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White Lint on House Plant, You May Have Mealy Bug

Updated on September 17, 2017
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Thoughthole has more than 8 years of hands-on experience in the horticultural maintenance industry and shares many tricks of the trade.

Example of Mealy Bug on Foliage.
Example of Mealy Bug on Foliage. | Source
Trilobyte Fossil
Trilobyte Fossil | Source

Does your houseplant have Mealy bug?

Looking closely at your plant you see little white tufts of something that looks like heavy cotton lint. Is this lint? More likely than not it is probably Mealy Bug. Mealy bug gives this appearance of lint due to an outer waxy residue that the bug secretes for camouflage and protection. Underneath that coat the Mealy bug looks a lot like an ancient trilobite only much smaller. Mealy bug usually originate in the foliage crowns of infected plants, or at leaf stem joints. It will be most common to find the white residue from the mealy bug in these areas first if your problem has advanced the Mealies will spread out from these areas to more joints, foliage crowns, or further out along the foliage and down stems. Mealy bug will also produce a sticky substance called honey dew that will coagulate on the leaves, giving the appearance that something has been splashed or spilled on the plant.

If you have positively ID'd Mealy Bug on your plant, do not worry it is not a death sentence for your plant, but will need to be treated and quarantined.


Common Soap that can be used for treating/preventing pests

How to treat a houseplant infested with Mealy Bug.

Mealy bug is a semi hard shelled pest with that produces a white waxy excretion, creating a white linty looking film around its infestation site. Mealy Bug has a piercing mouth part on the underside of its body which it uses to bite into house plant foliage. Mealy bug lays eggs along the foliage that it inhabits, and is easily contaminates anything that touches it. Due to the ease of contamination Mealy bugs are also easily spread to other plants that may be touched after the infested plant has been touched. Because Mealy bug is so easy to spread, one of the first steps in taking care of an infestation is to make sure the plant is quarantined as best as possible. Make sure that no other plants are directly touching the one with the problem, and make sure not to touch any other plants with your hand or anything else after touching the infected plant.

After making sure to isolate the issue. Mealy bug must be removed, it must be wiped away completely. It is best cleaned off with baby wipes, or a wet paper towel. A sponge also works well but should not be reused on any other plant after being used on the mealy bug infestation. When the mealy bug have been wiped away spray the infected area down with a light solution of water and insecticidal soap, dish soap, or a very effective and natural soap called Dr. Bronner's. Not much soap is needed in this solution, a mere teaspoon in 20oz of water is plenty. Spray this solution on the plant leaves and wipe them clean again, this will serve to further clean off more eggs that may have been left behind, and also coats the leaves with the soap that will serve to dissolve the bodies of any left over or new Mealies that may ingest it. This process of cleaning will need to be repeated regularly.

If an area of a particular plant has a spot that appears to be the epi-center of the infestation, for example; dracenas ( sometimes called corn plants ) will commonly get mealy bug that is nestled down in the new growth crowns, these crowns with along with the infested new growth should be cut back. Don't worry about cutting this off, the plant will easily regenerate after this is removed, and the new foliage that will be removed was damaged anyway.

If you have followed, and repeated all of the steps above and the Mealy problem is still persistent, there are insecticides referred to as systemic insecticides that can be used to treat the problem. Only use systemic as a last resort, and only use them as directed, these insecticides can be hazardous to the plant itself and other living creatures if used excessively or improperly. Systemic insecticides are absorbed into a plants entire system through the roots, they come in liquid, granulated, and powder forms, and are added to the soil. As the systemic is absorbed into the plants system the plant itself becomes toxic to the Mealy bugs, killing them off by essentially poisoning their food supply.

To Recap the steps for getting rid of Mealy Bug.

  • Quarantine
  • Remove Bugs
  • Clean, and coat leaves with insecticidal soap solution.
  • Repeat cleaning and coating of leaves with insecticidal soap.
  • Cut away infected areas if possible.
  • If persistent continue regular cleaning and treat with systemic insecticide.

Preventing Mealy Bug

Since Mealy bug seems to come with the plant it infests in most cases unless it is clear that one has inadvertently transported it from one plant to the next, Mealy is a little difficult to prevent entirely. The following measures can be taken to help ensure that a problem does not inflame or become worse.

  • Keep your plant clean, wiping leaves down with baby wipes on a regular bases removes any debris and or potential pests that may be there preventing them from becoming prolific.
  • Keep your house plant in stable condition by watering it properly and keeping it in proper environmental conditions. A plant that is struggling in any way is more prone to be attacked by pests of many kinds including Mealy bug.

If you know what kind of plant your dealing with and maintain it with care Mealy Bug should be of little to no worry.

Questions and Comments Welcome!

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