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Invasion of the cotton tufts?

An invasion of cotton tufts? That's what mealybugs look like when they take up residence on your house plants. For many gardeners, the first line of defense is to swab these invaders with rubbing alcohol--but does this really work?

Yes, if you start soon enough and follow through with repeat applications. You also have to launch an attack on the egg cases lurking on or beneath the pot. If infestation is severe, you may have to resort to more potent controls.

Your best chance: nab them early. When you see the first small specks, wash off the plant with plain water to dislodge as many as possible. At this stage, a swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and daubed on each speck is effective. Tufts won't disappear right away, but after a few weeks will look dried up and the insect will be destroyed.

These white masses are actually waxy secretions produced by clusters of female mealybugs. The females spend their days sucking plant sap while hiding under their cottony umbrellas. They excrete excess sap as a sticky, clear honeydew, coating the leaves and providing a growing ground for unsightly sooty mold.

Checks for egg cases. Their other favorite activity is depositing egg cases that can lead to new invasions in other parts of the plant. Check pot rims, under the bottom, and any hangers or shelving for the white woolly cases; wipe them off before they have a chance to hatch. Avoid taking cuttings from infested plants.

Even after swabbing, don't think your troubles are over. The tiny offspring (nymphs) are so small you can't see them until they start producing their own umbrellas. As soon as you spot any new specks, zap them with rubbing alcohol.

As a last resort, spray. If the infestation is so severe that swabbing is impractical, spray with an insecticide, such as malathion or diazinon, labeled for mealybug control. Check the label to make sure the product is safe for use on your plant; for example, many ferns should not be sprayed with malathion. If you're not sure, first spray a few test leaves; if the plant shows no signs of leaf burn or yellowing within about a week, you can use the spray.

Take the plants outdoors (or if it's too cold, into an unheated garage) for spraying. Follow label directions; spray the upper and lower surfaces of leaves, as well as stems and branches. Repeat spraying at the recommended intervals.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:Sunset
Date:Dec 1, 1985
Words:408
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