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Guide to Getting Rid of Mealybugs in Australia

There are around 200 different species of mealybugs that are commonly found in Australia. They can be identified as small white insects with a waxy coating.

Mealybugs are common sap-sucking pests that, if left unchecked, can seriously damage your plants.

They are commonly found on many different plants including fruit trees, ornamentals and indoor plants.

Fortunately, these pests aren’t that difficult to get rid of if you’re vigilant and treat your plants in the early stages of infestation.

What are mealybugs?

There are around 200 different species of mealybugs that are commonly found in Australia. They can be identified as small white insects with a waxy coating.

Mealybugs are easy to spot if you look for them on the undersides of leaves and on the soft plant stems.

mealybugs | Plant care

The female of the species is just under 5mm in length and has an oval-shaped body. These females can lay more than 100 eggs each season. This means that they can multiply quickly once they’ve infested your plants.  

The eggs are tiny and either orange or pale yellow in colour. After hatching, the nymphs are usually yellow-brown in colour and won’t be covered in wax until they mature into female mealybugs. 

mealybug 1 | Plant care

How to spot a mealybug infestation

First, you want to look for signs of the small white insects often hidden on your plants. They look like little specks of cotton wool.

mealybugs 1 | Plant care

Another telltale sign that you have a mealybug infestation is the appearance of a black, sooty substance on the leaves of your plants.

This is sooty mould and is caused by the honeydew substance that the insect pests excrete while they’re feeding.

If you see ants crawling over your lemon tree, you probably have a mealybug infestation.

The ants are attracted by the honeydew and will often protect the mealybugs from predators to ensure an easy food source.

How to get rid of mealybugs on your plants

There are various ways that you can get rid of these pests on your plants. The more natural methods will usually require more than one treatment as they won’t get rid of the eggs.

Manual removal

If you only spot a few mealybugs on your plants, you can easily wipe them off with a damp cloth that you’ve dipped in isopropyl or rubbing alcohol. 

For houseplants, you could even use a cotton bud dipped in alcohol to wipe on the bugs. Do this on a daily basis to ensure that any newly hatched or matured pests are taken care of.

Keep a close eye on your plants regularly to ensure that you’ve gotten rid of all of the mealybugs.

Natural sprays 

You can make your own spray by mixing four tablespoons of dishwashing liquid with one cup of vegetable oil.

Pop this into a spray bottle and add water. The ratio should be around one part of the oil mixture and 20 parts of water.

SPRAYING ROSES | Plant care

Spray the mixture liberally all over your plants. The mix will coat the mealybugs with a fine film and they won’t be able to breathe.

Make sure you apply more of the mix on a regular basis to ensure that any newly hatched mealybugs are also taken care of.

You can also make up a spray using a horticultural oil such as white oil or neem oil. These products are natural but will act in the same way as the vegetable oil mixture. 

However, they’re easy to mix with water and act fairly quickly. You will need to reapply the spray at least weekly to ensure that you control the complete infestation.

Ensure that you spray your plants early in the morning or late in the afternoon so that you’re not adding additional stress when the weather is hot and dry.

Attract or purchase natural predators

Natural predators that feed on mealybugs include native parasitic wasps, lacewings and ladybirds. Attracting these to your garden is a great way to keep pest infestations under control.

ladybird | Plant care

All of these natural predators will also control other sap-sucking insects such as aphids. 

We also have a native ladybird beetle (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) that is available to purchase commercially. This effective predator is even exported to other countries as a control for mealybugs.

FAQ

What causes mealybugs?

Mealybugs are sap-sucking insects that are common in many areas of Australia. There is not usually a typical cause of an infestation. However, it is possible to bring mealybugs into your house or garden through plants that already have an infestation.

Will dish soap kill mealybugs?

Dish soap mixed with vegetable oil will basically suffocate the mealybugs by creating a coating over their bodies so that they can’t breathe.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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