This Is How Indoor Plants Get Mealy Bugs

Unfortunately, mealybugs are a common plant pest, especially if you live in a warm tropical climate. So if you’re a collector of houseplants, you need to know a few essential things about how plants get mealybugs in the first place.

Indoor plants get mealybugs from being placed outdoors, coming in contact with an infected plant, or contaminated soil. Mealybugs are more common in warmer gardening zones and greenhouses. Some plants like citrus plants and other perennials are more prone to infestations than others.

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss a few crucial questions about mealybugs, how the pests spread through plants, and how you can get rid of them. So, read on to learn more about how mealybugs spread and prevent an infestation.

How Do Mealybugs Get Onto Indoor Plants?

Since mealybugs can lay up to 200 eggs over 20 days, these pests spread rapidly. Bringing home an infected plant can quickly lead to these bugs exploring and infesting your other houseplants. Since these pests pop up so quickly, it can be hard to tell where they originated. So, where do mealy bugs come from? Do they live in the soil?

Mealybugs get into indoor plants via eggs in your plant soil near the root or on the whorls and nodes of infected plants. Unfortunately, they also eat the plant’s roots and spread out along its leaves, weakening the plant and eventually leading to its death. 

So you can find mealybugs in your plant’s soil if you have an infestation. However, there are a few different types of mealybugs, and the root ones are far more likely to be found in the soil. Others tend to hide out on the undersides of leaves where they feed.

It’s essential to understand what mealybugs are. These common pests can quickly decimate your plants, but what makes them so awful? How exactly do they harm your indoor and outdoor plants?

Mealybugs are a common plant pest. These bugs are attracted to some plants more than others, like citrus and many types of fruiting crops. Mealybugs feed from the plant’s leaves, piercing and damaging the membrane to suck out nutrients, weakening the plant and eventually leading to death.

Where Do Mealybugs Come From?

Another essential step to preventing the spread of mealybugs is understanding where they arise. It can feel like these terrible little creatures pop up out of nowhere, quickly ruining your once healthy plants, but that’s not the case.

Mealybugs come from warm places outdoors, making their home in your plant’s leaves and soil. These pests are prevalent in tropical climates, and you can commonly spot them in greenhouses. Mealybugs hitch rides on new or outdoor plants, quickly spreading through the rest of your houseplants.

Essentially these bugs can come from several places and spread throughout all the plants inside your home. Bringing a new houseplant home from the nursery is one of the biggest ways to get and spread mealybugs, which is why inspecting your plants is so important.

How Mealybugs Spread From Plant to Plant

It’s no secret that mealybugs rapidly spread, but how are they so efficient? What makes these pests spread so quickly, and how do they get into your other plants?

How mealybugs spread:

  • Contaminated tools and soil coming in close contact with healthy plants.
  • Houseplants are left outdoors during warm months.
  • Healthy indoor plants come in contact with infested plants.
  • Closely grouped plants.

Mealybugs can spread in many ways since they are drawn to moist over-fertilized plants and multiply rapidly. Additionally, these pests can easily go unnoticed until it’s too late if you’re not inspecting your houseplants regularly.

Signs Your Plants Have Mealybugs

If you closely inspect your plants, you can visually identify a mealybug. They are pink, soft-bodied insects ranging from 1/20 to 1/5 inch (0.12cm-0.5cm). There are several varieties of mealybugs, the most common of which are the longtail and citrus mealybugs. 

Inspecting your houseplants for signs of mealybug invaders is the first step in keeping them pest free. First, however, you must know what to look for and recognize the early signs of infestation.

Signs your indoor plant has mealybugs:

  • Small clumps of white eggs on your plants.
  • White, cottony mass around your plant’s drainage holes.
  • A sticky substance on your plants that mealybugs excrete is known as honeydew.
  • Black sooty mold is growing on the plant.
  • Leaf discoloration.
  • Presence of white, waxy filaments containing egg pouches. 
  • Stunted growth.
  • Ants.

Oddly enough, ants feed mealybugs to collect their honeydew to eat. So if you see ants in your houseplants, there is a possibility that the colony is living off mealybugs in your plants. So it’s always a good idea to inspect your plants and deal with the pests promptly.

How To Get Rid of Mealybugs

Unfortunately, mealybugs can quickly overpower a plant and spread throughout a garden or home. If you don’t halt the infestation soon enough, it’s generally best to dispose of infected plants and start over. However, you can first try several methods to rid your plants of these terrible pests.

Now that you know what mealybugs do and the signs to watch for, it’s time to learn how to get rid of them. Mealybugs spread rapidly, and action is the best way to ensure they stop spreading and possibly save your poor houseplants.

