How to Handle Succulent Pests
You’ve brought some lovely succulents home and everything is fine…until you notice odd specks appearing on your sempervivum and echeverias. Or you see what looks like tiny white cottonballs sticking to your aloes, crassulas, or other succulents. With plants, there’s always a chance for pests. Don’t worry too much! There are easy ways to get rid of those succulent pests without harming your plants.
Examples of Pests on Succulents
Have you seen something like this on your plants? If so, it’s best to take action now before the pests damage your plants too much.
Step 1: Inspect all of your succulents
First, you need to observe and identify which plants are infested with the pests. If you see small specks on your plants that are white, black, or green, they could be aphids. Aphids are small insects that love to suck juices out of plants, and it’s important to kill them before they suck out all of the juice from your plant’s leaves! Another common succulent pest is the mealybug, which creates fuzzy white lumps. Just know that if you see white fluffiness on your succulents or cacti, that it’s likely mealybugs. Scale is a bug that looks like a little tan/beige bump on your succulents and cacti, but don’t confuse this with edema, which is when your plant stores water in little bumps! Try to scrape the bump; if it moves, it’s likely scale! If it doesn’t move and is “stuck” to your leaves, it is likely edema.
Step 2: Quarantine or Move Affected Plants
You want to keep the bugs from spreading to the rest of your plants, so keep them in a separate area where you can keep a closer eye on them!
Step 3: Pest Control
There are a few ways to get rid of aphids, scale and mealybugs, but the easiest and most effective way is with 70% alcohol with an optional drop of Dawn dish soap. Load the alcohol into a small sprayer and spray your affected plants as much as possible, taking care to cover every angle and underneath the plants’ leaves. I personally like to also take a Q-tip dipped in alcohol and clean up any bugs and mealybug cotton that I see. (The sprayer will kill the bugs, and unless you rinse or wash the dead bugs off, they’ll still be there! Thus the Q-tip to clean them up.)
You can also use dish soap mixed with water or insecticidal soap, but I find the alcohol to be very effective.
Step 4: Monitor Your Plants
Even after the first round of pest control, you can still get more aphids and mealybugs so it’s important to keep checking on all of your plants and treating them as necessary. Once your quarantined plants haven’t had any insect activity on them for 30 days, it’s probably safe to put them back with their plant buddies.
Step 5: But Wait…
These are the two most common succulent pests that many people encounter on their succulents and cacti. There are some other pests that you may find. If you see a large amount of ants in and around your succulents, they are probably “farming” a pest. If you can’t see the pest, I would suggest repotting your plants – you may end up finding an ant colony or other surprise in your pots!
Along those same lines, if you see yellow balls in your soil that weren’t there before, you may have root mealy bugs. I was surprised to find these yellow balls in the soil of an echeveria…luckily the echeveria was etoliated and I was planning on beheading it. I cut the healthy echeveria top off and threw away the rest of the plant (roots, soil, and nursery pot).
However, if you have a healthy plant and you want to keep it as it is without cutting any of it, you should remove the plant from its pot, wash/remove as much dirt off the roots as possible, and soak the roots in dish soap + water or a 50/50 mix of 70% alcohol and water for 5-10 minutes (note: I have not had to do this, but I trust the people in Dave’s Garden Forums). You can then let them “dry out” in the sun for a day or two, then replant into a new pot (if you want to use the old pot, I would suggest a thorough washing and sanitizing). An observation: in the pot I had that was infested with root mealy bugs, it only affected the area that had regular soil. Using a mostly inorganic soil (like the succulent soil from Bonsai Jack) may help keep root mealy bugs away.
Overall Tips to Keep Succulent Pests Away
If you love to collect succulents and are worried about bringing home little nasties that are hiding in the pot, you can remove the plant from the pot it came in and wash the soil away from its roots. Replant using your own soil, and you won’t have to worry about things hiding in the soil.
If you don’t want to go that far for each plant you bring home, you can have a dedicated quarantine area for new plants to make sure your established collection stays safe. It took me about 2 weeks to discover aphids AND ants from a succulent I purchased on Etsy, and a month or two to discover mealy bug on a cutting I received via eBay. In all cases, the plant looked great upon delivery, but developed bug problems as the weather got warmer. I would say one month is the minimum for a quarantine, but 2-3 months would be the safest.
You can also do preventative sprayings of 70% alcohol on the plants’ leaves and soil.
All in all, having pests on your succulents sucks! Do you agree? Share and vent in the comments!