You are currently viewing How to Control & Prevent Mealybugs on Succulents!

How to Control & Prevent Mealybugs on Succulents!

I love talking about the many fun sides of succulents. But today, we need to talk about pests on succulents. I don’t mean the neighbors’ kids — I’m talking those nasty little sap-sucking insects feeding on the juices inside your succulents. In a short time, a few become many, and they can do real damage. If you love growing and collecting succulents, you will someday face mealybugs on succulents. Let’s see how to get rid of them. Even better, I will show you how to prevent them!

Treatment and Prevention of Pests on Succulents

{Please note, some links in this post may be affiliate links to sites that pay me a small commission if you click on the link and make a purchase. This commission is at absolutely no cost to you. I only recommend products and companies that I have worked with and truly love! ~Kat}

Recognizing Mealybugs on Succulents

Closeup of mealybugs on succulents opuntia cactus
Closeup of a mealybug on a cactus, photo by Brittany Smith

Full disclosure here — I am not that great at identifying individuals in the large group of pest insects that are a plague on succulents. Although I am certain God had great reasons for making so many, and making them each distinct, I tend to lump insects largely into the categories of Friend or Foe. With respect to succulents, the foe insects include mealybugs, whiteflies, aphids, scale, thrips and mites among others. Although they have their differences, each feeds by sucking on the sap of plants. You can see why they find thick, juicy succulent leave so attractive. In time, they drain the vitality of the succulent, making it more vulnerable to damage from stress and disease. As they feed, they lay eggs, hatching more hungry mouths to further damage your plants.

Typically, your first sign of mealybugs on succulents is a white, fluffy substance. Upon closer inspection, you may notice tiny little legs. They may cling to the underside of the leaves, or hide in the small crevices between the leaf and the stem. Some insects instead look like small black or brown bumps, or black specks, and may cling to the stems of your plants. Often, they lay their eggs just under the soil’s surface. The key is to remain vigilant. When you see the first signs of pests on succulents, take action! The cactus above had just a single mealybug when it was spotted and successfully treated, with no further infestation. While many insects produce a white residue, be sure to recognize the difference between insects and epicuticular wax or farina on your succulents. Thank you, Brittany Smith, for the use of this photo! Check out Brittany’s love of succulents on Instagram!

Aphids on Succulents? Isolate the Plant
aphids pests on succulents echeveria bloom stem
Aphids on echeveria, photo by Cailin Rose

Some succulents are especially attractive to pests. Echeveria in bloom are magnets for aphids. Many collectors refuse to let them bloom for this very reason. The first step in controlling pests on succulents is to watch for them. Like mealybugs, aphids secrete a sweet substance known as honeydew which will attract ants. So if you see ants on your succulents, that is a good clue that other pests may be lurking there, too. As soon as you see the first signs of insects, isolate that succulent to prevent their spread to your other plants.

There are a few treatment options I recommend at this stage. With a single insect, like the one mealybug at the top, or a few like these aphids, soak a Q-tip in isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and dab it directly onto each insect. The alcohol dissolves the exoskeletons of the insects and their eggs. 70% is the most effective alcohol to use, as the stronger 91% evaporates too quickly to kill all the insects and eggs. Thanks to the tough skin succulents develop to prevent water loss, the alcohol is not damaging to your succulents, but take care with other plants. And always, ALWAYS treat succulents out of the direct sun. Plan to leave your succulents sprayed with alcohol protected from direct sun for 24 hours to avoid discoloring. This is a highly effective method to kill the adult stage of aphids, scale, mites, whiteflies or mealybugs on succulents. Plan to repeat the process every 2-3 days for a week to ensure you kill the juvenile stage insects as they mature, too. My thanks to Caitlin Rose for the use of this photo!

