Mealy Bugs Are Taking Over My Hibiscus Bushes

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I have 4 yellow hibiscus bushes (each about 3 1/2 feet tall) planted side-by-side. The mealy bugs are having a field day with them. I've tried dish soap and water, rubbing alcohol, neem oil, and several insecticides. The problem is it is almost impossible to treat the underside of each and every leaf so the cycle just goes on and on. I have several questions.
1. Is there something more effective that will kill mealy bugs?
2. I'm wondering if I should strip off all the leaves and then it would be easier to treat just the branches. Is this advisable?
3. Do mealy bugs live in the dirt? My friend says they do but I can't find anything to confirm that, based on the research I've done on the internet. If it is possible they are in the dirt, how do I treat the dirt/mulch around the plants?
Help! I'm about ready to admit defeat and dig up and throw away all 4 bushes.
gardening mealy bugs removing tips, gardening, pest control
  8 answers
  • Sara Sara on Oct 14, 2014
    i tried all the natural methods too .. none really worked too well - got a chemical one in the end and that worked well to get rid of them

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    • Sara Sara on Oct 16, 2014
      @Shari sorry i dont remember the name .. i just went to the gardening store and asked them for a mealy bug killer ! but it really helped cuz mine were starting to spread to other plants .. and i havent had a problem with them since last year when i used it.

  • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Oct 14, 2014
    These bugs can take over your yard if you do not stop them! A little bug spray sometimes is the only solution! If you start now, you will uses less in the long run!

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    • Jeanette S Jeanette S on Oct 14, 2014
      @Shari We were out in the yard one day and one of my bushes looked great, then 4-5 days later 80% of the leaves were dead! I was shocked. That is when I saw the white blotches. We took it out before it took over! We sprayed before we sawed it down. So far, so good!

  • Lori Lumley Lori Lumley on Oct 14, 2014
    We lost two of our 3. One was yellow, one was red and they were well over 5 feet. Peach one lives. We used the neem oil.

    • Shari Shari on Oct 14, 2014
      @Lori Lumley Thanks, Lori. Several applications of neem helped a little but didn't completely get rid of them, unfortunately, and within a few days of each treatment they seemed to come back worse than ever, like they are mocking me! Glad you were able to save at least one of your plants. Perhaps the peach color is the hardiest color.

  • Petunia Petunia on Oct 14, 2014
    There are four or more types of mealybugs here in Florida. At the UF/IFAS Extension we always recommend trying natural remedies first. If that fails and you wish to keep the plant, you'll need to try something stronger. Our local Extension office, and probably yours, recommends a systemic root drench such as Imidacloprid (Bayer's Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control) for best control. They go on to say that branches may need to be pruned following the root drench treatment to induce new growth. Throughout the country, local Extension offices or on the Web your University Extension office provides free! research-based knowledge to help us take care of our gardens in an environmentally friendly yet effective way. Good luck!

    • Shari Shari on Oct 14, 2014
      @Petunia Very informative, Petunia. I have no problem using chemicals, since more natural remedies have not helped. After reading your response, I was encouraged so I checked into the Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insect Control and oh my! That stuff is EXPENSIVE! Considerably more than $100/gallon!?!? I only paid $40 for 4 plants so unfortunately that product is not a cost effective option for me.

  • Debra Debra on Oct 14, 2014
    I use a spray made from a little Dawn and a bit of mineral oil mixed in water. The Dawn breaks up the mineral oil and when sprayed on bugs it coats and suffocates them. You need to really get in there and drench them all though. This works on many types of bugs and doesn't harm the bees and butterflies as systemic insecticides do.

    • Shari Shari on Oct 14, 2014
      @Debra I did try the Dawn & water (but no mineral oil). with no noticeable improvement. I've drenched the plants in multiple things besides the soap and water, and I've even tried methodically wiping all the stems and the underside of each leaf where they hide (impossible). Sadly, the infestation is so bad now that I think I'm either going to have find some very effective insecticide or just dig the plants up.

  • Gilda Gilda on Oct 14, 2014
    LADY BUGS is the answer, some garden shops sell them. Just let them loose on your hibiscus plants and they will eat them all up.

    • Shari Shari on Oct 14, 2014
      @Gilda Thanks for the suggestion, Gilda. Unfortunately, I live out in a more remote area of Hillsborough County and about the only garden centers I have close to me are Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart etc. I guess I could check to see what's involved in ordering them via the internet though.

  • Shar Shar on Oct 14, 2014
    I live on the 'Big Island' of Hawaii - mealy bugs are rife here and in particular on the yellow hibiscus. I used chemical spray - had to. Prune your bush down quite hard then give it a good spray. They are pretty hardy and if you are living in a climate that supports them, you won't have any trouble getting them to come back out with a flourish. Mealy bugs like Hibiscus - that's all there is to it. Once they are pruned, spray them a couple of times - they will grow bigger than before but the bugs will return; you'll have to prune again. Do remember to sanitize your pruning tool afterward in order to keep down the spread of the mites.

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    • Shar Shar on Oct 15, 2014
      Shari - btw: you might be able to get Lady Bugs at Lowe's at certain times of the year. Just sayin' - just a thought.

  • Judy Judy on Oct 14, 2014
    I agree with Petunia. When all else fails go to a systemic poison. Also agree with her that your local extension office is an excellent source of information for growing/treating things in your area.