The Garden Guy: Stop mealy bugs from feasting on your indoor plants this winter

The ‘Garden Guy’ is King County Master gardener, Bruce Bennett. That would be me. To let you know what you’re getting in the way of quality advice, here’s a bit of history. I have 20 years of experience as a WSU/King County Master Gardener. I am also a Washington Certified Professional Horticulturalist, garden designer, lecturer and currently an instructor with the WSU Extension College of Agriculture’s Growing Groceries program. Consequently, I’ve heard my share of garden-related questions and yours probably won’t be new. The answer, however, may be new (and useful) to you.

The plan for this column is to provide you with plant highlights, discuss remedies for the disease and insect problem of the season and answer the questions you may submit. If you have a topic you would like to see discussed or a question about a plant problem, let me know. I can write general horticultural columns, but I’d rather help solve the specific challenges you are experiencing. Call me practical.

With the remaining space I have in this month’s column, let’s answer a question I’ve heard more than once last month.

Question: Every winter I get a new batch of what appear to be bits of white fuzz on my jade plant. What is it and how do I get rid of it?

Answer: I have dealt with this nuisance more than once at a Master Gardener Clinic table. The two most prevalent ‘white’ indoor plant pests are White Fly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) or Pseudococcidae (Mealybug). You are battling the latter of the two.

Mealybugs are unarmored scale insects which have a fuzzy white, waxy surface. To the casual observer, they can be mistaken for fungus, mildew or dust that is collecting in the joints and crevices of a host plant. Both types of critters are sap-sucking insects whose dinners weaken the plant’s overall health.

As these infestations were noticed in early winter, the mealy bugs may have come in with plants that were on a back deck during the previous summer. If you have a smaller infestation, the easiest way to kill mealy bugs is by dabbing them with a cotton swab that’s been soaked in rubbing alcohol. The rubbing alcohol will penetrate the waxy coating of the insects and kill the bugs on contact.

If you have an out-of-control problem, apply Neem Oil or All-Seasons Horticultural Oil (both are organic) or rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle and spritz the plant every couple of days. As you treat the houseplant, make sure to inspect underneath all of the leaves, in folds and the plant container. They’re slow but sneaky.

Have gardening questions? Contact the Garden Guy at: gardenguy4u@gmail.com

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