The Q&A Archives: White Spots on Cactus

Question: I have a rather tall cactus with minimal needles on it's ribs. I have started to notice that little white fuzzy patches along with white dots. These seem to spread. I have used rubbing alcohol and it seems to control the problem, however now this method no longer works. Can you provide me with some information on the problem, as well as a cure/control? I don't want to lose this plant as it has taken me a long time to get it to it's current size.

In the summer it bloomed for the first time ( big yellow/white blossoms).

Answer: First of all, congratulations on making your cactus happy enough to bloom! The white patches may be a fungus, brought about by less than perfect growing conditions, or they may be evidence that your plant has an infestation of mealy bugs. Since your cactus bloomed earlier in the year, it's probably happy in its environment. Try looking at the patches with a magnifying glass to see if you can tell whether the patch is a collection of little insects with cottony coatings, or just a single blotch of hairy fungus. Mealy bugs can be very difficult to control, and the first course of action is to try to remove them with a cotton swab dipped in plain water or rubbing alcohol. Or, try prying them off with a blunt knife. (You won't do any more damage to your plant than the insects are already doing.) This may leave scars that will callous over, but it will help you save your plant. As a last resort, you may have to use an insecticide to rid your cactus of the pests. Mealy bugs travel very slowly, but they can leave eggs on all kinds of surfaces. Move your cactus away from other plants, and be sure to wipe down the sides of the pots to get rid of any eggs.

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