Controlling Whiteflies on Succulents
Whiteflies pests on sempervivum
Whitefly casings on sempervivum, photo by Lindsy Hemmersbach

In a short time, a few insects become many, and they start to spread out. These whiteflies were throughout the sempervivum —as evidenced by the casings — and would soon spread to the surrounding succulents. When it is not practical to dab each insect as an individual with your alcohol, pour it into a spray bottle and spray the insects. Again, this will not harm your succulents. Their skin is thick, evolved to keep their precious stores of moisture secure. Spray the soil, too, to be sure to kill any eggs. The alcohol rapidly evaporates, doing its duty and quickly disappearing. However, do not treat your plants during the heat of the day, when the sun is on them. Do so in the early morning, or in the evening after the sun has passed.

Another good way to treat an infestation of insects or mealybugs on succulents is with insecticidal soap. For store-bought, I recommend Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap. However, you can make your own, highly effective insecticidal soap spray. Use 1 cup water, 1 cup isopropyl alcohol and add 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap like Dawn. Use the soap for in your sink, not what you use in the dishwasher, and don’t use one that contains chlorine. Shake well and spray on your infested plants. The soap will smother juvenile insects that may survive the alcohol spray. Again, take care to use only in the early mornings or evenings, out of the direct sun. Thank you, Lindsy Hemmersbach for the use of this photo!

Ladybugs Treat Pests on Succulents
ladybugs feed on pests and mealybugs on succulents euphorbia

If you have a widespread issue with pests on succulents growing outdoors, try releasing ladybugs! These are insects on the Friends list, and their natural food source is a wide range of succulents pests. These little ladybugs are predators that will feast on soft-bodied insects like aphids, soft-bodied scale, mites and mealybugs on succulents and throughout your garden. You can purchase healthy ladybugs online or sometimes at your local nursery. While not practical for treating pests on your indoor plants, they will quickly clean up the pests in your garden. Don’t be surprised to see them disappear once your garden is pest-free — they are searching for more food.

Be sure to release your ladybugs in the early evening, so they don’t fly away before exploring your garden. Spray your garden with water before releasing the ladybugs to ensure they can find a good drink nearby. Ladybugs are an excellent way to control for pest insects in your garden. Take care not to use insecticides once you release them. Chemical controls will harm beneficial insects like ladybugs, too.

Top Dressing to Cut Down Pests on Succulents
euphorbia lactea cristata variegata

My final recommendation for combatting pests on succulents is to use an inorganic top dressing on the soil. While mealybugs and aphids lay eggs on the leaves, some pests lay their eggs in the soil of your plants. The obnoxious little gnats that lurk around indoor plants lay their eggs in the upper reaches of the damp, organic soil. When you apply a layer of inorganic top dressing, like decorative pebblesperlite or sand, it prevents the insects from reaching the soil, and any hatchlings cannot reach the surface. The eggs cannot live on the inorganic matter. Even a bad infestation of gnats indoors will clear up in days simply by applying a half inch layer of inorganic top dressing on the soil. The gnat’s life cycle is so short, and reproduction is so fast, that this step alone will end the infestation indoors. You may be familiar with the many other benefits of using an inorganic top dressing like this. It keeps the plant clean, soil does not splash up onto the leaves. It prevents water from evaporating too quickly on hot days. And it really ties the look of your planting together, while masking the look of the bare soil.

Treating Pest and Mealybugs on Succulents
pests and mealybugs on succulents echeveria

To recap, these are the steps for treating pests on succulents once you have a problem:

  1. Be watchful — The sooner you spot insects, the easier they are to deal with.
  • Isolate the plant with pests — to keep the insects from spreading to the rest of your succulents.
  • Dab with alcohol — Spot treat individual insects with isopropyl alcohol.
  • Spray with alcohol or soap mix — Spray larger groups of insects with alcohol or soap mixture.
  • Release Ladybugs — Clean your entire garden of pests by releasing ladybugs.
  • Inorganic Top Dressing — Stop the life-cycle of insects that lay their eggs in soil.

Each of the above steps is a good way to treat insects that have already arrived. Even when there are no insects, I always look my plants over carefully, so I am alert to any changes in their condition. And an inorganic top dressing looks great in addition to providing excellent hygiene and preventing a few insects from becoming an infestation. Now let’s see how to prevent pests from troubling your succulents in the first place!

