Succulents are difficult to kill (which makes them great for those of us with thumbs that are not exactly green), but that doesn’t make them immortal. Even if you water them properly and give them the right fertilizer and light, they can still develop pests – those puny pesky pests! These harmful invaders range from mealy bugs to spider mites, to aphids, gnats, and beyond. Here are some all-natural DIY pest control tips and systemic insecticide treatments to help keep pests away from your succulents and cacti.
If you see white fuzz or tiny bugs on your succulent, it may be time to invest in some pest control. We’re going to tell you about the most common pests in succulents, cacti, and other desert plants then give you some pointers on the best DIY pest control techniques, natural pest control products, and a few systemic pesticides for long-term pest treatments. Lots of the products we’ll recommend come from PlanetNatural.com. We’re not getting paid or anything by them, we just happen to like all their natural pest-control solutions a lot so if you order from them, tell them Juicykits.com sent you!
Some General Pest-Prevention Tips:
Here are just some things you should generally be doing to keep pests away from your succulents and cacti.
- Keep your succulents and cacti strong and healthy during growing seasons using a mild, balanced fertilizer such as Juicykits Plant Food. After autumn, you don’t have to feed your plants until the cold season ends.
- Make sure you remove dead leaves so bugs don’t have places to hide and breed. This also helps prevent mold from forming.
- Keep your succulents pretty dry. Keeping soil wet for long periods of time may attract mealy bugs, gnats, and other pests too.
- Never ever reuse soil or put dead leaves from plants that have been affected by pests into the compost pile. You don’t want any survivors or their eggs to infect any of your other plants. This is something we learned the hard way :( RIP…
- Pesticides can be used to deter or kill bugs and other pests in you plants. There are basically two types of pesticides: The first type are contact pesticides, which have to make contact with the pest to kill it. Then there are systemic pesticides, which get absorbed into the roots of the plant to poison the bugs that feed on the plants. Systemic pesticides are generally more expensive and come in a concentrate that needs to be diluted.
- To help prevent future pest infestations, you can regularly spray or brush your plants with a natural systemic pesticide containing “Pure Neem Oil.” Neem Oil smells kinda funky, but it’s a 100% natural product that’s non-toxic for humans and it repels all sorts of harmful insects.
Okay, read on for more pest-specific info and make sure you ask questions in the comments if you have any!
When it comes to succulents, mealy bugs are one of the most common pests. Ugh, we hate these guys!!! They make themselves known by the white fuzz that they leave on the leaves or spines of your succulent, and when the bugs are fully grown, they actually look like small crabs. They may appear friendly at first, and you may only see a few, but once they have identified your cactus or succulent as a great place to live, they can seriously harm your plant. If a female decides to lay eggs in your succulent, she can lay upwards of six hundred of them. When those eggs hatch, they latch onto your succulent and basically suck it dry. The damage can encourage mold growth on your plants and the bugs themselves, in high enough concentration, will kill your plant.
How to Control Mealy Bugs
- Use a cotton swab or the paintbrush that comes in your Terrarium Toolkit to dab the mealy bugs with rubbing alcohol. This will kill them without doing too much damage to your plants. Remove the dead bugs to keep things clean.
- Planet Natural also has a product called Safer Soap, which is an insect-killing soap that you use to wash your plants. It will kill mealy bugs quickly by dissolving their shells. But remember that if your succulents are in a terrarium, the soap won’t have a place to drain out. Therefore, use any soaps very infrequently to prevent buildup.
- If you REALLY need to use a pesticide, try Take Down Garden Spray. It’s all-natural, doesn’t linger in the environment for a long time, and it’s designed to kill most of the pests that like to attack your succulents.
- If your plants are outdoors and your pest situation gets SUPERBAD (and not even in a good James Brown way), there are good bugs that you can release to eat the bad bugs. Planet Natural sells beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, lacewing and the Mealybug Destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri) to effectively eat up your nasty mealy bugs.
- If you’re seeing the damage that mealy bugs cause but aren’t seeing the bugs themselves, the bugs may in your roots. If this is the case, you should remove the plants from their potting and treat the roots with one of the solutions above before repotting. Some of your leaves will die off, but usually the whole plant will recover.
