How to Get Rid of Mealy Bugs (aka Woolly Aphids) on your Plants

You work hard to keep your garden in shape, so seeing an insect infestation comes as a blow to your green thumb and steady efforts. Mealybugs, sometimes called woolly aphids, leave behind a telltale white cottony coating on the plants. They also suck sap from your plants, which can weaken and damage your garden, especially if you have a major infestation. Regain control of your garden with various methods to kill and remove the pesky bugs.

Woman spraying flowers in the garden
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How to Get Rid of Mealy Bugs (aka Woolly Aphids) on your Plants

Keep Plants Healthy

Keeping your plants healthy gives them a defense against pests like woolly aphids. If you give your plants too much water or fertilizer, you increase the nitrogen levels and soft growth. Both of those features attract the bugs, so keep your care routine in check. Follow the recommended care for each type of plant in your garden, keeping in mind that various species need different amounts of water, fertilizer and sunlight to grow strong and thrive.

Use Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol is a common solution for getting rid of mealybugs. Use 70 percent isopropyl alcohol for the task. A cotton swab or cotton ball works well for getting the alcohol directly onto the bugs. The alcohol kills the bugs and makes them easier to remove from the plant. It also helps remove the recently hatched bugs, which show up as yellow spots. You can rub the alcohol on the bugs or spritz the alcohol on the plants.

Apply Natural Remedies

Oils and soaps designed to treat pests can help control the infestation by smothering the bugs. Some examples include neem oil, horticultural oil and insecticidal soap. Follow the instructions on the packaging, which usually suggests you to mix the oil or soap with water before applying it liberally on the plants. Plants should stay in the shade after application until they dry, and you should avoid using the oils and soaps on hot days. Otherwise, your plants might end up with burns.

Use Chemical Treatments

Insecticides use chemicals to kill mealybugs and other pests that can damage plants. Choose an insecticide designed for the type of plant you're treating. For example, you need an insecticide for ornamental plants if you're treating flowers to avoid causing more damage to your plants. Woolly aphids may not respond as well to insecticides as some other pests because they have a waxy coating that protects them when they come into contact with the chemicals. Look for products containing acephate, malathion, carbaryl and diazinon for the greatest effectiveness. No matter what type of insecticide you use, always follow the instructions to figure out the amount and timing of the applications.

Encourage Natural Predators

Mealybugs have natural enemies in the insect world. Encouraging those insects to live in your garden can keep away the woolly aphids. Some of the natural predators are parasitic wasps, lady beetles, spiders, green lacewings and brown lacewings. Commercial growers sometimes create colonies of these natural predators in greenhouses to keep the woolly aphids away. Even if you don't intentionally grow your numbers of these insects, you can encourage them to take up residence in your garden by letting them live instead of killing them when you see them. They can help keep the mealybugs under control naturally.