Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Controlling mealybugs and ants using neem oil spray on plants

Gardening is not a path full of roses. There are many obstacles in different forms, which can spell trouble for gardeners. Probably, the most important worry is effectively tackling the pest outbreaks in plants. A single pest is enough to drown the garden dreams into a sea of sorrow, as it can multiply in no time to produce a number of colonies, thereby causing infestation. Even a slight delay in eradicating them can really harm the plants. Innocent looking mealy bugs, in the company of ants, top the list of garden pests. This post is all about the mealybug attack on our plants and how we controlled them using neem oil spray.
Mealybugs on chilly plant
What are mealy bugs and how they affect plants:
See the picture on top? Mealybug is that white colored pest sitting on the chilly plant. They thrive on by sucking the plant sap in humid, moist conditions. This in turn weakens the plants, thereby causing  dropping off leaves, serious wilting and finally death. Check out this post about our dying sage plant for more details on mealybug attack. You can normally find their colonies on the stalks, where the leaf and stem joints, and on the leaves. They multiply very rapidly and if proper preventive measures are not taken immediately, the entire garden will come under the attack of these troublemakers. 

Ants and mealybugs on okra plant
Association with ants:
Like aphids, mealybugs and ants have a symbiotic relationship, beneficial to both parties. Ants help them by acting as a carrier of mealybugs and their eggs from plant to plant, thereby spreading the infection. In return, ants feed on the honeydew secreted by mealybugs. This is the main reason why in order to control the grisly white pests, you have to first rein the colony of ants.
Ants on okra flower
Plants affected:
In our garden, we have a fairly high ant population wrecking havoc on plants. They first brought aphid infection, which tanked our yard long beans and chilies forever. The mealy bugs were even more terrible and many plants were severely affected by them. We struggled to contain the infection on sage, tomatoes, curry leaf plantamaranthus, chilly, okra and basil
Ladybug on basil
Preventive measures:
At first when the infection was spotted in amaranthus, we tried the water spray method (dislodging them by spraying water in full force). But the pests were not deterred and  they came back to attack nearby plants.

Another method to prevent them is by wiping out the colonies with alcohol solution. We didn't try this method out, but this might do the trick. 

As I mentioned before, our plants were affected by aphids. A few weeks after they showed up, a welcome visitor came to the garden - ladybug. The tiny bugs soon started to feed on aphids and gradually the pests were under control. We have seen them eating up the aphid population, and we do have a slight feeling that they really played some important part in controlling the mealy bugs as well.

These preventive measures will be ineffective if ants, which are responsible for spreading the infection, still loom large in the gardens. Wiping out their colony from the yard is entirely out of question as they are in some way beneficial to the plants, especially in pollination. But to rein in further outbreak of mealybugs, ants should be brought under control. Try the baking soda or corn flour trick, but we never had any luck with either of these tips. 

Neem oil spray:
Of all these tips, what worked for us was neem oil spray. After spraying the mixture on pests, the results are immediately visible. They started to wilt and shrink and then die down. Use this spray in alternate days for at least two weeks to get better results. 

How to prepare neem oil spray:

Ingredients required:
4-5 drops of herbal neem oil
1 liter water
2 drops of dishwasher liquid (don't emit it as this acts as an emulsifier)
8-10 garlic cloves 
1 small sized ginger, cleaned and peeled

Grind ginger and garlic to make a fine paste. 
Mix the paste with water and sieve it well so that the coarse particles are left out. Retain the water.
To a spray can, add neem oil and dishwasher liquid. Add the ginger-garlic water to the can and mix well so that everything is combined nicely.
Spray on the affected parts.

Important: Ginger and garlic is in very high concentration, so omit these when spraying on young plants. 


  1. Hello Raji, the addition of ginger/garlic is something I haven't tried before. Some of my plants seem to be perpetually infested with mealy bugs. They seem to like the hibiscus the most! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Kanak,
      Thanks a lot for stopping by.
      Ginger and garlic are really effective against them.. I sometimes add two green chilies also. This helps in controlling them. Also if too many bugs are there, I remove the affected parts immediately. Hope this helps :)

  2. what about for a large area say for one hectare in Cotton, how can we control Mealy Bug ?? please suggest this can help a lot of farmers with whome I am working.

    1. Hi Gurpreet,

      Thanks a lot for stopping by.

      Neem oil spray is very effective against mealy bugs and it is also used in cotton fields. Here are some articles related to that;

      I wish you all the very best :)

  3. I use ginger peel, garlic & onion peels,soaked overnight in kanji water.crush this well with your hand the ext day & strain . dilute & spray regularly on all your plats. You can keep all pests away.

  4. Thank you Ms Raji! Our hibiscus plant was affected with thw mealybugs, and we didn't notice that it had spread to almost all the plants and trees in our garden until we thought it was too late. It was terrifying to see them multiply and find them crawling about everywhere. Luckily I chanced upon your article and prepared the neem oil spray. 4 sprays now, and the infestation is rapidly reducing! Results could be seen right from the first spray. We're spraying every alternate day, and cutting off highly infected branches. So grateful to you! The hibiscus plant however seems to be a but too sappy for the bugs...and new bugs are seen at new growths. But I hope that's wiped off soon too :)
    Thank you so much!!
    Special thanks from my Mum :)