All hibiscus (Hibiscus spp.), whether hardy varieties that grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zone 4 through 9, or tropical plants suitable only for USDA zones 9 through 11, face occasional mealybug infestations. The pink hibiscus mealybug poses the greatest hibiscus threat because of its toxic, leaf-curling plant-stunting saliva, but all mealybugs disfigure and weaken the plants. Options for getting rid of the insects vary with the severity of the infestation.
Just a Few
If you're lucky enough to spot mealybugs on your hibiscus before their numbers skyrocket, eliminating them organically is relatively easy.
Things You'll Need
Sealable plastic bags
Step 1: Swab the Bugs
Dip a cotton swab in the rubbing alcohol, then swab a mealybug with enough alcohol to penetrate its protective wax.
Step 2: Scrape the Bugs
Use the other end of the swab to scrape the mealybug off the hibiscus and into a sealable plastic bag. Repeat for each insect.
A Growing Problem
If you hibiscus has enough mealybugs that swabbing them isn't practical, it's time for organic insecticidal soap spray.
Things You'll Need
Ready-to-use insecticidal soap spray
Lightweight cloth or newspaper (optional)
Step 1: Time the Treatment
Delay spraying an outdoor hibiscus until the temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the plant is out of direct sun. If it's an indoor plant, move it to a dimly lit area.
Step 2: Protect Nearby Plants
Protect nearby outdoor plants from potential sun damage by covering them with a lightweight cloth. If you're spraying indoors, cover the surrounding surfaces with newspaper so the soap won't stain them.
Step 3: Water
Water your hibiscus well before treating it. The soap may damage a water-stressed plant.
Step 4: Dress for Safety
Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, waterproof gloves, safety goggles and a respiratory mask while spraying.
Step 5: Read the Label
Read and follow all the precautions and application instructions on the soap's label.
Step 6: Spray
Spray the soap until it runs from all the plant's surfaces. Make sure to wet the backs of the leaves and parts of the stems the leaves cover. Repeat the application weekly, or as often as the label suggests, until the infestation subsides.
Too Many to Count
When mealybugs seem to be overwhelming your hibiscus, follow the insecticidal soap treatment with a systemic insecticide, which the plant absorbs through its roots. The plant's sap carries it through the plant's vascular system. After reaching the stems and leaves, it kills the sap-sucking insects.
Things You'll Need
Imidacloprid insecticide granules
Measuring spoon or cup
Watering can (optional)
Step 1: Measure
Put on the chemical-proof gloves and measure the granules according to the label's recommended amount.
One manufacturer suggests using 1/2 cup of granules for each 1 foot of an in-ground plant's height. For the same brand you'd use 1 2/3 tablespoons, 3 tablespoons and 5 tablespoons for a 8-, 10- or 12-inch container-grown hibiscus, respectively.
Step 2: Apply the Granules
Sprinkle the granules evenly around the base of the hibiscus. Spread them in a circle extending from 2 inches from the trunk to the dripline, where rainwater falls from the outermost leaves to the soil. For a potted plant, spread them from 1 inch beyond the trunk to the edge of the container.
Step 3: Work the Soil
Use the cultivating fork to work the granules into the top 1 to 2 inches of soil around an in-ground plant. For a container hibiscus, cover the granules lightly with soil, taking care not to damage the roots.
Step 4: Water
Water the hibiscus thoroughly right after the application , and then sparingly for the next 10 days so it remains in the soil long enough for the roots to absorb it completely.
- Fine Gardening: Genus Hibiscus
- Hidden Valley Hibiscus: Hibiscus Plant Care -- Mealybugs
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Least Toxic Inscticides
- UC Statewide IPM Online: Pesticide Information -- Active Ingresient, Soap
- Bonide: Insecticidal Soap, Ready to Use -- Label
- Bonide Systemic Granules Insect Control -- Label
Passionate for travel and the well-written word, Judy Wolfe is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from Cal Poly Pomona and a certificate in advanced floral design. Her thousands of published articles cover topics from travel and gardening to pet care and technology.