The Q&A Archives: bugs on my geraniums

Question: all 3 of my plants are planted in the ground, since last year. They bloomed once already. Now something that looks like a white puff after a dandilion blooms, but it looks like a half of one and has this brown wire looking clutch onto the flower part of the plant??? I've never seen anything like it. What do I do to get rid of it, without killing my plants? Thank you for any advise that you can give to me.

Answer: Sounds like mealybugs to me! Mealy bugs are cottony-white, fluffy, scale-like insects about 1/10 to 1/4 inch long. They have the appearance of tiny pieces of cotton on a plant, hugging growing tips, stems, leaves, leaf axils and the fruits of plants. They are elliptical in shape with short waxy spines. Aside from their strange appearance, mealy bugs are not really much different from aphids. Mealy bugs have sucking mouthparts.

Mealy bugs damage plants by removing plant juices and by spreading diseases. They feed on all parts of a plant, particularly new growth. Yellowing of leaves or leaf drop may be a symptom of an infestation.

They can be observed particularly on growing tips or on leaves that join stems or along leaf veins.

Like the aphid, mealy bugs excrete a honeydew substance over plant surfaces. Sometimes a secondary fungus called black sooty mold grows on the honeydew causing the plant foliage to look like it is covered with chimney soot.

Mealy bugs feed on a wide range of plants including gardenia, chrysanthemum, cactus, poinsettia, orchid, African violet, palm, jade plant, geranium, primula, bird of paradise, heliotrope, gladiolus, Boston ivy, Virginia creeper vine, coleus, begonia, fern, grape, apple, peach, pear, plum, maples and yew, just to name a few.

Mealy bugs can reproduce by laying eggs or by bearing live young. Eggs hatch in ten days. The nymphs, which are pale yellow, begin feeding immediately. The young nymphs remain in a "crawler" stage for a short time. Gradually a white fluffy, waxy coating begins to form over their bodies. As the coating gets thicker, the nymphs' movements become sluggish.

Females molt twice before becoming adults. Males have an additional pupal stage spent in a thin cocoon. During this period they develop wings. The males have no mouthparts. Their only purpose in life is to grow wings to fly, find a female (who is wingless) and mate with her. There may be several generations of mealy bugs per year.

Hot, dry weather offers favorable growing conditions for mealy bugs.

Predator insects provide a means of controlling mealy bugs. These predators include mealy bug destroyer (cryptolaemus or cryto-bug), a beetle that is native to Californiaas well as lady beetles or ladybugs and green lacewings. These predator insects are available through some garden supply companies and some garden centres.

Mealy bugs can be picked off plants and squished by hand.
Although mealy bugs have a waxy coating that provides them some protection, several weekly applications of insecticidal soap (strong jet of sprayed soapy water) or horticultural oils (applied following manufacturers guidelines) will reduce an infestation
Apply rubbing alcohol directly on the mealy bug by means of a light spray or by hand using a cotton or wool cloth, paper towel or cotton swab

Best wishes with your geraniums.

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