Not quite spider, not quite mites—these bugs are the worst of two worlds. They are very, very small, and if you’re not looking for them on your succulents, you could easily be overlooking them. Spider mites love succulents because they harbor a high concentration of sweet sap that the mites like to suck out. If your cactus is infected, you’ll see yellow and rust-colored spots appearing on your plant like scars. This can cause the plant to become weak and infected with other problems.
It’s very important to know that spider mites are not regular bugs like most of the pests on this page. Instead they are a type of arachnid, like spiders, so regular bug sprays and pesticides for bugs will not kill them. In fact, those pesticides may be killing off the good bugs that feed on spider mites. you’ll need to deal with spider mites in a more specific way.
How to Control Spider Mites
- If you see white webs on your plant, clean them off as soon as possible. If you see the mites themselves, brush or pick them off and dispose of them away from your plant and other plants. You may even want to remove the entire plant to prevent the mites from getting onto your other plants.
- Juicykits Organic Bug Killer is a good way to keep spider mites away because it has neem oil, which naturally repels them.
- Take Down Garden Spray actually works on spider mites, so use this all-natural pesticide before trying other store-bought brands that might be designed for regular, non-arachnid insects.
- If your spider mite problem is really bad you could try a natural “systemic insecticide” like Sierra Natural Science SNS 209. You either add mix it in when you water your plants or, if the problem is real bad, unpot the plant and wash it in the insecticide solution. After using the treatment for a couple of weeks, the plant will absorb the poison into its system so that when bugs suck out the plant’s sap they will be poisoned. Use these systemic insecticides very sparingly because they’re pretty potent and may damage your plants if you use too much.
- If your succulent lives outdoors, use a sprayer that has a strong jet stream to blast the mites off.
- Planet Natural sells these predatory mites that will eat the bad spider mites that are dining on your plants. If course, this solution is better for outdoor plants because you won’t want a bunch of bugs in your house.
While gnats might not be as dangerous as other pests on your list, they can be a serious annoyance and can make having an indoor terrarium frustrating. If you water your succulents too much and there is extra water in your terrarium, the gnats will flock to it and start breeding. They don’t bite, but they do procreate en masse, which is super gross. They’ll try to live in your plant and will emerge any time you are undertaking any kind of succulent or cactus care.
How to Control Fungus Gnats
- A good way to prevent fungus gnats from congregating and making babies is to top your soil with one of our decorative sand, glass chips, or bonsai-quality lava rock toppings. This will cover the layer of soil that can be an attractive damp place for breeding.
- You can effectively keep gnats at bay by coating your succulents regularly with Juicykits Organic Bug Killer.
- Make sure you let the soil around your succulents dry out completely between waterings. When things are dry, the gnats have no place to lay eggs and any eggs or larvae that do exist will die off.
- Check the soil and under leaves to see if there are any clearish white eggs. If you see any of these, scoop them out right away and spray with a natural pesticide like Take Down Garden Spray. Be careful not to use too much pesticide, but you do want to do your best to make sure all the adults, babies, and eggs have been killed. KILL EM ALL!!! :P
- Planet Natural sells these Yellow Sticky Traps to help catch the flying critters. You lay the sheets onto the soil surface and the gnats get stuck to them, then you can remove a bunch of adults before they’re able to lay eggs.
- We’re not big fans of pesticides in aerosol sprays, but if you need to use one, try this non-toxic Flying Insect Killer. It contains various natural oils that deter and kill gnats and other flying insects.
If you are seeing small tan or brown bumps on your succulents, it is probably because they have attracted the attention of scale insects. These bugs love to eat the sap of succulents, harming your poor little plants and making them more susceptible to infection and to drought. If you’re not familiar, you may think that your plant just has little brown spots, but they’re actually bugs with outer shells that shield them from most pesticides and predators. Clever huh?!?
Scale insects make up a shockingly large portion of the insect family tree, with over a thousand separate species. Luckily, you really only need to worry about two groups: the armored scale insects and the soft scale insects. The hard insects will produce a hard secretion to protect their bodies. This little bump is not connected to the scale, but it serves as a sort of house for the scale, under which it feeds and damages your plant. The soft scale produce a film that is waxy in color and texture. This is connected to their body and it serves the same purpose as the armored scale: to protect the bug.
Females can lay up to three hundred eggs at a time, protected by one of those armored shells. When the babies hatch, they leave the shell and find their own place to develop shells and eat away at your plant. Many of the males will also grow little wings so they can fly around your house. Dealing with these insects as you find them is the very best way to get rid of them and prevent them from fatally harming your plants. Looking for these little buggers should be a part of daily succulent care. Ugh!
