Plant Pests: Aphids, Mealybugs & How To Control Them

2 Materials
15 Minutes

I’m going to cover the common ones that I’ve seen most often infest plants, both as houseplants and in the garden.
Plants and pests go hand in hand. They are by no means a match made in heaven; but chances are that if you have plants, they’re going to get some sort of infestation at 1 time or another.  There are so many different insects which are specific to certain plants and/or regions. I’m going to cover the common ones that I’ve seen most often infest plants, both as houseplants and in the garden. Today I’ll be talking about aphids and mealybugs and how to control them.

Both aphids and mealybugs are soft-bodied, sucking insects. They slowly suck the sap out of a plant which over time weakens it, stunts the growth and deforms the flower. You can liken sap in plants to blood in animals. The sap contains sugar which the insects love but can’t fully ingest and it oozes out on the plant.

You might also notice a black mold-like substance appearing on the leaves. This is actually a fungus which grows on the sugar. It can ultimately damage the plant too. Ants flock to an infested plant – they’re after the sugar too.

I’m starting with aphids because they seem to appear out of nowhere in the spring. 1 day you can see 5 of them and 5 days later there seem to be 500. They come in a variety of colors including green, orange, black, brown, white, gray and even pinkish.
Different color aphids on the underside of my hoya leaf.

My hoya topiary had orange, grey and black aphids, my mint had green aphids and my grapefruit tree has black aphids. And they’re all within feet of each other! Aphids love fresh, new growth and tender stems. They, like most plant pests, like to hang out and feast on the underneath leaves where it’s a bit more protected.
A bad infestation of mealybugs.

If you see something which looks like white cotton on your plants, then it’s mealybugs. That’s the white trail that they leave behind. Growing up in New England we had a 3′ Jade Plant growing in our greenhouse. It would get mealybugs and I would dab them off with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and water. I must’ve really loved that plant!
Mealybugs move slower than aphids. They can be found on every part of the plant, even the roots. They especially love to hang out in the nodes and are a common pest of houseplants.

Mealybugs love succulents. Here you can see how they gather in the nodes. The black spots on the leaves are that fungus.

How To Control Aphids & Mealybugs:

Release ladybugs or lacewings in your garden as a method of control. Lacewings devour soft bodied insects much faster than do ladybugs. This obviously isn’t a viable solution for your houseplants!

2)Spray with water using the garden hose, kitchen or bath spray.
This is the method I fall back on. You want to gently blast off (no fire hose action here please) the pests & their eggs. I illustrate this method in the video on my hoya. The spray in your kitchen or bathroom will be suitable for your houseplants if you don’t have access to a hose outdoors.
Ants hanging out with aphids on my Mojito Mint stem.

3) Insect killer sprays.
I don’t use chemicals so these are considered to be “natural controls”. They include: horticultural oil, insecticidal soap & need oil.  Most plants can be sprayed with these but just check 1st. You can do a little research & see which would best for you.
Here are some options: insecticidal soap ready to use, insecticidal soap concentrate, horticultural oil ready to use, horticultural oil concentrate, neem oil ready to spray & neem oil concentrate.  This 1 lists itself as a houseplant & garden insect killer.
4) Homemade spray recipes:
Here’s the way I’ve always made an soap/oil spray: Mix 1 tablespoon mild dish soap or Dr. Bronner’s, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil & 1 cup water. This works on mild infestations.
Here’s what I’ve used to get rid of mealybugs: Mix 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol with 1 cup of water. You can either dab it on the mealybugs with a cotton swab or spray it on.
Rodale’s, a source for living naturally which I’ve known about & respected for a long time, has a recipe for this natural pest spray with garlic, onion & cayenne pepper.

Orange aphids covering the stems of Butterfly Weed.
Things to know about aphids, mealybugs & their control:
* Aphids especially love fresh growth. Mealybugs love to hang out in the nodes & crevices. Both can be found on the undersides of the leaves.
* Both have soft bodies so they’re easy to control early on.
*Which leads me to: control these pests as soon as you see them. Once the infestation gets bad, they’re hard to get rid of. Your plant may not recover.
*Ants are after the sugar residue left behind by the aphids & mealybugs. Once the insects are gone, the ants will be too.
*The leaves of the plant can get sticky – that’s caused by the sugar secretion. You might see a black residue (the fungus) appear – you’ll want to get rid of that too.
*If you choose to spray as your method of control, you’ll need to repeat. Follow the instructions on the bottle as to how often. A homemade spray you can repeat every 7 days. It might take 3-4 rounds to control the pests. Make sure the plant isn’t stressed (ie bone dry) before spraying. And, don’t spray in the hot sun.
Hopefully, your plants never get aphids or mealybugs but if they do, you can now identify them and take action.
Next up in the plant pest series:  spider mites & whiteflies.
Happy (pest free) gardening & thanks for stopping by,

Suggested materials:

  • Neem Oil
  • Dr. Brooners

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Have a question about this project?

3 of 32 questions
  • Jet15263900
    on Aug 7, 2017

    Can you please sign me up for your newsletter.
    My email address is.
  • Glenda
    on Jun 5, 2018

    Great video. You mentioned vinegar as one of your ingredients for the homemade spray, but when I checked below your post, there wasn't vinegar in the recipe. Should vinegar be added to the recipe?

    • Joy Us garden
      on Jun 6, 2018

      Hi - I've used vinegar for mild infestations, especially spider mites. Mix 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (white vinegar is fine too) with 1 cup of water, 1 t of baking soda & a few drops of mild dish soap into a spray bottle. Nell

  • Kath
    on Aug 25, 2019

    the neem oil spray burned my succulents..😕. is there a remedy to this ? i haven't watered or rinsed it bec it might absorb more liquid and accelerate rotting

    • Joy Us garden
      on Sep 4, 2019

      Hi Kath - Neem Oil is best diluted at 1/2 the recommended when used on succulents. Once the leaves are burned, they're burned. Also, succulent leaves don't like to stay wet for too long. Nell

Join the conversation

3 of 72 comments
  • Pennie Collins
    on Aug 5, 2017

    I have tried the hot sauce remedy. I just wanted to let folks know that they should be careful to only use liquid soap that is NOT antibacterial. I always use Murphy's Oil Soap. The slight citrus fragrance helps repell some insects, too. The hot sauce works like a charm!
    • Joy Us garden
      on Aug 5, 2017

      Good to know Pennie! I always an eco-friendly, mild dish soap or something like Dr. Bronner's. Nell

  • Claudia
    on Aug 13, 2017

    i am dealing with the gnats i have learned i need to keep the humidity down bc that's how they start too! So as to getting rid of em with the sprays im getting a bit overwhelmed here i jave ACV and ive pour it on a lil container nd placed it next to plant i would also like to spray i read dish soap and what else can i use
    This is my first time dealing with them and i really don't want to lose my houseplants ive spent time and got love for them i even got names for each ive got one thats 15 yrs old!! Another thats about seven! Ive gotten them from friends so i don't want to lose them
    , I want to show you my plants so you have an idea or maybe give me advice on the problem
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