Soil Mealy Bugs in African Violet Plants

Soil Mealy Bugs in African Violet Plants

Soil Mealy Bugs are found inside the soil of African Violet plants, closer to the roots. They can spread very fast between plants and measures need to be taken quickly to control them.

These are common questions answered about African Violet Soil Mealy Bugs:

What are Soil Mealy Bugs?

  • Soil Mealy Bugs, also known as Root Mealy Bugs are white, soft bodied, small, 2-4 mm in length insects. These are tiny sucking insects, which are found near the roots of African Violet plants, as they feed off of these roots in the soil. Eventually they damage the plant roots and the African Violet is no longer able to survive.
  • Soil Mealy Bugs can be mistaken for springtails, but Soil Mealy Bugs are thicker, more slower to move and less jumpy then springtails.

How to Soil Mealy Bugs Occur on African Violet plants?

  • African Violet plants can get contaminated with Soil Mealy Bugs, if its kept next to another new plant contained these bugs, which has just been bought home.
  • If the potting mix contains Soil Mealy Bugs, then it can transfer these bugs to African Violet plants during re-potting.
  • If the African Violets plants are kept outside or in a screened porch, they can become infected with Soil Mealy Bugs.
  • If one plant has become infected with Soil Mealy Bugs, then they are easily transferred to other African Violet plants.
  • Soil Mealy Bugs, originate from eggs laid by the female next to the plants roots. These eggs hatch into nymphs which are located at the edge of the pot and plant or inside the root ball/ crevices of potting mix.
  • Once these nymphs mature into adults, they secrete a waxy coating around themselves and it looks like cotton bits on the soil.
  • Adult Soil Mealy Bugs, feed on the African Violet roots.

What causes Soil Mealy Bugs to appear and how to prevent them on African Violet plants?

  • Soil Mealy Bugs are very hard to identify initially, until the plant is heavily infested.
  • As soon as you receive a new African Violet plant, you can gently take the plant out of the pot and inspect the roots and potting medium externally for any visible signs of Soil Mealy Bugs.
  • It may take upto three months for a Soil Mealy Bug to appear in a new plant. If eggs have already been laid in the soil or are transferred from a leaf or potting mix, then adult Soil Mealy Bugs can appear after a few months.
  • If you are watering all your African Violet plants in the same tray, this can also cause Soil Mealy Bugs to be cross-transferred, as some crawlers can be transported through the water too.
  • Its best to isolate any infected plant, so to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Soil Mealy Bugs can remain undetected on the plant roots, unless you are specifically looking for them.
  • Always remember to use clean pots and fresh potting mix.
  • For more information on African Violet potting mix, please visit our post, “African Violet Soil/Potting Mix“.

What are the external African Violet plant symptoms of Soil Mealy Bug infestation?

  • Unless the African Violet is heavily infected with Soil Mealy Bugs, no apparent symptoms are visible on the plant.
  • Once the African Violet plant is heavily infected, its growth slows down leading to stunted plant growth and flowering.
  • The leaves start wilting and turning yellow or brown in color.
  • The overall health of the African Violet plant starts to deteriorate and continues growth with less vigor.
  • Soil Mealy Bugs are not visible on the surface of the soil.

What are the internal African Violet plant symptoms of Soil Mealy Bug infestation?

  • African Violet plants infested with Soil Mealy Bugs, develop a bluish tinted potting mix.
  • Once the plant is removed from the pot, white cottony webbing on the outer soil surface will be visible.
  • Upon inspecting the root ball or growing medium, Soil Mealy Bugs will be visible closer to the roots and along the pot wall.
  • The Soil Mealy Bugs, will feed on the African Violet plant roots and suck the sap from these roots and ultimately damage them permanently.
  • Soil Mealy Bugs also lay eggs within the soil mix and this can cause them to multiply fast and infest the African Violet plant quickly.

What do Soil Mealy Bugs look like?

  • Soil Mealy Bugs are wingless insects, they can crawl out of the pot drainage hole and into other pots, potting mix or onto surrounding stands, equipment, etc…
  • They are yellowish in color when younger and as they mature, they become white in color.
  • Adult Soil Mealy Bugs have a wax coating around them, which can make them look white or occasionally grayish in color.
  • This wax coating develops around the Soil Mealy Bugs as they feed off of the African Violet plant roots.

Can I save an African Violet plant dying from Soil Mealy Bugs?

  • Yes, if the infestation is caught early, there are few ways to save an African Violet plant.
  • First, if the infestation is not too heavy, then you can re-pot the plant in a new pot with fresh soil. Add diatomaceous earth (DE) to the fresh soil. Remove the plant from the old pot, re-pot in a clean pot with the fresh soil mixed with DE.
  • Please note, DE may help with an early infestation, they do not completely kill off the adult Soil Mealy Bugs, they may kill off a nymph.
  • Since adult Soil Mealy Bugs, suck on the sap of the roots, they do not ingest the DE. However, if the soil is dry, and the conditions are just right, if the DE makes contact with the surface of the bug, it can dehydrate it and kill it. However, DE is not a permanent solution to killing Soil Mealy Bugs.
  • In general if you have a large collection of African Violet plants, you can make it a habit of mixing DE with your potting mix soil, every time you use this mix to re-pot your African Violets.
  • If the plants are heavily infected, another method would be to carefully cut off the crown of the plant using a sharp scalpel/knife. Take care not to touch the infected soil and cut above the soil level. Remove any leaves which were touching the infected soil.
  • Then transfer the cut crown to fresh soil, again taking care not to transfer any of the infected soil.
  • Remember to use a new clean pot and clean the old pot with bleach. Immediately discard the old soil and potting mix, to prevent further spreading of the Soil Mealy Bugs to other African Violet plants.
  • If you only have a few infected plants, you can put down leaves to save the plant variety and to produce baby plantlets. For more information on leaf propagation, visit blog post, “African Violet Leaf Propagation“.
  • While taking leaves, only take from the middle of the plant and avoid those leaves which are touching the infected soil.

How to chemically treat Soil Mealy Bug infestation in African Violet plants?

  • To chemically kill Soil Mealy Bugs infestation in African Violet plants, you can use either Marathon or any other chemical containing the key ingredient Imidacloprid.
  • These chemicals are available in either granular or liquid form. If using liquid, remember to dilute to 1% Imidacloprid with water. Some forms contain a higher percentage of Imidacloprid.
  • Personally I have not used these chemicals on my plants. Remember to work with these chemicals in a well ventilated open area, use safety glasses, disposable gloves and other precautions recommended on the packaging.

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