When it comes to pests, they really are just like the most annoying super villains. You can beat them one week and think they’ve disappeared, but then they’re back again next time you look. If you’re not careful about inspecting your plants, you could miss an infestation while it is still in the early stages and fairly easily defeatable. We’ll look at some signs for early identification and prevention in a moment, but if you are going to see any pests on your succulents, it will probably be one of these sinister seven.
Ants: More than just the stars of their own movies, these little guys actually outnumber humans when it comes to population. This is because they can pretty much live in any environment. Some ant colonies can survive almost anywhere throughout the warmer seasons, and there are ants for almost every climate, which is all perfectly fine. If you see one or two ants, give them a nod and let them be; however, if you notice a whole bunch of them around your plants, then it is a likely sign of pest infestation. Ants aren’t drawn to succulents naturally, but they are drawn to feed on pests that do. This will end up becoming both a sign that you have a pest problem, and likely a major one. Don’t worry about ants when you see them, but do pay attention to and notice them before they become a problem.
aphids on succulents
Aphids: These guys are also remarkably small. They have little bodies shaped somewhat like a pear. They will most often be green, but there are also red, orange, and yellow aphids around, and you’re likely to even spot other colors if you look long enough. They like to suck on the juices inside of your plant’s leaves; these bites hurt your plants, and then they suck out the insides. Aphids are one of the creatures that ants like to feast on because aphids turn what they suck from your plants into honeydew. This waste product is packed full of sugar, so it is considered tasty to some species of insects. However, honeydew around your succulents can cause black mold to grow, eventually leading to plant death.
Fungus Gnats: If you are growing indoor plants, then the most likely villain you will encounter is the fungus gnat. These little guys can be mistaken for mosquitoes because they have little black bodies with two, almost-black wings and a little sucker-like face. They’re a deadly combination of small and winged, allowing them to get into places that other pests would have a harder time reaching. If you are seeing a lot of fungus gnats, then this is a sign that you are overwatering your succulents and you need to slow down, as fungus gnats are most drawn toward soil that is nice and moist.
Mealybugs: When it comes to succulents grown outdoors, mealybugs are the most common pest. They’re only a couple of millimeters long and come in an earthy brown shade. When they feed on your plants, they leave behind a weird “mealy” substance. This white residue looks almost like cotton or even maybe bland cotton candy. This isn’t the only thing that mealybugs secrete, however; they release that same honeydew substance that aphids do, which means that, not only do they cover your plants in this weird substance, but they also put them at risk for mold infection. Mealybugs are a pain because once they take a foothold on a plant, they are quick to move on and attack those nearby, which can lead to entire beds in your garden becoming weak and sick.
Scale: Scale would be a really cool pest if it wasn’t for the fact that it likes to attack our plants. This pest comes in all sorts of different varieties of shapes and shades, and succulents are especially delicious to armored scale and soft scale alike. You can spot these guys because they look like disgusting bumps in the leaves of your plants. They like to eat the sap from inside of the succulent leaves and they dig their way around in there. Doing this leaves a trail on the leaves that shows where the scale first entered and where it is now. These guys can quickly kill off the leaves of a succulent plant in no time at all.
Spider Mites: While these little guys aren’t actually spiders, they are still super annoying. A spider would help catch bugs and prevent them from harming your plant, but spider mites are little red suckers that hang out on your plants and suck the juices out of them. They’re very small and can be hard to spot, especially since they enjoy hiding on the bottom of leaves to avoid detection. The leaves of an infected plant will start to lose its fullness and its color. Be careful, as spider mites can kill off a plant very quickly, and they move from one to the next just as fast. Keep an eye out for webbing on your plants, as this can be an early sign that you have some spider mites to deal with.
Whiteflies: Whiteflies look almost like white rice. If you see little white flecks walking across your succulents, frequently jumping off them to flap their little white wings a couple times before landing back down, then you know you got a problem with whiteflies. They like succulents with leaves more than ones that look similar to cacti. They breed like rabbits too, making them a major hassle that needs to be treated the second they are detected. Whiteflies are another pest that both enjoys hiding on the bottom of leaves and leaving behind honeydew, thus opening up your succulents to the risk of disease.
The Treating Your Succulents
The first step when it comes to treatment is to begin with prevention. You can’t 100% prevent pests from your plants and go mad trying, but even the best setup could eventually have you dealing with something. The goal in prevention is simply to reduce the frequency of attack, and the two ways that this is done are also very important for the health of your plants in general.
The first step in prevention is to avoid overwatering your succulents. You should already know that you should be doing this, but we are going to reemphasize it here because it poses yet another danger to your succulents. The second step is to ensure that there is good airflow on your plants. When you are indoors, this can easily be done with a fan, whereas outdoor gardeners are going to have to rely on the wind. Some steps you can take to help the wind out is to remove obstructions that are in the way between the wind source and your succulents. Keep in mind that there are various pros and cons to certain winds: overly strong winds can also tug newly planted succulents out of the ground, whereas strong airflow will make it harder for smaller pests to successfully land and stick to your plants.
A step that you can take specifically to prevent pests is to dissolve some neem oil into a water concentration and regularly spray your succulents with it on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Neem oil is a combination of a few natural substances that insects dislike. Neem oil can be used as a part of a treatment for infestation, but it also makes a good part of any preventative routines you make to keep your succulents healthy. When using neem oil, it is best to apply it as the last thing you do during the day. This is because neem oil will make your succulents burn quicker, so apply it at times when they’re in the shade or as the sun is going down.
Neem oil is a good part of a treatment system as well; however, you should also get your hands on some rubbing alcohol and dilute it with some water. Use this mixture by spraying it onto the infected plants to start killing off the pests. For pests like scales or mealybugs that leave behind a gross residue, you can put rubbing alcohol directly onto the damage to kill it off. This is best done with a cotton swab of some sort, so you can be direct and precise with your application. The spray bottle solution is for killing off and repealing the pests themselves.
Pests like ants and whiteflies are best treated with water. Blasting them off your succulents will knock them away and make it hard for them to get back to your plants, but be careful with this approach, as you don’t want to accidentally overwater your succulents. Try to aim the water at the plant and away horizontally, or you may even consider laying down a tarp or something around the base of the plant to reduce how much water gets into the soil.
You can always use a pesticide or insecticide if the problem gets too bad, but an organic solution should always be the first thing you try. These chemicals get into the ground and can really mess up the quality of the soil and destroy ecosystems you hadn’t even realized were living down there. It can be a good idea to behead an infest succulent, remove the infected plant, and try growing it again. This can be a time consuming project, but it will be healthier for your garden.
Of course, if you are growing your succulents outside, then you have a secret weapon you can use to help protect your plants. You can release insects of your own into your garden. It might seem like a weird idea to go out and purchase bugs to add to your garden, but insects like ladybugs feed on pests, often reducing an infestation to nothing in a couple days. Plus, ladybugs are far cuter bugs than any of the pests we’ve looked at. They have wings and will fly away to go find more food once they’ve run out of pests to eat, which makes them the outdoor gardener’s secret weapon.
Keep an eye out for signs of infestation in your garden. Discolored leaves, brown bumps or bite marks, bugs flying around in large quantities can all be clear signs of infestation. If you want to get into the habit of checking for earlier signs, then make it a habit to rub some paper towel on the bottom of your succulent’s leaves. If it comes back with little streaks of blood, then you have an infestation to tackle. Also, check the soil around the base of the succulent to see if there is anything growing in it, as many pests like to lay their babies down there. Doing this together with the treatments listed above will give you the upper hand in tackling any battles with pests you might face quickly.