Just Toss Plants Infested with Mealybugs

mealybugs close up
Photo: Crisco 1492.

Mealybugs, those little “cotton balls” that collect in the leaf axils of your houseplants, are very difficult to control. So if you see any on one of your plants, the best advice is to… Simply toss it in the garbage! Next, thoroughly clean the spot where the pot was located with a cloth soaked in soapy water. Often the female lays her eggs elsewhere than on the plant. Even if you want to keep the pot, it’s best it to place the dishwasher where the intense heat of the water jets will eliminate any hidden mealybug eggs.

Dracaena marginata with mealybugs.
Dracaena marginata with mealybugs. Photo: Scot Nelson

You find yourself unable to throw out a living plant? First, try to get over this: it’s not a good habit if you want to be a successful gardener. If not, you can try to control them with rubbing alcohol. But not by dabbing every insect individually with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol That’s the usual trick you hear. Which is simply a waste of time because you’ll only see the adults. the tiny larvae, barely visible even when in exposed spots, survive these treatments by hiding in cracks and leaf axils. Next thing you know, the mealybugs are back again.

Instead, try spraying the entire plant with a solution of 3 tsp (15 mL) rubbing alcohol, 2 tsp (10 ml) of concentrated insecticide soap and 2 cups (500 ml) of warm water. Be thorough: you need to get the solution into every nook and cranny. Repeat every 3 days as needed. That might work. But tossing the plant is still the safest bet.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

7 comments on “Just Toss Plants Infested with Mealybugs

  1. This is simply just not true and terrible advice to just toss in the garbage. Clearly not a true gardener.

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  3. Mealybugs live in the garden anyway, so houseplants that get infested with them merely get banished to the garden. Of course, a few houseplants do not survive even the mild frost here. It is not such a problem in Southern California.

  4. It depends on the plants infected. I brought mealy bugs into my home once on a succulent from a local greenhouse. They got onto my clivia plants. The succulent got tossed but it took me a long long long time (years) to finally be confident that the mealies were gone from my home. I followed the above protocol to eliminate them. I learned my lesson the hard way, always isolate new plants before bringing them in to your home.

  5. Mealybugs are a pain especially concerning succulents. I adhere to your advice to toss the plants. However, I do have some very rare and special ones that I isolated in a separate room and inspect almost daily. Have kept the little blighters under control this way but I’m painfully aware that this will be an ongoing task.

  6. Jt Michaels


  7. Pingback: Scale Insects on Houseplants: A Nasty Surprise! – Laidback Gardener

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