Succulents, like all plants, are susceptible to pests. These little critters feed on your plant, causing damage and even death. However, they can be thwarted if you spot the signs of an infestation of succulent pests and treat your plant quickly enough.
In this article, we’re guiding you through the common succulent pests and the signs of a succulent pest infestation. What to look for to identify a pest problem and work out what type of pest it is. Plus, effective solutions and treatments to get rid of the pests from your succulents.
Read on for our guide to succulent pest infestations – the signs, the symptoms and the solutions.
What Are The Most Common Succulent Pests?
The most common pests that attack succulents and cacti are:
- spider mites
We’ll walk you through the signs and treatments for each of those four pests below.
If you spot, or suspect, your succulent has pests, you must isolate your succulent from other plants immediately to stop the pests spreading to other plants. These common pests don’t only attack succulents. They can attack most plants and an infestation on any houseplant may transfer to your succulents and cacti.
What are Mealybugs
Mealybugs are tiny insects that suck the sap from succulents. They are typically under 0.2 inches (5 mm) in size with oval-shaped bodies. They have white or grayish-white waxy coating, giving them a fuzzy or cotton-wool appearance.
When mealybugs start to suck the sap from your plant, the plant is weakened, resulting in stunted growth and yellowing leaves. The mealybugs could even kill your succulent eventually if no measures are taken to get rid of them. Fortunately, mealybugs are not dangerous to humans.
Mealybugs travel from plant to plant. They can’t fly or jump, so they spread by travelling to other plants in close contact.
What Does A Mealybug Infestation Look Like?
The mealybugs themselves look like white powder or fluff on the leaves and stems of your plant. The photo below shows a mealybug infestation that is quite advanced. In earlier stages, the white powder will be more sparse.
When mealybugs extract sap from a succulent, they excrete a sticky substance called honeydew which is deposited on the succulent’s leaves and stems. This gives a shiny, sticky appearance to your plant. Over time, the sweet, sticky honeydew attracts ants and fungi which can lead to the growth of black sooty mold on the plant’s surface. Ants spread the mold as they travel up and down the plant.
In addition, weakening of the plant due to the sap removal can cause distorted or stunted growth, yellowing leaves and leaf drop.
What Should I Do If I Think My Plant Has Mealybugs?
If you suspect your plant has mealybugs, you should immediately remove the plant from nearby plants to prevent the infestation from spreading. You should then treat the infestation as soon as you can, following the suggestions below.
How Do I Treat A Mealybug Infestation?
The most effective ways to treat a mealybug infestation are:
- Physical Removal: Physical removal involves using a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol to gently wipe the affected parts of the plant, collecting the bugs on the swab as you go. Wrap the used swab carefully and completely and dispose of it immediately in your trash. You do not want any bugs to survive and escape to another plant (or back to the original plant). If you do not have any rubbing alcohol, use water with a few drops of dish soap mixed in to wipe the leaves to remove the bugs. Be careful that you don’t add too much water to your plant and create a rot problem – put the plant somewhere it can dry off quickly if you spray it with water. These physical removal methods will also remove any black mold present.
- Neem Oil – Neem oil is a natural product derived from the neem tree, which is native to parts of Southeast Asia. Neem oil is available in pre-mixed, diluted sprays and is considered an environmentally-safe organic option for treating pests on plants. Follow the usage instructions on the packaging carefully and avoid spraying your plant when it is in the sun. The oil can concentrate the sun’s rays and burn your plant’s leaves.
- Insecticidal Soap: Insecticidal soap is readily available as a pre-mixed spray-on solution. Insecticidal soaps work by penetrating the outer protective coating of the mealybug and killing it. Purchase an insecticidal soap suitable for succulents and follow the instructions on the packaging carefully. Insecticidal soaps have a lower toxicity level than chemical pesticides and are generally considered a safer alternative for humans and pets (but not mealybugs).
- Prune: If the infestation is only on an outlying part of the plant, the easiest solution may be to prune that part of the plant using a sharp, sterile cutting tool. Resterilize the cutting implement afterwards to avoid contaminating the next plant your use the tool on. Wrap the discarded section of the plant carefully and dispose of it in your trash.
- Chemical Insecticides: Chemical insecticides should be a last resort. Their powerful chemicals can cause other damage to your plant and the environment.
Mealybugs don’t only reside on the upper surface of leaves. They can be on the underside, on stems, branches, flower stalks, flower buds and flowers and in any nook and crevice they can find. Be sure to search and treat your plant thoroughly – not just the visible upper side of the leaves. You may need to repeat your treatments every 7-14 days, particularly after the first treatment, to catch any mealybugs that have hatched in the meantime.