How to Prevent Pest and Mealybugs on Succulents

worm castings excellent fertilizer and organic insect repellent

You may already know that worm castings are an excellent fertilizer for your succulents. But did you know they are also highly effective at killing and preventing insects? Worm castings are the manure from earthworms. Gardeners’ Black gold. There are six important benefits of worm castings for your succulents:

  1. Worm castings contain more than 60 micronutrients and trace minerals, feeding both your plants and the soil.
  • Worm castings suppress pathogens, bacteria and harmful fungi in the soil, protecting plants from disease and rot.
  • The use of worm castings improves soil drainage and boosts moisture retention.
  • Worm castings fix heavy metals in the soil, preventing their uptake by your plants’ roots.
  • Worm castings enable plant roots to handle soils with high or low pH values.
  • Chitinase in worm castings kills and repels insects like whiteflies, aphids, mealybugs, mites, scale and thrips.

There is a lot to love here. Some of the benefits of worm castings are of particular interest to succulent lovers. Worm castings are an excellent fertilizer that will nourish your succulents without burning them. Your plants will be less prone to rot when you use worm castings. This does not mean it will now be safe to drown your plants! But any help on the rot issue is a boon for succulent growers. But the reason they are in this article is #6.

Worm castings are rich in chitinase, an enzyme that breaks down the exoskeletons of insects. As the roots take in the chitinase, it is dispersed throughout the cells of the plant. Insects sense the chitinase in the leaves, stems and roots and simply shun those plants. Sap-sucking pests will feed on any plant’s leaves. But just as allllll that moisture stored in the leaves makes an unguarded succulent particularly attractive, when filled with chitinase-laced moisture, succulents are extra scary. Prevention is everything! 🙂

How to Use Worm Castings
succulents with worm castings products for fertilizing and pest repellants

After reading the benefits of worm castings, it won’t surprise you that I do all I can to promote the health of earthworms in my soil. I even seek out worms to “plant” in my large containers. But that is not always practical, and it seems odd to put worms into small pots or with indoor succulents. Fortunately, there are easier ways to reap the benefits of worm castings for all your succulents!

Dr. Verm’s Premium Worm Castings is an excellent brand that raises and feeds their earthworms organically. I mix the dried worm castings in with my succulent soil. For a 4-inch pot, I mix in a couple tablespoons of worm castings and then plant my succulent. I use 3 tablespoons in a 6-inch pot and so on. In a gallon size pot, I use about half a cup. The measurements don’t need to be precise. Another excellent worm castings product is Hello Succulents natural worm tea food spray. It is a worm castings foliar spray that both feeds your plants and kills and repels insects. Simply spray a few pumps directly onto your plants’ leaves for a quick feed, and to kill any pests.

mixed succulents in reclaimed wood

An infestation of insects can quickly turn your beloved succulents into a mess! Now you know the safe and effective methods I use to combat mealybugs on succulents, as well as a whole range of other pests. Even better — now you know how to prevent pests from becoming a problem in the first place. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. I will be happy to help! Enjoy your succulents pest-free!

P.S. Subscribe to The Succulent Eclectic and get my FREE course,7 Steps to Succulent Success,! Thanks!

* indicates required









Learn how to treat and PREVENT pests on succulents
(Visited 14,437 times, 2 visits today)

This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. sandra carr

    you have some great info thanks

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Sandra!

  2. Brenda

    This is awesome information. A couple quick questions. Can you use pumice as a top dressing as well as the ones listed in this post?

    Also if your plants have been potted only a short time and do not need repotting – since the worm castings are so fine, can to add them to the top of the soil and use your chop stick to lightly tap it in the soil if you are careful of the roots? Then water to help disperse the castings. Or is it best just to repot?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Brenda,
      You can definitely use pumice as an inorganic top dressing.
      There is no need to re-pot to add the worm castings – I should have made this more clear. I would sprinkle the worm castings on top of the soil, then add a 1/2″ layer of pumice as your top dressing. That will keep the worm castings in place. Then, each time you water, the worm castings will release to the water and filter down into the soil where the plant’s roots will access it! 🙂

  3. Brenda

    Thank you so much for your help and sharing information. It is obvious you are passionate about what you do. I’m new to the world of succulents and your site has been a great learning tool. Thank you for all you do. I feel like I have my own personal trainer.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Brenda,
      Wow! Thank you SO much!
      I am delighted you are finding this so valuable – that is exactly my goal. Please always feel free to contact me with questions, or to suggest new blog topics you would like to read. There is much more to come!

