If tiny white bugs on your orchid have caught your eyes, you may be wondering what they are. You may also be worried about their impact on your orchids. And rightfully so.
Like other houseplants, orchids too are exposed to the harmful effects of houseplant pests.
Once an infestation gets large enough, its effects on your orchid can be devastating.
This is why it’s important to identify these pests and get rid of them soon to prevent considerable damage to your orchids.
In today’s article, I’ll help you identify the pest that’s feeding on your orchid and give you tips on how to fight and prevent an infestation.
What are These Small White Bugs?
So, first things first — what pests are we talking about?
The white bugs you’re worried about are mealybugs.
With yellowish-white or white-grey oval bodies and filaments on the sides, these insects will happily snack on all parts of your orchids, but they’re most commonly found on the underside of leaves, roots and pseudobulbs.
They even hide deep in the potting media, making their eradication especially difficult. Along with scale insects, mealybugs are one of the hardest to control pests in houseplants.
But don’t despair. There are a couple of great home-made hacks and commercially available insecticides that will send these bugs running from your orchids.
How to Get Rid of Mealybugs on Orchids?
Outdoors, mealybugs can be better controlled given that several predatory insects that feed on them can lend a helping hand. Such insects include wasps and lady beetles.
Indoors, their control rests entirely on you. It’s important to act as soon as you first notice the signs of an infestation, otherwise there’s a risk of them migrating to your other houseplants.
Also, whichever of the remedies below you choose to apply, be advised that repeat treatment every 10-14 days will be required to definitively remove all generations of mealybugs currently setting up shop on your orchids.
Here are a few mealybug treatments that work:
– Rubbing Alcohol
Use cotton swabs or cotton balls daubed into 70% isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the leaves of your orchid and kill off any mealybugs that may reside there.
You can also use rubbing alcohol as a spray to spray down your orchid. Don’t use other types of alcohols (e.g. ethanol) as they can penetrate the tissue of the plant and damage it.
Use 1 part water, 1 part isopropyl alcohol and mix in a teaspoon of liquid soap to act as a surfactant.
– Neem Oil
Neem oil and other horticultural or mineral oils will also help to suppress an infestation. Neem oil can also be applied preventively. Mix neem oil with water and a plant-safe detergent and spray your orchids with this mixture.
– Insecticidal Soaps
Insecticidal soaps are also a great way to get rid of mealybugs. These soaps usually contain synthetic pyrethrin, which is combined with a plant-safe detergent to act as a surfactant.
It’s important to follow the instructions on the label of your product of choice to prevent damage to your orchid. Used in excess, these insecticidal soaps can harm tender tissues on your plant.
One insecticidal soap that I routinely use for most of my household plants is the Natria Insecticidal Soap which is labeled as an organic miticide.
Because it’s broad-spectrum, it can be used to get rid not only of mealybugs, but also of aphids, mites, and white flies.
It’s organic formulation allows you to use it even on edible plants, not only ornamental ones. Therefore, you can use it on vegetables and fruits up until the day of harvest.
The Natria insecticidal soap comes in a spray bottle and it’s ready-to-use, requiring no dilution or other preparation. For best results, you need to use it weekly or every two weeks.
– Synthetic Insecticides
There are various synthetic insecticides that are marketed for mealybug eradication. These usually contain malathion, diazinon, acephate, carbaryl, etc. in their formulation.
Whenever using these types of insecticides, make sure to first test them on a small part of your orchid to see if there are any harmful effects. Some orchids are sensitive to them and may become damaged.
– Isolating & Repotting
Whichever of the above solutions you pick as your weapon of choice against mealybugs, I recommend two other important things as well.
Namely, immediately isolating an infested plant to stop mealybugs from spreading and repotting a plant. Because mealybugs can move into the potting medium, removing them from the upper parts of the plant is not enough.
Will Dish Soap Kill Mealybugs?
Dish soap on its own may not be strong enough to get rid of a big infestation, but it does have an effect on a light infestation.
For best results, however, I recommend you use it in combination with rubbing alcohol.
Will Cinnamon Kill Mealybugs?
Cinnamon has antifungal and antibacterial effects. It works by drying out its environment. Mixed with water, it’s used to spray plants that are afflicted with fungal and bacterial diseases.
While it will dry out mealybugs, cinnamon will also dry out your orchid. Especially if used in excess or at a strong concentration.
Can Mealybugs Kill Your Orchid?
Yes, a mealybug infestation that gets out of control can eventually kill your orchid. This is why infestations of any degree require prompt action to prevent growing populations and spreading to other plants.
Sometimes, if the infestation is large enough and the plant is showing advanced signs of decline, destroying the plant may be required.
It’s also important to use the right concentration of any insecticidal to prevent mealybugs from developing resistance.
Tiny white bugs on your orchids are not a benign problem. These bugs are literally sucking the life out of your orchids, so immediate action is required.
The methods and products I recommended are the ones that work best against a mealybug infestation. Make sure to reapply the treatment every 10 to 14 days until you kill off all generations of mealybugs.
And remember — any method to get rid of mealybugs will work best if the plant is repotted in a new pot with fresh potting medium and isolated from other plants to prevent spread.