I was at a friend's house over Christmas and noticed tell-tale signs on her African Violet. At another friend's house over New Year's, she showed me a plant with "snow" all over it. Both plants were showing signs of one of the most destructive inside plant bugs, the mealy bug.
Looking like teeny tiny white flat rolly pollies, female mealy bugs are tiny, armor-like wooly covered bugs that hang out on roots and plant crevices. As they suck plant juices, they secrete a wax, or honeydew, that protects them from sprays and encourages the growth of black sooty mold fungus. If you have high mealy bug populations, these bugs can kill a plant.
Male mealy bugs evolve from the fluffy, white snow-looking cocoons to tiny gnats, which in advance stages will be flying around your plants looking for the females.
If you see the tiny, snow-like white spots on leaves, move leaves aside and check the center of the plant. A cotton-tipped swab, tweezers or blunt-tipped toothpick will come in handy to first gently remove most of the bugs.
If plant leaves are heavily covered with these bugs, remove the leaves.
Once you have the heaviest infestation areas removed, use a warm water spray to remove any remaining bugs. Spray with a safe, inside insecticide but remember these bugs are wearing a protective covering; the spray may not affect many.
If you have only a starting colony, careful hand-removal should be enough.
One year, I inadvertently found another way to get rid of these bugs. I was moving furniture and placed a potted plant near a cold window. By the time I was through "nesting," I found a leaf farthest away from the cold window covered in mealy bugs. I removed the leaf with a paper tower, then dunked the plant in warm water to drown the rest.
Check back in a couple of days for several days to make sure the bugs are not starting a new family. Also check any nearby plants. The best strategy with these bugs is early, and persistent, intervention.
Charlotte Ekker Wiggins shares her garden adventures at http://www.gardeningcharlotte.com. Copyright 2013 used with permission by Waynesville Daily Guide. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Contact Charlotte at email@example.com