  4. Dorlis L Grote

    Have you tried Neem?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Dorlis,
      I have used neem oil. It is certainly an effective insect repellant. But it repels me, too with its smell! 🙂
      I much prefer the worm castings, and it feeds my succulents at the same time!
      Thanks for reading!

  5. Shellie Presby

    I can’t thank you enough for all of you free information. I do have a question. I plant all of my succulents in Bonsai Jack gritty succulent soil and they do great! But the larger ones I purchase that come as cuttings develop air roots! So my question is should I be using some type of soil or maybe worm castings in with my soil? Would that help them develop a better root system?
    I hope that isn’t a confusing question!
    Thank you!
    [email protected]

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Shellie,
      I am happy to help!
      Bonsai Jack’s gritty mix is an excellent succulent soil, but it is SO lean, it can be difficult for the larger plants to get enough water at any watering. As you know, I like to amend succulent soils to better suit the plant or the climate. Yours are telling you they need more water. Given the soil you’re using, I think amending it is the perfect solution. I would start with the worm castings. it feeds, retains a bit more moisture and prevents insects – win-win-win! Mix a bit of worm castings into their soil, and pinch back the aerial roots. Watch them to see if the castings were enough of a change. If they still want a bit more, and you don’t feel that increasing their watering is the right move, then I would add some coco coir.
      Make your changes slowly, so you don’t risk over-doing the water retention, and your succulents should thrive for you!
      Thanks for the question!

      1. Shellie Presby

        Kat thank you so very much! I’ll start that and keep you posted????

        1. Kat McCarthy

          Thanks, Shellie!
          I’ll look forward to good news! 🙂

  6. T.M.

    Hi Kat!
    I just bought a few new succulents & a cactus (I believe) @ the drugstore. I currently don’t have what I need to transplant them & don’t have the ability to pickup what I need to do so (right away).

    I live in WNY. The weather is brand new spring, temps are widely between freezing & not freezing 20’s F @ night & (up to) high 50’s F most days. Today it’s high was 37 F.

    These new baby’s have little black flies. Smaller than a fruit fly but just as annoying. They seem to be getting worse. Is there something more natural like vinegar & water?… Or dish soap & water that I can put on the soil to stop the insanity?… Maybe even placing them outside?… I can send pics to you if necessary of the plants, but cannot seem to get one of the fly’s. I have them separate from my other plants a homes floor up. However their w/ someone who’s bedridden & we have a parrot who’s never gone near but would like to keep them safe (just in case). I also don’t want to harm any mold that may grow naturally on them & fear something like vinegar would do that.

    Please help. & many Tanks in advance!

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi T.M.,
      If you prefer an organic control to isopropyl alcohol, I would suggest neem oil or worm tea like Hello Succulents, but that would be a challenge to get unless you order from Amazon.
      I suspect the gnats you have are the annoying little fruit gnats that come in with produce. The most important thing to do to stop them is to add an inorganic top dressing to your soil. Right now, each insect is dying in a single day. But before doing so, they lay a zillion eggs in the damp, organic soil. So your infestation gets worse.
      A 1/3 – 1/2 inch layer of diatomaceous earth or fine pebbles or perlite or pumice on top of the soil will keep hatchlings from reaching the air and insects from laying more eggs. Your problem will be gone in about 24 hours! 🙂
      Would sand be easier to get? That would work.
      You might even try crushed eggshells! Wash them first, and you would need to ask neighbors for their’s as well to get enough, but crushed eggshells are great for a variety of garden uses.
      I hope one of these will be easy to acquire!

      1. T.M.

        Thanks Kat!

