of humidity.

Provide Proper Drainage!

Mealybugs on cactus plants prefer high humidity environments, but they also need drainage to keep soil from becoming too saturated.

If you want to avoid an infestation of these bugs over time, then make sure that the containers your houseplants are in have lots of holes or plenty of room for excess water to drain.

This way, the soil won’t get too soggy, leading to root rot and fungus growth, among other bad things for your plants.

Final Thoughts

Mealybugs, like other cactus pests such as spider mites and scale can be really annoying to have around. 

Mealybugs are not something that you want to have in your house or any other location for that matter. This is due to the damage they can cause to plants.

If you do find mealybugs on cacti, try using one of these methods so you can get rid of them fast!

They won’t take long at all once you start cleaning up after this infestation.

After you are done with the treatment, make sure there isn’t another case again by keeping an eye out every day while watering the plant.

If anything looks off about the cactus, make sure to take action before you have another infestation on your hands!