In our hot and humid Florida climate we routinely deal with a host of pests that most people only know occasionally from green houses up north. One of which is called the mealy bug (a soft bodied version of scale), a fairly common pest around this time of year. They are sometimes described as looking like snow nestled among the new growth and crannies on your plant. They are common outdoors in hot humid weather, on indoor plants, and in greenhouses. They can be treated reasonably easy but should be addressed as quickly as possible before they become established on a plant.
Mealy bugs can wreak havoc on gardens if not taken care of quickly. The bug itself uses a long sucking mouth piece to suck the sap out of a plant which can cause new growth to die off and eventually can effect the entire plant. If left for too long and the population becomes well established the honey dew they form can lead to sooty molds and “ant farmers” which just compounds problems.
Luckily there are quite a few treatment methods out there to get rid of the little buggers. The first thing to do is to make the plants less desirable; slow down a bit on watering and fertilizer (which can be counter intuitive if your plant is under stress), mealy bugs like nutrient rich soft plants. Now to get down to business… If numbers are still fairly small you can take a q-tip and rub the effected areas with rubbing alcohol or just blast them with a hose (as long as there are no other plants in the immediate vicinity for them to get splashed on to). For more serious problems try spinosad, a pest spray found at most retail stores. Or if you want an organic home remedy route try making the scale pesticide recipe below. For both sprays you will have to make direct contact with the bug to do any damage, so make sure to do the undersides of leaves and the leaf nodes. Repeat spraying about once a week until infestation is gone. Keep in mind that using pesticides kills all bugs good and bad and should be done in moderation and targeted to only infected plants. To learn more about why we care about bugs at all check out my previous post Good Bugs vs Bad Bugs.
Scale Pesticide Recipe
In a one quart sprayer mix 1 tablespoon neem oil, 3-4 drops orange oil, 4-5 drops dish soap, 1/3 cup rubbing alcohol, then fill the rest with water.