The Q&A Archives: Mealy Bugs

Question: I have been gardening for over 40 years and own a hobby sized greenhouse. I enjoy great success in seed germination and after they are grown and set out, the greenhouse is cleaned and I bring out my cacti/
succulent collection to grow and flower. I've been trying to expand my collection with new specimens and quite frankly when I buy new plants about 85% develop a mealy bug infestation. I look over the new plants when I select them quite well looking for bugs and such and if I see any evidence with my eyes it gets left behind. If I see more than one infected, I walk away.I place new arrivals in cleaned and disinfected pots with new growing medium and keep them away from my own collection for several months. I know how to sight them and kill these bugs. I have struggled to keep some plants going and have attained some measure of success but over the last two to three years I hate
to even admit that I could not save most of them. My
question to you is, what is going on? Upon careful and serious inspection, I find that the root base is
where they are amassed. What do I have to do? Literally turn out a plant from its pot and shake off the dirt for a better look? What about all the so-called certifications and inspections done by the governmental agricultural forces? I'm not saying one or two plants here. Are the greenhouses where they're raising these plants unable to erradicate this bug when it's detected? As a consumer don't I have the honesty and integrity of a horticultural supplier not to sell me infected plants? Spraying plants as a temporary measure just to clear them for shipping to market is unfair and unethical. Big box stores such as Home Depot is just as guilty because they'll return my money if I'm not satified but actually perpetuate the horticultural businesses that deceive everyone with a clean bill of sale for the sake of profit and at the expense of plant life. I am very disgusted at this trend and will seek out more reputable plant growers who understand the concept of not selling inferior plants knowing that practice endangers someones whole collection. It's bad enough that we are a society with a throw-away mentality and discard things that fill up our landfills for generations to come, but plants now too?

Answer: I understand your frustration with mealy bugs and I don't really have an answer to your concern. I know that female mealy bugs can crawl between the slats of a growing bench and remain undetected and she can then crawl up and populate any new plants placed on that bench. The only answer is sanitation of the greenhouse between plant crops, and careful monitoring of all plants that are growing in the greenhouse. It sounds as though you're doing everything right - checking new plants before introducing them to your own greenhouse and monitoring those plants that you already have. Wish I had a more permanent solution for you!

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