Garden & Landscape Tips

mealy bugs
Mealy bugs
© North Carolina State University

Mealy bugs

Mealy bugs look like tiny, white, fuzzy specks. Mealy bugs get their name because they look like they’ve been rolled in flour or “meal.” Some crawl slowly, and some are stationery. They are only about one-tenth of an inch long. They can be on top of or underneath leaves, in the crevices where leaves are attached to the stem or along the stem.

Although a small infestation of these insects usually does not cause harm to plants, in great numbers, they can be damaging, causing distorted growth, yellow or curled leaves and leaf drop.

One sign, no matter how much of an infestation, is a sticky residue, commonly called honeydew, which these insects produce from the plant tissue and juices they eat. This substance can contribute to more plant problems, such as molds. It also attracts dust.

Plants susceptible to mealy bugs include Chinese evergreen, ferns, palms, ficus, draceana, pothos, philodendron, Norfolk Island pine, schefflera, dieffenbachia, jade plant and African violets.

What to do:

Options for light infestation:

  • If you have just a few insects, wipe down the plant with a rag or paper towel, squishing and removing the insects. Make sure to wipe the undersides of leaves and plant stems.
  • Spray plants with water to wash the bugs off. Make sure to spray the undersides of leaves and along the plant stems.
  • Inspect the plant in a week to 10 days. If the insects remain, repeat the steps above.

Options for heavy infestation:

  • Wipe the affected areas with a cloth or cotton ball moistened with isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol kills the insects, and the cloth removes them. Make sure the plant will not be harmed by the alcohol by testing a leaf a day or two before treatment. If the leaf is affected, don’t use the alcohol.
  • If the infestation continues, apply an insecticidal soap or a mild horticultural oil according to label directions.
  • Repeat these steps as needed every week to 10 days until the insects are under control.

Fungus gnats

fungus gnat
Fungus gnat
© Oklahoma State University

Fungus gnats are tiny flying insects that resemble mosquitoes. They like rich, moist soil. The adults, one-tenth of an inch or smaller, are attracted to light and frequently can be seen around windows. More of an annoyance, these insects are not dangerous to humans.

The larvae live in the soil, feeding on the roots of plants, especially African violets, cyclamens, poinsettias and other foliage plants. The thread like larvae are whitish or almost transparent, about one-fourth-inch long. Symptoms may include plant wilting, poor growth, leaf drop or yellowing.

An easy way to control for fungus gnats is to use sterile, soilless potting mix and avoid overwatering or poorly drained soil.

What to do:

fungus gnat larva
Fungus gnat larvae
© University of Florida

Options for light infestation:

  • Allowing the soil to dry out as much as possible kills larvae. However, don’t let the soil dry out so much that it damages the plant.
  • Practice good sanitation by removing fallen leaves from the soil surface.
  • Insert a stake with a yellow sticky card or trap in the pot. The cards catch the gnats. Dispose of the cards when they fill with insects. The cards are available at garden centers and online retailers.
  • Repeat the steps above as needed every week to 10 days until the insects are under control.

Options for heavy infestation:

  • Spray the plant and the soil surface with an insecticidal soap.
  • Repeat the application as needed according to label directions.
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