Mealybugs can also hide in the soil. If you spot any visible signs of mealybugs on the soil, consider repotting your succulent using fresh, well-draining soil.
Monitor your plants regularly and treat any suspected infestation at the first signs. Early treatment before the infestation becomes widespread will be the easiest to cure and should stop the pests from moving to other plants.
What Are Aphids?
Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that can be green, black, or brown. They feed on plant sap and reproduce rapidly.
What Does An Aphid Infestation Look Like On A Succulent?
You may be able to spot the tiny aphids as small green, brown or black insects on the leaves and stems of your succulent. They tend to cluster together in groups.
Sap-sucking aphids cause honeydew much the same as we described for mealybugs above. This sticky substance creates a shine on the leaves and attracts ants and can lead to spots of black, sooty mold.
Aphids can also cause distorted growth in succulents. Leaves may appear curled, twisted, or misshapen, and new growth may be stunted or deformed.
Finally, as the aphids extract nutrients from the succulent, the leaves can start to yellow and wilt.
How Do I Treat An Aphid Infestation?
Isolate the plant as soon as you detect an aphid infestation and keep it away from other healthy plants to prevent the spread of aphids to nearby plants.
The treatment of an aphid infestation is similar to a mealybug infestation, including:
- Physical Removal
- Neem Oil
- Insecticidal Soap
Refer to the mealybugs section above for more details on these methods.
Any treatment should be repeated 7-14 days after the first treatment to catch newly hatched aphids.
What Are Spider Mites?
Spider mites are tiny arachnids that are barely visible to the naked eye.
What Does A Spider Mite Infestation Look Like?
Spider mite infestations often appear as specks on the leaves with a fine webbing over and between leaves and stems.
Spider mites feed on the sap of plant cells, causing:
- Stippling on leaves: Tiny yellow or white spots on the leaves, give them a mottled, flecked or speckled appearance, known as stippling.
- Discolored, yellowing leaves: They may turn yellow, bronze, or brown, indicating the damage caused by spider mites.
- Leaf drop: As the infestation progresses, leaves may become so damaged that they dry out, wither and eventually drop from the plant.
- Stunted growth: Poor, stunted growth and a general unhealthy appearance.
Spider mites will feed off all parts of the plant’s leaves, including both the upper and undersides.
What Is The Treatment For A Spider Mite Infestation On A Succulent?
Isolate the infected plants soon as you identify a spider mite infestation to prevent the mites from spreading.
The treatment for spider-mites on your succulents are:
- Physical Removal: Remove both the mites and their webs by spraying the plant with a strong stream of water. Don’t forget to spray the undersides of the leaves as well as the upper sides. Alternatively, rub the affected parts of the succulent with rubbing alcohol and cotton wool. Be careful that you don’t add too much water to your plant and create a rot problem – put the plant somewhere it can dry off quickly if you spray it with water.
- Neem Oil: Use neem oil according to the instructions on the packing and ensure you treat the entire plant – stems and both sides of the leaves.
- Insecticidal Soap: Use a succulent-specific insecticidal soap solution and apply following the instructions provided on the product. Spray all affected parts of the plant.
- Pruning: As for mealybugs, prune away and infected parts of the plant and dispose of the discard parts securely in your trash.
- Miticides: If the infection is severe, miticides, which are chemical insecticides specifically for the treatment of spider mites, may be your best option. Follow the packaging instructions carefully and take any recommended safety precautions.
Any treatment should be repeated 7-14 days after the first treatment to catch newly hatched mites.
What Are Scale Insects?
Scale insects are tiny insects that suck the sap from a succulent.
What Does A Scale Infestation Look Like?
There are two main types of scale that attack succulents:
- soft-shell scale that look like mealy bugs with a white, cottony appearance
- armored scale that have harder, darker colored shells and look like hard, dark bumps on your succulent
The cactus pictured below has soft-scale scale attacking it – seen as a white cotton-wool appearance on the plant.
An armored-scale infestation appears as darker colored, hard bumps on the plant’s leaves (pictured below).
Scale infestations can weaken plants, leading to stunted growth and yellowing leaves.
The typical signs of a scale infestation on your succulent are:
Small bumps or dots: Depending on the species of scale insect, you may notice small, raised bumps or dots on the plant’s leaves, stems, or undersides of leaves. These bumps can vary in color, such as white, gray, brown, or black.