        I appreciate the fast response! We’ll see what we can do, probably try the diatomaceous earth, only cause that is in house.

        Hugs, Rain b

        1. Kat McCarthy

          Let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂

  7. Chris

    Hi Kat, Do you know what may be eating roundish almost dime size holes on my kalanchoe? I haven’t seen any bugs, put down crushed clean egg shells to deter slugs. I also tried a bug killer. I can’t figure out whats eating them! Chris

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Chris,
      You might want to consider the possibility that birds or squirrels may be helping themselves to the stores of moisture, especially if you’re experiencing really dry conditions and there are no resources for wildlife nearby.
      Especially if the plants look really clean, I would suspect birds.

  8. Debbie Sklazeski

    Hi, its mid October and I live in Canada so all my succulents are under grow lights. I have a couple cases of mealybugs and have used isopropyl alcohol and seem to have it under control. I love the idea of worm castings to keep the bugs away and feed my succulents. Is it ok to add the worm castings at this time of the year. I know they suggest feeding them in the spring but just curious about now. Thanks for all you info, I’m totally addicted to succulents!! 🙂

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Debbie,
      For indoor succulents or those you are overwintering indoors, you might want to consider Hello Succulents spray – an odor-free worm casting tea spray. It is easy to apply indoors and causes no mess! 🙂 Either way, I would encourage you to start with the worm castings. It is a good fertilizer as well as a way to prevent more insects. You should be fine adding it at this time of year.
      Succulents are a healthy and happy addiction! 🙂

  9. Lyn

    Hello, Kat.
    I appreciate all of your articles and advice on succulent care as I have a great appreciation for these lovelies!
    Regarding worm castings, would they or the tea also work for ridding sedums of aphids?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Lyn,
      I’m so glad you find the information useful! 🙂
      Yes! Worm castings and/or worm casting tea will rid any plants of any insects. Don’t spray directly on ladybugs, butterflies or bees! But if you water in with the tea or apply worm castings to the soil, bees and butterflies will still visit the flowers – safely! 🙂

  10. Guhan

    Hi Kat,

    I’m new to caring for succulents. Just making the next move into succulents following my Airplant craze of 20 years. I want to be ready just in case, especially living in the humid tropics (Singapore). Thanks for this article. Extremely informative! Do you think it makes sense to spray isopropyl alcohol once a week or so just in case, even though there’s no infestation? Or should I not be so paranoid and just do it if I see an infestation?

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Guhan,
      I’m so glad you’re finding the information useful! Thank you!
      I wouldn’t spray your plants on a weekly basis. But you can spray nearby plants if you see insects on one. The best way to prevent insects from coming to your succulents (or any plants except air plants) work worm castings into the soil or use it as a top dressing and hold it in place with an inorganic top dressing like pea gravel. It is a wonderful, organic fertilizer but its also rich in chitinase, an enzyme that dissolves the exoskeleton of insects!
      Your succulents will love it!

  11. Neela Naidoo

    Hello Kat,
    Been reading your articles on edema and pests and I just want to say thank you!
    I learn all the time by reading the chats on the group but your articles take info sharing to another level.

    I managed to get a bag of wet worm castings and on Saturday i worked it.into the newest succulant potting soil mix that you suggested. Thank you so much.
    I am also going to feed the worm casting to my shrubs as they are the attractors and hosts of many pests in the garden.
    Thanks again for hosting and nurturing a great group.

    1. Kat McCarthy

      Hi Neela,
      Thanks SO much! 🙂
      As much as I enjoy the discussion, it is helpful to be able to do a really deep dive into some of these subjects.
      Your shrubs, veggies, fruit trees and ornamentals will appreciate the worm castings every bit as much as your succulents will! It’s important to realize that the plants that attract pollinators also are attractive to destructive pests. Fortunately, the pollinators do not interact with the fluids of the plant, so they are not affected by the chitinase in the worm castings! It is like a smart weapon that just seeks out the pest that eat your plants, completely leaving pollinators alone. Win-win! 🙂
      Thanks for the terrific comment!

Leave a Reply