Hello, and welcome back to the green world of The Vibgyor Chronicles!
Today, we will talk about mealybugs – pesky, cottony white insects that attach to our plants in cloud-like clusters.
Mealybugs are a constant and persistent problem for most of us. They are very resilient to almost all chemical insecticides. The cloudy cottony white cocoon is very strong and provides them protection from most natural and man-made threats.
In this post, we will deal with the why and how and what and what-nots of dealing with mealybugs.
- Mealybugs attack tender new growth on plants. If the infected areas are trimmed at the beginning of their attack and other preventive measures taken, a full-blown infestation can be avoided.
- Mealybugs love moisture and mostly attack in monsoons. While monsoons can’t be helped, keeping foliage untouched by water at all other times can go a long away and keeping them away from plants. Unless your foliage is covered with dust or bird droppings and you specifically need clean leaves, do not water foliage more than once a month. When you do, give them a thorough wash so that all pores are fresh and open.
- NEVER drop mealybugs in the soil. They lay their eggs in the soil and the larvae and grown insects feed on tender plant parts. If you drop them back in the soil you’re helping them complete their life cycle.
- Mealybugs love Hibiscus and Tomato – pay extra attention to these plants. However, once infested, these plants can spread mealybugs to their neighbours and soon your whole garden might be a mealybug colony.
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Ways to get rid of mealybugs:
- Ants – Nature’s pesticides, ants feast on mealybugs. If you find an ant party going on around mealybugs, do not disturb. Come back in a couple of days and if you still feel you need to intervene, go ahead with the next steps.
- NO CHEMICAL PESTICIDES – Chemical pesticides have almost no effect on mealybugs. However, they do kill ants. It is actually counterproductive.
- Home-made natural pesticides are the way to go. The ones that I have found most effective are alcohol and tobacco.
Read on to learn how to use tobacco and alcohol to drive away mealybugs.
Take 1 part rubbing alcohol/aftershave/hand sanitiser and mix in 1 part water. Spray on to infected areas. Rubbing using a cotton plug works wonders, but if your plant is big or you don’t feel up to it; spraying is just fine too.
Take some dry tobacco leaves and add them to a container. Add water just enough to cover the tobacco leaves entirely. They should be submerged but not drowning in water. Boil on a low flame, and let simmer for half an hour. Take off the flame and leave to steep overnight. Strain in the morning, discard the leaves and store the decoction. Mix 1 part of this into 5 parts of water and a quart of liquid soap (dish soap, shampoo or clothes detergent) and spray on your plants. Soap is a surfactant and helps the oils in your plant parts and water in your spray bond together. It also helps the mixture stick to the surface, otherwise the water would evaporate very fast.
The cottony white cocoon shrivels to reveal either off-white caterpillars or small dark brown insects underneath. These are easy to kill or remove using a cotton plug, or with spray if enough force is used. However, these pesticides have to be sprayed at least 2-3 times to eradicate mealybugs entirely, since they are very resilient. The best and most effective way is to spray at first sight of mealybugs so that it does not become an infestation.
These two DIY pesticides have helped me save my tomatoes and hibiscuses from mealybugs year after year. They take care not only of mealybugs, but also of aphids without harming birds, bees, butterflies or ants.
Do try and let me know how they work for you.
Until next time, keep gardening!