Plants, insects, and microbes are all part of nature and are vital to each other. Some insects and microbes benefit plant health, while others are invasive to the entire plant and encourage bacterial and fungal infections.
These invasive pests reside in your succulents and spread over to other plants after sucking the life out of the primary hosts; as a result, infesting the entire houseplant collection. In this article, let’s dive in and learn about common pests on succulents and easy treatments for them.
Collection of healthy succulents Photo Credit
Among these pests are the tiny, sap-sucking, and soft-bodied insects that are highly damaging and can kill your beautiful succulents. Unfortunately, these pests are so small that they can quickly go undetected and remain on the underside of foliage.
Succulents in your houseplant collections are hardy plants that can grow under various conditions. As a result, they remain disease and insect pest free for most of their lives. However, the most common succulent problems are fungus gnats, scale insects, spider mites, mealy bugs, aphids, whiteflies, and thrips.
These succulent pests feed on their thick leaves and draw out the nutrients and sap.
In this write-up, we’ll learn about succulent pests, what factors cause their infestations, and how we can get rid of them.
What Are The Common Pests On Succulents And Easy Treatments For Them?
During the growing season, pests on succulents are a common problem. The following pests are the most:
Also known as plant lice or green flies are the most common pests on succulents outdoors from early spring to summer. They feed on the plant sap and appear from pale yellow to black, orange, and green.
Aphids are wingless flies that complete their entire life cycle on infected plants, and once their populations become dense, they develop wings and fly to new hosts. These green flies on succulent plants suck sap from their thick, juicy leaves and turn them yellow.
They are fond of new growths while feeding on succulents, particularly Echeveria transmit mosaic viruses, thus worsening the plant health.
Aphids continue to feed on plant juices and lay eggs on hosts simultaneously. In addition, they secrete sticky, sugary substances (honeydew) on the leaves of the infected plant. These honeydew excretions attract black ants and sooty mold fungus.
Black colored aphid population on Kalanchoe with their excretions (honeydew) Photo Credit
The most pronounced symptoms of aphid attack on succulents are deformed and curled leaves with chlorotic lesions.
Easy Treatment Of Plant Lice Or Greenflies
Aphids are soft-bodied flies that infest the underside of leaves and produce a sticky, sugary substance. Their infestations on succulents negatively impact their aesthetics. However, adopting the appropriate control measures can quickly eliminate these green flies (aphids).
To knock off the pear-shaped aphids, spray your infested plants with a high stream of water using a garden hose. The other way is hand picking when doing the regular succulent examination.
Spray your plants with soapy water to dissolve the body coverings of aphids. To prepare a soapy water spray:
- Mix one part of the dish soap per five parts of water. Pour the solution into a spray bottle.
- Apply on the infested plant and spray them with soapy water weekly.
Dawn dish soap to kill the succulent pests (aphids, whiteflies, and scales) Photo Credit
Encourage Beneficial Insects To Eliminate Succulent Pest Problems
The natural enemies (beneficial bugs) of common outdoor garden pests keep their populations in control and maintain the health of succulents. So, encourage the number of beneficial insects by providing them with host plants and food sources.
Lady beetle ready to feast on black aphids on rose plant Photo Credit
Use vegetable oil sprays and soapy water to deter aphid infestations on your infected and healthy plants. Mix one teaspoon of dish soap into five cups of water with one teaspoon of vegetable oil. Shake the mixture well and spray on plants, especially the bottom side of leaves.
To prepare a neem oil solution, mix one teaspoon of oil with a few drops of dish soap in water. Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spray on the infected plant. Apply it thoroughly until the aphid populations die and fall onto the ground.
Dark winged fungus gnats on a flowering plant Photo Credit
These flying insects are merely a nuisance around your succulents and outdoor plants. Fungus gnats (resemble mosquitoes) are attracted to damp conditions and decaying organic matter. At the same time, female gnat flies lay eggs in moist soil and use such situations to reproduce.
Within four days of egg laying, the tiny (1/4 inches long ) larvae appear that feed on the fungus and organic matter present in the soil of potted plants. In addition, the fungus gnat larvae feed on the root hairs and bore into them. Thus, exposing the plants to earth-living fungal and bacterial spores.
Fungus gnats larvae undergo four larval stages before turning into adult flies. These pests are more harmful at the larval stage because they damage the succulent’s root system and interfere with their food system.
Fungus gnats larvae in large groups with their black heads and semi-transparent bodies from which the digestive tract is visible Photo Credit
One of the most visible systems of fungus gnats infestations is root rot, stunted growth, and yellow, dry foliage compared to the other healthy plant. In a moisture-rich environment, fungus gnats complete their life cycle within 21 days from eggs to the adult stage. As a result, they are turning the indoor spaces into a mess.
Easy Treatments Of Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnats are easy to treat and eliminate when detected early, followed by best management strategies.
Use yellow sticky cards to capture the adult flies and get an overview of their indoor populations and sources from where they are coming. The deployment of these sticky cards also interferes with the breeding cycle of gnats.
Another best way to capture the gnat flies involves using vinegar gnat traps. Mix one tablespoon sugar per two cups of white vinegar in a bowl.
Place the bowl near your succulent plant collection. The fungus gnats will attract the sharp smell of vinegar and fall into the bowl.
You can use the diluted hydrogen peroxide solution as a soil drench. Apply the 3 percent hydrogen diluted mixture to the soil to kill root-feeding larvae and fungus gnat eggs. Moreover, the hydrogen peroxide solution will improve root health through an extra oxygen boost.
