How to Take Care of Palm Trees With White Bugs

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Whiteflies and mealybugs are common palm pests.
Image Credit: Bilanol/iStock/GettyImages

A palm tree (family Arecaceae) is a popular, fairly easy-care plant that gives a tropical feel to any room or garden. One important aspect of caring for a palm is protecting it from pest infestations. If you notice small, white bugs on your indoor or outdoor palm, you should identify the bugs before deciding how to treat them.

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What Are These Bugs?

There are three likely suspects if you notice white bugs on your palm tree: spider mites, mealybugs and whiteflies. Identifying the pest you're dealing with is the best way to treat your infestation and restore your palm to good health.

Spider mites look like small dots, and you may also notice thin webbing and mottling on your palm's leaves. Spider mites are not actually white but can be a pale yellow that looks white against your plant. Mealybugs are whiter in appearance and produce a fluffy white wax on the underside of your plant. You may also notice coral-colored eggs and black sooty mold if you have a mealybug infestation. Both of these pests can occur on both indoor and outdoor palm plants.

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Whiteflies are easier to spot, as they're larger and look like clouds of winged, white bugs. Their excretions also encourage the development of sooty mold, and they may leave white nymphs on the undersides of palm leaves. These are typically more common greenhouse palm plant pests.

Spider Mite Treatment

You should first remove any visible spider mites with a powerful stream of running water. Taking your palm into the shower or spraying it with a hose outside can be a great way to do this without causing a mess. You can then wipe down the palm leaves using rubbing alcohol to remove any lingering mites. If the infestation is extreme, insecticidal soap can also work well.

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Spider mites dislike water, so making sure your plant is well-watered can help prevent future infestations. Never allow your palm to become dry or dusty. Misting its leaves can help boost moisture levels without overwatering, which can be bad for your palm's roots.

Palm Mealybug Treatment

Mealybugs can be difficult to totally eliminate, thanks to their waxy coating, which protects them from pesticides. However, keeping the population of mealybugs in your palm as low as possible is helpful to your plant. Spraying with an insecticidal soap that's specifically formulated to treat mealybugs can be helpful in minimizing the infestation.

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If you notice your palm has mealybugs, it's a good idea to move it away from other plants if if possible. Mealybugs can spread quickly, so taking quick action can help stop the infestation from taking over your whole plant collection.

Greenhouse Whitefly Treatment

Hanging flypaper around the edges of your palm plant can be a good way to catch whiteflies, though this is a better way to monitor whitefly levels rather than to actually control the infestation in your plant. Spraying your palm with insecticidal soap is usually the best way to treat whiteflies.

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Whiteflies can quickly spread to other plants, making them a real problem in your greenhouse. If you spot a palm with a whitefly infestation, it's a good idea to quarantine it away from your greenhouse to prevent the infestation from spreading.

When using insecticidal soap, make sure you're taking adequate safety precautions. Wear gloves, goggles and a mask to avoid unnecessary exposure. Wash your hands thoroughly after use and make sure to store the container safely. Follow the application, timing and reapplication directions provided by the product's manufacturer and take care not to overapply, which can cause damage.

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Annie Walton Doyle is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Professional Photography Magazine, Bustle, Ravishly and more. When not writing, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature and mysteries.