War on Gardenia's mealy bugs

daniel_clNovember 9, 2010

A few months ago, we took home a beautifully flowering and flourishing Gardenia plant from a local nursery. We keep it indoors with plenty of sunlight and well-drained potting soils in a 5-gallon fabric Smart pot.

We soon realized that the plant came with plenty of aphids and mealy bugs. The former was easily wiped out by our fingers and soup water spray; the latter kept coming back.

Recently, the plant started dropping lots of sticky honeydews and appeared sick.

This past weekend I spent a good afternoon and evening patiently going through the plant round and round, picking and crushing all mealy bugs I could find. Must be at least a few hundred kills. Can't deny that I enjoyed it a little - my fingers smelled like Gardenia flowers, too!

And I will keep hunting the mealy bugs every weekend until they are completely eradicated. (or until the plant dies)

Do the bugs hide in the roots?

Is there a chemical-free way to control them?

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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Yes, mealie bugs can and do hide in the roots, where they can multiply happily out of sight. It's possible that a plant might have only a small outbreak that is easily controlled. Or the whole plant and root system can be completely covered with them.

When they "keep coming back", it is a serious infestation and a little bit of killing here and there won't deal with it. Coming back is a sign there are many more than you think, hidden away somewhere-- a "mealie bug factory" somewhere on the plant, busily chugging out new mealie bugs at a stunning rate. The roots are a likely hiding place.

They are not harmless, and if you are noticing the plant is sick, you should deal with them in a more serious way than just crushing the visible ones on weekends, because they are excellent hiders, and 10 will probably be 10,000 in a week.

Safer's insecticidal soaps are good, but you have to spray at app 3-day intervals for 3-4 sprayings. To really be sure you have them all, you should repot the plant, see if they are hidden in the roots. Alternatively you can drench the pot--ie pour the stuff thru the pot til it runs out the bottom. You probably should repeat the drench in about a week.

If your gardenia "appears sick", you should consider whether it is in a pot the right size for the existing roots. It's a huge plant that needs a 5-gallon pot, and a gardenia in a too-big pot has a death sentence. A gardenia will do best in a clay pot that is only about 1 inch bigger than the root ball, and not too deep.

In my experience, pests such as scale and mealies are more apt to attack a sickly plant, so just because your gardenia has mealies doesn't mean it isn't also declining from root rot.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2010 at 11:45PM
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Systemics work the best..But I am not recommending this, it is just an option that WORKS!

I have learned not to keep plants infested with mealies that keep coming back...On any plants where they can hide well, out the door faster than I can count to three they go.

The ones I decide to keep, the plants where they have a hard time hiding, I use a good horticultural oil spray or pure pressed Neem oil since the natural sprays for me have always worked...

Any I see with the naked eye, get rubbed off with a Q-tip and rubbing alchohol..

I hope it works out well with you....

Next year you may want to clean your plants off starting around labor day outside and continuing for a few weeks until you have a clean plant before bringing them inside.....:-)This is the key bug free plants, preventative measures...Of course, one does not want to bring home plants bought anywhere especially this time of the year, unless you can treat them and clean them for days until they get a good clean bill of health..
Most nuseries are infested with pest's and something new now, the infamous Asian thrip!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2010 at 6:17PM
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mehitabel(z6 MO)

Good advice, Mike. I definitely agree that systemics are best for mealies.

Interesting that you just get rid of a plant with recurring mealies. They are really devils with an evil "intelligence" and nothing to fool with. A few orchids I've found with a root infestation had badly scarred leaves and hadn't grown at all in over 6 months.

I had an orchid with a case of mealies recurring on the flowers. One day I saw the tiniest speck of white near one of the node coverings on the flower stem. Out of curiosity I slit the node cover with a razor blade and mealies came *crawling* out of it. I was shocked at how many had been in that tiny space, obviously squeezed and compacted somehow. Horror! I had never seen one crawl before.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2010 at 1:40AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Rubbing alcohol is a very good remedy for mealybugs, but to HECK with the Q-tip strategy! Mix a solution of one part alcohol to three parts water in a plant sprayer and mist the whole plant...up and down and underneath. Keep the sprayer handy so that you can repeat the applications in a regular basis. Avoid the flowers as you would with any product. I don't know that alcohol would affect the flowers, but I'd probably not risk it.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2010 at 11:07PM
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Maggie (Vancouver, BC 8a)

My gardenia had yellowing dropping leaves & leaf buds were refusing to open. After googling to make sure what these pests were, I sprayed this solution and amazingly, within a few days the buds have leafed out! Wow so great to see those beautiful new leaves! The few flower buds don't seem affected & the whole plant is nice & clean. Thanks for the tip!

1 Like    Bookmark   February 10, 2015 at 4:31PM
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