Waxy or cottony appearance: Soft-scale insects secrete a waxy or cottony substance looks like a white powder or cotton wool on the surface of your succulent.
Clusters: Scale insects tend to cluster together in groups. You may observe patches or clusters of small bumps or waxy dots on your succulent.
Yellowing or wilting: As scale insects feed on the plant sap, they can cause damage, leading to yellowing or wilting.
Sticky residue or sooty mold: Scale insects excrete honeydew as they feed. This sticky residue can attract ants and lead to the growth of black sooty mold.
Ants: Ants crawling on your succulent is a sign of a sap-sucking pest infestation. Ants are attracted to the honeydew produced by scale insects.
How Do I Treat Scale On My Succulent?
The treatment of scale is similar to a mealybug infestation, including:
- Physical Removal
- Neem Oil
- Insecticidal Soap
Refer to the mealybugs section above for more details on these methods.
Any treatment should be repeated 7-14 days after the first treatment to catch newly hatched scale. Treatments may need to be continued weekly or fortnightly until all signs of scale infestation have gone.
How Can I Stop Pests Infesting My Succulents?
While it might seem like pot-luck as to whether your plants attract bugs and pests, there are a number of measures you can take to minimise the risk of pests on your succulents.
Some preventive measures to stop succulent pest infections include:
Quarantine New Plants: When bringing new succulents home, isolate them from your other plants for a few weeks. This lets you monitor your new succulent for any signs of pests before placing them near your other plants.
Provide Optimal Growing Conditions: Optimal growing conditions will help keep your succulents healthy and strong. And strong plants are better able to resist pest attacks. Ensure your succulents are getting the best light, water, temperature and soil conditions for their type.
Avoid overwatering: Moist soil and damp conditions attract pests.
Use Well-Draining Soil: Good drainage prevents soil from staying damp for prolonged periods. Warm, moist, organic environments attract pests.
Avoid Overcrowding: Overcrowding prevents good air circulation which can result in damp, moist conditions around your plant and soil. In addition, overcrowding can allow pests to spread from plant to plant if they are in close proximity.
Avoid Excessive Fertilizer Use: Avoid over-fertilizing your succulents, as excessive nitrogen can attract mealybugs.
Inspect Regularly: Regularly inspect your succulents, both the foliage and the soil, for any signs of pests. Look for visible insects, webbing, unusual leaf damage, or any other abnormalities. Early detection is your best bet for solving any pest problem.
Maintain Good Plant Hygiene: Keep the area around your plants clean and free from fallen leaves or plant debris that can harbor pests or provide hiding spots. Regularly clean the containers and tools you use.
Neem Oil or Insecticidal Soap: As a preventive measure, you can periodically spray your succulents with neem oil or insecticidal soap. These treatments can act as a deterrent for pests. Always follow the instructions for use on the product packaging. Avoid spraying your plant while it is in direct sun as these products can concentrate the sun’s rays and result in burn marks on your plant.
Treat The Whole Plant: If you have a pest infestation, treat the whole plant. These tiny bugs can hide anywhere and everywhere, including the underside of leaves, flower stalks, blooms and buds. The tight rosettes of succulents species like echeveria, aeonium and sempervivum, for example, can provide excellent hard-to-see spots for pests to thrive.
Repeat Treatments: Repeat any bug treatments weekly or fortnightly until you are certain the pest infestation has been completely eradicated. These tiny bugs hide in crevices you may miss with your first treatment. Eggs may be missed in treatments and newly hatched pests can start a new infestation.
Avoid Cross-Contamination: Dispose of any prunings or wipes or cotton wool used to wipe your succulents in a sealed bag in your trash. Sterilize any tools used to prevent cross-contamination of other plants the next time those tools are used.
These succulent pests are common, and, despite your best efforts, your beloved succulents may become the target of unwanted bugs.
Now you know what to look for, keep an eye out for the first signs of a pest infestation and take steps to get rid of them immediately. If you don’t have specialised products like rubbing alcohol, neem oil or insecticial soap to hand, spray your succulents with water mixed with a few drops of dish soap until you do get a chance to purchase pest treatments.
Most succulent pests are tiny and can hide on the underside of leaves, in the crevices where the leaves join the stem, under fallen leaves – anywhere really. Any treatment should address the whole plant – if you miss any, the pests will start a whole new infestation!
Awareness, vigilance and early and repeated treatment should enable you to cure any succulent pest infestation and bring your plant back to full health!