3 percent hydrogen peroxide solution to treat root rot and fungus gnat larvae Photo Credit
Another best organic method involves using cinnamon powder to repel the adult gnat flies. Spread the cinnamon powder on top of the potting soil mix. It will not only repel the adult flies but also has antifungal properties and can help the succulent growers get rid of gnats.
Mealybug infestations near the plant base Photo Credit
Mealybugs are oval-shaped insect pests of succulents and cacti. These are the most common bugs of houseplants and are 2 to 3 millimeters long with black or gray. Infected plants appear as white, cottony masses (mealybugs body covering) and feed on plant sap.
While feeding on plant tissue, the mealy bugs also secrete a sugary substance known as honeydew. These liquid secretions attract the black ants and support the growth of black sooty mold fungus. Mealybugs mainly infest the underside of leaves and between the stem joints.
As their population rises on host plants and there is competition for food, black ants transfer them to new plants. Therefore, these sessile organisms spread quickly from one host plant to another.
The most prominent symptoms of mealybug infestations include weaker plants with little to no growth. They also impact the flowering of infected plants.
Easy Treatments Of Mealybugs On Succulents
One of the easiest ways to treat mealybugs is the use of rubbing alcohol, and you can use it in two ways on your succulents.
First, use a cotton swab or Q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol and directly apply it to the mealybug to dissolve their hard coverings. Or you can dilute the isopropyl alcohol in water and apply it onto the top of the soil and underside of leaves to kill mealybugs.
Mealybugs resist the applications of contact or other pesticides due to their hard body coverings. So, to treat their infestations, apply a systemic insecticide such as dinotefuran in spring through the summer. When mealybugs feed on the treated plants, they’ll die due to disturbances in the nervous system.
Spider mites are the tiniest creatures that infest the underside of their favorite succulent plants. Like mealybugs and aphids, spider mites suck out the plant juice through piercing-sucking mouthparts.
During warm, humid weather, they complete their life cycle within days, and their populations explode in outdoor and indoor spaces. As a result, the infested plant becomes weaker and lifeless. Foliage develops small pale yellow spots due to chlorophyll breakdown and bronze appearance.
In heavy populations, the spider mites develop fine silky webbing on the underside of leaves and cover the entire plant and its parts. The process of webbing interrupts the food-making process.
Note: The best way to spot the spider mite infections on your succulents is by gently tapping your succulent plants with paper (tiny red dot-like bodies will fall on the top soil surface) and checking for fine webbing on the bottom side of the leaves.
Spider mite heavy infestations on host plant Photo Credit
Easy Treatments Of Spider Mites
Spider mite eggs on succulent buds Photo Credit
These tiny dot-like creatures are easy to manage when early detected. However, due to their smaller size, spider mites always go unnoticed and succulent owners only know about them when the damage is so apparent on plants.
To get rid of spider mites on your succulents, encourage the beneficial insects, such as syrphid flies, green lacewings, and lady beetles in your garden. These natural predators will not only help your plant in pollination but also eliminate the mite populations.
Spraying your succulents and cacti with soapy water will eliminate the spider mites and their eggs. You can also use vegetables or other oils to smother these pests before they spread over other plants.
Soft scale insects Photo Credit
These are the most common succulent pests and infest the significant economic crop plants, trees, garden ornamentals, and succulents.
Scales are of two types: soft scale and armored scale insects, and constant feeding on succulents leads to the death of plants with stunted growth and defoliation. In addition, scale insects feed on host plant nutrients and secrete sugary substances that support the development of ants and black sooty mold fungus.
Easy Treatments Of Scale Insects
One of the easy and cost-effective treatments of scale insects is hand picking them or hosing them off with a high stream of water. You can also treat scale insects with insecticidal soapy water spray and a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol solution. These not-so-harsh chemicals will dissolve the outer coverings of scales and kills them.
Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)
What to Spray on Succulents?
Succulents are beautiful hardy plants that remain disease- and pest-free, but when new growths are abundant in spring, they can get infestations of nasty bugs. So to avoid these harmful bugs (aphids, mealybugs, spider mites), you can apply neem oil, diluted rubbing alcohol solution, insecticidal soap, and vegetable oil sprays.
How do I Get Rid of Mites on my Cactus?
Insecticidal soap sprays are the best and most practical in removing spider mites on cacti. These are the milder solutions to kill mites and their eggs without harming plants.
How do I Keep Succulents Bug Free?
The following are the best practices to keep the succulents bug free:
- Keep your succulents healthy because healthy plants can easily ward off pathogens and harmful bugs
- Always know the root cause of plant sickness first, then apply the treatment wisely.
- Locate your succulents in the sunnier spot with well-draining soil.
- During high heat conditions, maintain high humidity to keep the succulents relaxed and healthy.
- In spring, feed them with fertilizer and treat them with insecticides to support their healthy growth and discourage infections.
All these factors will keep your succulent bug disease free.
Sources for Further Reading
- Brown, D. L. (2018b). Cacti and succulents. UMN Extension. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://extension.umn.edu/houseplants/cacti-and-succulents
- Flint, M. L. (2013c, March). Mealybugs Management Guidelines–UC IPM. University of California Statewide IPM Program. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74174.html
- Steil, A. (n.d.). Care of Succulents Indoors. Horticulture and Home Pest News. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/2021/12/care-succulents-indoors
- Streets, J., Harris, N., & Carpenter, J. (2020a). Succulents 101. Extension | West Virginia University. Retrieved August 4, 2022, from https://extension.wvu.edu/lawn-gardening-pests/indoor-plants/succulents-101
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