These white fluffy bugs look cute but are more like the stuff of nightmares. They congregate on mass and suck the sap from our plants, not only looking unsightly but bringing ants with them. Mealy bugs are a common garden pest, infecting a wide range of plants from fruit trees to ornamentals, but they are easily treated in a few simple steps.
Ants and mealy bugs have a special bond and where you have one you will have the other. The ants worked out it was in their best interest to look after the bugs because they drink the honey dew they excrete. And the Mealy bugs like having the ants around as protection and to help move them from plant to plant. So when we treat the mealy bugs we need to treat the ants as well.
Step one: If you have a really bad infection cut off the worst of the leaves or branches and bag and bin them. Do NOT put them in your compost. If you can’t remove the worst of it without damaging the plant go to step two.
Step two: Mealy bugs have a waxy coating that allows water to roll of. So you need to use an oil based spray that will stick, suffocate and poison them. With oils you have a few options:
White oil is organic and can be bought ready made or you can make your own. Place one cup of dish washing liquid with 500ml of vegetable oil and mix really well. This concentrate can be stored in a clean jar in a cool area out of the sun for months. When you need it, dilute one tablespoon to one liter of water in a spray bottle, shake well and spray affected plants. The soap dissolves the waxy coating and the oil suffocated the bugs. You need to be careful what time of day you use it as it can burn some plants if applied in hot weather or full sun.
Neem oil, again all organic, and works by stopping bugs from eating and therefore starving, as well as stopping them from molting and so arresting their development. From a bugs point of view it taste disgusting so they avoid the plant that has been sprayed with it. It isn’t bad for bees, lady beetles or butterflies, but to be certain, use it late in the afternoon when all the good bugs have gone home for the night.
My preferred oil is Eco Oil, is also organic and can be applied anytime of day in any weather and is very effective on a wide range of bugs. It contains botanical oils that naturally attack the problem bugs but is safe for bees, lady beetles and earthworms.
When you spray your oil you need to make sure you give the mealy bugs and ants a good drenching. Allow the spay to get into any nooks and crannys, bottom side of leaves, truck and base of plants.
Step three: If your affected plant is potted you might also have the mealy bugs in the soil and on the roots. These areas can be treated with one tablespoon of molasses per litre of water and drench the soil. This will treat both the ants and the mealy bugs. It will also kill earthworms so avoid it as a long term solution.
Step four: After your initial treatment wait a week and monitor the problem, if you still have ants and mealy bugs respray with the oil based spray. Keep monitoring weekly until the pests have gone. A light infection may only need on treatment but for larger ones it may take a few.
If you find you have ongoing ant problems then a horticultural glue or tape around the base of the trunk will stop them from crawling up. By controlling ants you will also reduce other pests like scale and aphids.
Step five: Keep an eye on all the other plants nearby, as the ants may have infected more than one plant and getting in early to treat any pest or disease is the key to a quick result.
All of the ready made products mentioned can be purchased from any good garden center, nursery or online. For the home made recipes, ingredients like molasses can be found in the baking isle of your local supermarket.
Do you have any pest you need solutions for? Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will write a blog on how to solve your problems.