Control mealybugs simply & gently

What we have in common with mealybugs? We love citrus trees! While we are after the delicious fruit, the little crawlers prefer the juice from the leaves of the plant. There they pierce with their tiny proboscises and can cause great damage. Especially nasty: we often discover the pests quite late and are then faced with the question of how to get rid of them as quickly as possible.

Pests are also part of gardening

First, the good news: you’re never alone with a pest infestation. Just about any plant in the garden or on the balcony is at risk of being attacked by them, because there are countless different species. Vegetable and fruit plants can be just as affected as fruit trees, whether they grow outdoors or in containers. Sooner or later, every plant fan has to realize that pests have spread in the garden, on the balcony or windowsill. But just as quickly as they came, they disappear with a few tricks.

Mealybugs are also called smear lice and have a pronounced preference for the foliage of orchids, succulents and our citrus trees. They are not picky, however; in our cover photo, they have infested a fig tree. Their bodies are covered with a white to grayish layer of wool or wax, and they crawl around on the leaves – unlike the immobile scale insects. They are quite large compared to other pests, but hide on the undersides of leaves, in branch forks and leaf axils.

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Control mealybugs simply & gently
The aphids like to make themselves comfortable under the leaves. Even olive trees are not spared.

Fighting wool lice

If you have discovered mealybugs, the first sensible step is to wipe them off with a damp cloth, for example a piece of kitchen roll. You can also use cotton swabs to reach animals that hide in hard-to-reach places. You can also gently shower the plant if it’s small and your bathroom is big enough. Unfortunately, citrus trees are usually infested in their winter habitat, so the wet treatment can’t be done in the garden or on the balcony.

Next, it is important to get rid of any remaining animals or even eggs. To do this, it is convenient to spray the entire plant with a gentle and easy homemade mixture of oil (rapeseed oil, sunflower oil or olive oil), water and an emulsifier (a few drops of dishwashing liquid). The oil forms a thin layer under which the pests can not reach air and they die. The plant would not tolerate pure oil so well, as it also depends on air exchange through its leaves. You therefore mix it with water – and since this is known not to work so well, you still need a “mixing helper”, i.e. an emulsifier. Rinsing agent does a good job here, but soap is also suitable.

For half a liter you need:

  • 400 ml water
  • 100 ml oil
  • 2-3 squirts of dishwashing liquid

Spray the entire plant with it. Cotton swabs can also be used again to apply the mixture specifically wherever there may still be small aphids or their eggs. After about a week, you can repeat the procedure, because surely some aphids could get away.

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If the leaves of your plant are too oily, then wipe off the excess oil after a few days.

When success does not last long

Were you able to get rid of the aphids, but they keep coming back? It could be that you did not get them all or that there were still eggs on the plant. Then the next generation hatches and the trouble starts all over again. Therefore, it makes sense to always treat the entire plant and not just where the aphids are at the moment. Wipe all leaves and branches well and make sure that the water-oil mixture really reaches all spots. Before resorting to chemical pesticides, you should also take a closer look at the plant’s location. Are the temperature and humidity right? Another, but more costly step could be to replace the soil. There can also be eggs of the aphids. It makes sense to wait until you want to repot your plant in spring anyway.

In any case, keep in mind that chemical agents can remain in the plant for a long time and, in the worst case, can also find their way into the fruit!
For next time: Prevention

An effective remedy against a pest infestation is above all to act preventively. The healthier and stronger a plant is, the less attractive it is for pests. The plant is then more resistant and better able to defend itself against the little creepy crawlies, but also against diseases. Of course, this does not mean that a plant is definitely poorly cared for if pests make themselves comfortable on it. Even small factors can be decisive.

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To grow healthy and strong, a plant needs sufficient light, water and nutrients. So be sure to find a suitable location and provide it with adequate water, good soil and fertilizer. Especially too warm and too dry air in the winter quarters is like an invitation for aphids & Co to make themselves comfortable on your plant.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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