How to Control Scale Insects
- If you only see a few of the scale insects, you can just scratch them off with your fingernail or use the tweezers that come in your Terrarium Tool Kit.
- If your succulent is infected with hard-bodied scale insects, the simplest way to treat them is to just remove the branch or leaves that are affected. Sad, but safe.
- Just like mealy bugs, you can dab scale insects with a cotton swab or paint brush and some rubbing alcohol. This will help dissolve their shells and eventually kill them.
- You could also get the insect-killing Safer Soap from Planet Natural to wash your plants with. It will kill scale insects by dissolving their shells. But remember that if your succulents are in a terrarium, the soap won’t have a place to drain out. Therefore, use soaps very infrequently to prevent buildup.
- Take Down Garden Spray works okay on scale, but not as well on hard-shell scale because the pesticide doesn’t always penetrate their protective shells. It is, however, a good all-natural pesticide is you must use one.
- If your plants are outdoors, you could buy and release live ladybugs or the Mealybug Destroyer (Cryptolaemus montrouzieri), which feed on soft-bodied scale (and mealy bugs too). The hard scale are pretty stubborn and not as easy to treat with beneficial insects.
If these natural products aren’t working for you after a few weeks, you could choose to try one of the more expensive “systemic insecticide” treatments below as a last resort. Over time, systemic pesticides absorb into the plants through the roots and when bugs drink that juice, they either die or their hormones become affected so that they cannot procreate and multiply. Most of these are naturally derived, but they’re still potent and poisonous so you should be careful not to get it on your hands or other plants, animals, kids, BEES, and any edible crops that don’t need it. Because some of these products cause harm to bees and other plants and animals, they may be banned in some places including California.
- Imidacloprid: Imidacloprid seems to be the most effective systemic pesticide for succulents, but it’s pretty nasty stuff! We really don’t recommend using this unless you REALLY need to, because it’s known to cause major harm to bees and bee colonies. This chemical is found in some products from brands like Bayer and Merit. It usually comes in little granules that you dilute in water, then use to water and spray your plants. Here’s a link to a product using imidacloprid, but it may not be available in some states.
- Acephate: The systemic insect treatment Acephate is found in products by Bonide. You also dilute it in small amounts just enough to spray and feed your plants. Use it to spray our succulents all over, then pour whatever is leftover into the soil. Here’s a link to Bonide’s systemic pest control, but it may not be available in some states. Again, this is nasty stuff so really be careful to limit damage to the environment.
- Pure Neem Oil: Lots of natural insecticide products contain Pure Neem Oil and it’s more widely available. The smell is pretty gnarly, but it seems to work if you have the discipline to continue the treatment weekly for a few weeks. For us, it wasn’t as effective as the other chemical solutions. Neem oil basically messes up bugs’ hormones so that they no longer feel the urge to mate. It’s like anti-Viagra for pests! Here’s a Neem Oil spray and you could also buy concentrated Neem Oil and mix it yourself with water and dish soap.
- Other Essential Oils: Some systemic pesticides actually smell pretty good because they contain the essential oils of herbs like rosemary, cinnamon, thyme, and cloves. The smell can get a bit much, in our experience. These work okay, but some bugs aren’t affected by them – some of those bugs are common to succulents and cacti. A couple of good but pricey products with these oils is Ed Rosenthal’s Zero Tolerance and SNS 209, both available on Planet Natural.
- Last, Last Resort: Sometimes it’s not THAT bad to simply throw away succulents that have been infected by bugs that you simply can’t get rid of. It’s not the easiest thing to do, but sometimes you just have to get rid of a plant in order to prevent infestation of your other plants. We won’t judge you. ;)
Other helpful articles on Juicykits.com:
How to Care for Your Succulent Terrarium
How to Assemble a Juicykits.com Terrarium Kit
3 Tips for Watering Succulents & Terrariums
Grow Light Basics: Artificial Lighting for Succulents & Cacti
How To Repot A Succulent In 1 Minute
How to Care for Air Plants
It was really fun and interesting to research and test the solutions in this article and we hope it’s been helpful for you. If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and we’ll try our best to give you an educated answer. Make sure you share this article, so your friends have the information they need to fight pests from their succulents and cacti!
~ Team Juicy