Insects and pests are just a natural part of gardening. For the most part, succulents are hardy plants that are mostly unbothered by insects. However, there are a few common types of pests that can seriously harm and even kill your succulents. If you notice your succulent is discolored, wilted, sticky, or forming sooty black mold, it most likely has contracted a pest of some kind. However, there is no cause for alarm! There are plenty of easy treatments and homemade remedies to effectively rid your succulent or cactus of pests.
Let’s take a look at the most common succulent pests and how to best get rid of them.
Mealybugs are one of the most common succulent and cacti pests. Overwatering and over-fertilizing are both common causes of mealybugs. They also tend to appear on indoor succulents, but they can still show up on outdoor plants as well. Mealybugs are tiny, soft, wingless insects that appear as white cotton fluff on the leaves, stems, flowers, and even roots of the plant. They like to hide in the nooks and crannies of your succulent, particularly where the leaves meet the stem, which can make mealybugs hard to detect and remove.
The insects suction onto the plant and feed on it, drawing sap from its tissues. As a result, your succulent or cactus will begin to appear discolored, stunted, or deformed. In addition, while feeding on your plant, mealybugs secrete a sugary substance called honeydew, which attracts ants and causes sooty mold to form. Mealybugs can also easily spread from plant to plant. If you suspect your succulent is infested with mealybugs, it is best to immediately isolate the plant to prevent the spread.
Remedy: First, isolate the infected plant to prevent spreading. An effective homemade remedy to treat your plant and get rid of mealybugs is to take a cotton ball or Q-tip soaked in 70% rubbing alcohol and directly apply it onto the mealybugs and clean the inside gaps. Alternatively, you can also fill a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol diluted with water and directly spray the mealybugs. Don’t worry— the alcohol will not damage your succulent! If you don’t have rubbing alcohol on hand, simply use dish soap mixed well with water and then thoroughly spray the soapy mixture onto the white masses and entire succulent. Mealybugs can be difficult to get rid of, so they won’t disappear overnight. Use your chosen treatment method until the mealybugs disappear.
If you find mealybugs hiding in your succulent’s roots, remove the plant from the pot, wash the bugs from the roots, and let the plant dry out for a few days before repotting it in well-draining soil.
Spider mites are a type of arachnid related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions. These incredibly tiny critters are usually reddish-brown in color and have an oval shape. The pin-prick sized mites are incredibly difficult to detect, but large infestations become more visible. They love gathering on the undersides of plants and sucking the sweet sap from succulents. If your succulent becomes lighter in color, then turns gray or white, your plant may be infested with spider mites. Other warning signs include white spider webbing and small brown spots appearing on your plant.
Remedy: Succulent owners can cure their plant of spider mites with the same above treatment methods as mealybugs. Take a cotton ball or swap soaked in rubbing alcohol and directly apply it onto the spider mites. Alternatively, you can also fill a spray bottle with rubbing alcohol diluted with water and directly spray the red mites. If you don’t have rubbing alcohol on hand, simply use dish soap mixed well with water and then spray the soapy mixture onto the spider mites. Use your chosen treatment method until the spider mites disappear.
These small, pear-shaped insects are soft-bodied and usually green in color. Although, aphids can come in a variety of colors from yellow, white, to pink. Like mealybugs, aphids secrete sugary honeydew while they feed on the plant, encouraging the growth of sooty mold. Misshapen, curling, or discolored leaves, leaves sticky with honeydew, and sooty mold are common warning signs of aphids feeding. Aphids are relatively slow moving, so the good news is you have time to get them under control!
Remedy: Sometimes all you need to remove aphids is to blast them with cold water. The water pressure should physically dislodge a good amount of them, and typically, the insects are then unable to find their way back to the plant. To continue treatment, you can spray soapy water mixed with a teaspoon of vegetable oil on affected areas. In addition, neem oil is an effective natural treatment. Mix 1 tablespoon of neem oil with 8 cups of water and then spray the affected areas. If you choose to treat your plant with neem oil, spray your succulent at night to avoid burning your succulent and causing sun damage. Use your chosen treatment method until the aphids disappear.
Whiteflies are particularly common on leafy succulents. These small, white, flying insects are closely related to aphids and mealybugs. The tiny triangular bugs are often found clustered on the undersides of leaves. They are usually active during the day and scatter when disturbed. Like aphids and mealybugs, whiteflies suck on plant juices and secrete honeydew, which can cause sooty mold. Heavy infestation will result in leaves wilting, discoloring, and shriveling. Whiteflies reproduce quickly, so it is best to start your treatment immediately.
Remedy: There are various treatments and traps for whiteflies. First, start by blasting the whiteflies with a hose or spray bottle. This will scatter the whiteflies and dislodge their eggs. Then, consider also spraying your plant with diluted rubbing alcohol or a soapy water mixture. Use your chosen treatment method until the whiteflies disappear.
Fungus gnats are pests common for houseplant succulents. They are completely harmless to humans and don’t spread diseases, but they can harm your succulent! Fungus gnats look like mosquitoes or fruit flies. They are particularly attracted to moist potting soil. As a result, succulents that are watered too often can become infested with fungus gnats. In small numbers, fungus gnats are more annoying than anything. But in high numbers and a long infestation period, it can cause wilting and plant death if the roots are significantly damaged. To prevent fungus gnats, make sure your indoor succulent’s soil is well-draining and has time to dry out before watering again.
Remedy: Sticky card traps placed directly on top soil will do a good job trapping fungus gnats. Fungus gnats are particularly attracted to the color yellow, so make sure any adhesive card trap you use is yellow. A good homemade remedy is a cider vinegar trap, which consists of apple cider vinegar, water, and liquid dish soap. Place a small dish of this mixture on top of the potting soil or at the base of the plant. Check the plant every couple days and refresh the mixture. Use your chosen treatment method until the fungus gnats disappear.
Scale is a species of insect that hides under a flat or slightly molded waxy, brown scale. While the insect hides under the protective scale, it feeds on the plant sap. The scale covering can latch on so strongly to the plant that it can leave a scar behind in the plant tissue when removed. Scale can damage plants and make them vulnerable to disease. In addition, scale insects reproduce quickly and can cover an entire succulent in a few days, so it is best to start treating as soon as you see them.
Remedy: To physically remove scale insects, use your fingers, tongs, tweezers, or a water hose to dislodge them from your plant. Make sure to wash any equipment after and to use gloves if you plan to pick the scale off with your fingers. For further treatment or if you cannot remove them physically, you can use the same treatment methods used for mealybugs and aphids. You can spray soapy water or diluted rubbing alcohol on affected areas. In addition, neem oil can be an effective natural treatment. Mix 1 tablespoon of neem oil with 8 cups of water and then spray the affected areas. If you choose to treat your plant with neem oil, spray your succulent at night to avoid burning your succulent and causing sun damage. Use your chosen treatment method until the scale insects disappear.
If you find none of the above natural remedies to work after weeks of regular treatment, then you may want to consider a pesticide or insecticide spray as a last resort. Organic methods are preferred because they do not kill the beneficial bugs and natural predators of the pests or disturb your plant’s natural environment. In addition, some pests can build up tolerance to pesticides and insecticides over time. However, do what works best for you!
Got any more questions about succulent pests? Drop a comment below!