How to get rid of mealybugs on your plants:

  • Quarantine infected plants. You should quarantine any plant that has mealybugs as they spread rapidly. Keeping infested plants separate will also help you to focus on the problem without the pests spreading to all your houseplants.
  • Remove and dispose of the bugs you find by hand. Each bug you remove is one less mealybug that will lay more eggs. Just make sure you dispose of the bug in a way it can’t return to infest other plants.
  • Use a solution of 70% isopropyl (rubbing alcohol) and 30% water. You may apply this directly to the visible mealybugs with a cotton swab.
  • Rinse them out. Use a sink wand or hose to gently rinse the pests from your plant’s leaves. A misting bottle can also help if your plant has delicate leaves.
  • Prune leaves that have mealybug eggs. Pruning can help remove leaves hiding tiny eggs that will hatch and further stress your indoor plants.
  • Use insecticidal soap on them. These soaps are designed to kill unwanted plant pests and can certainly halt the spread of these terrible pests.
  • Spray your plant with neem oil. This oil is a natural pesticide that can deter mealybugs. However, they may not respond to the spray if the infestation is large enough. Also, neem oil can destroy other organisms in the soil, like earthworms.

Sadly, if an infestation has gone too far, it’s easiest to throw the plant out and start over. That said, it’s still possible to save a dying plant from mealybugs.

If you haven’t already tried neem oil, I recommend Bonide Ready to Use Neem Oil (available on Amazon). This oil is great because it’s an organic way to control pests and works on several common plant pests. Additionally, the oil works effectively for both indoor and outdoor plants.

How To Prevent Mealybugs

Prevention is the best method for ridding your plants of mealybugs. Unfortunately, these horrible pests are difficult to eliminate if the infestation if you don’t act promptly. Luckily, several ways to prevent these pests from taking up residence in your houseplants.

Ways to prevent mealybugs from infesting your plants:

  • Inspect your plants regularly.
  • Do not over-fertilize your plants with nitrogen-based fertilizers.
  • Quarantine any new plant before placing it near other houseplants.
  • Never leave your houseplants outside if you live somewhere warm and tropical.
  • Use preventive sprays like neem oil to deter pests.

As you can see, there are a few ways to ensure mealybugs don’t make their way onto your plants or in your home. First, always check your plants for signs of these invaders and never introduce a new plant without first quarantining it.

Do Mealybugs Like All Plants?

Mealybugs aren’t incredibly picky regarding which plants they choose to decimate. They certainly have plant preferences, but do these pests like all plants?

Mealybugs don’t like all plants. The bugs prefer perennial plants with lots of leaves. However, they can still infest other types of houseplants. For example, sweet-smelling fruit plants are far more susceptible to becoming prey to the citrus mealybug, which can easily infest the leaves and soil.

Some plants will undoubtedly be more susceptible to these pests than others. All house plants need to be protected just in case. However, when introducing new plants to your home, exercise particular vigilance with the following plants, which the mealybugs favor:

  • Ficus
  • Citrus
  • Philodendron
  • Orchids
  • Jade
  • Fern 
  • Cactus
  • African Violet
  • Begonia
  • Coleus. 

Do Mealybugs Like Moisture?

These pests greatly enjoy warm tropical climates, which are generally humid. So, you might be wondering if mealybugs like moisture and if your well-watered plants are attracting them.

Mealybugs do like moisture and breed more rapidly in wet conditions. These pests thrive in tropical environments, so lowering the humidity surrounding your plants can help prevent these bugs. However, it’s essential to continue to meet your plant’s humidity requirements.

Overwatering can also create a perfect breeding ground for mealybugs. So it’s best to only water plants as needed and keep them from locations where they can come in contact with these pests.

Can Mealybugs Infest Your House?

Since mealybugs can easily infect your plants, you may wonder if the same goes for your home. Can mealybugs also infest your house?

Mealybugs can infest your house. However, they tend to go for houseplants as they need plants to feed them. If an infestation is horrible, you may find the occasional bug on walls or other surfaces, but your indoor plants will be the primary target.

However, with proper precautions, it’s unlikely that mealybugs will spread throughout your home. Without plants, mealybugs will die since they feed from their leaves.

Final Thoughts

Mealybugs get to indoor plants through several methods such as:

  • Infested soil.
  • Unclean tools.
  • Infected plants.
  • Infestations from plants outdoors. 

These bugs are resilient and can easily find their way to your houseplants if you aren’t careful. The best way to ensure mealybugs stay away from your indoor plants is to prevent them from coming in contact with infested plants or soil.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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