No one loves my fiddle leaf fig trees more than I do.
Except maybe mealybugs.
The first time I spotted one I had no idea what I was looking at.
Since I didn’t know what the bugger was, I didn’t know it had a familial colony nearby. I didn’t know it could attract other pests, harm, and even kill my plants. And I didn’t know what — if anything — I should do about the pest. So I walked away.
A few days later, I saw a couple more of these nasty looking bugs. It dawned on me I may be dealing with a threatening, parasitic infestation. I’m glad for this revelation, because in hindsight, I know now that if I had let the problem persist, these pests could have slowly killed my fiddle leaf fig plants.
What Are Mealy Bugs, and Why are They Hard to Spot?
According to experts at Michigan State University, mealybugs are one of the hardest house plant pests to control. One female mealybug can lay up to 600 eggs at a time, which makes this fast-moving infestation especially urgent. In other words, don’t walk away like I did.
Instead, move your plant outdoors if conditions allow. This solution lets natural predators of the mealybug control colonization. If you can’t get your fiddle leaf fig trees outside, consider bringing the outdoors in. I bought live ladybugs on Amazon and released them in my sunroom to eat mealybugs.
Experts also recommend dipping a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and touching each white bug you find. The only problem? Sometimes, the pesky little guys are hard to find.
Non-obvious Places Mealybugs Hide and Colonize Undetected
What makes mealybugs so difficult to eradicate isn’t their tolerance to treatment or hardy refusal to die. No, what makes mealybugs frustratingly resilient is their excellent hiding skills. If you know where to look, then ridding fiddle leaf fig trees of mealybugs is only a matter of diligence.
Thankfully, we have the lowdown on how these buggers win the game of hide-and-seek too often. You already know the obvious place to look for mealybugs: your fiddle leaf fig’s opaque green leaves. Against this dark backdrop, the bright bugs contrast easily, making them easy targets of your treatment. Here are three less obvious places to look.
Undersides of leaves. Just when I thought I’d licked the problem, I went on vacation for a few days, and when I came back, more mealybugs! I couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. Then, one day during my (by now daily) rubbing alcohol regimen, I knelt down to dust some lower leaves. Still in that position, I looked up, and you guessed it – there was what appeared to be the grandfather of every mealybug I’d ever killed. This time, though, this big trouble maker was on the underside of the leaf I was looking up at.
Turns out, mealybugs spend a lot of time on the undersides of those big, tasty leaves. Keep this in mind when you’re trying to locate and treat the problem.
Between trunk (or stem) and leaves. Another surprising mealybug hideout is the crevice between each leaf and its adjoining stem. This includes between those tiny, dry, flaky black leaves directly attached to your main trunk. Gently peel them back to see if mealy bugs have burrowed into the dark cranny.
I always inspect where I pinch the plant, too, since these new leaves tend to attract the bugs more than the other joints.
Too often, frustrated fiddle leaf fig owners treat every leaf (even the undersides!) only to be bested by these deceptive parasites. All because they haven’t checked the sneakiest hiding places. The tiny crevices between trunk and leaf is one of them.
Other nearby plants. See that cute little and Bonsai Palm right next to my fiddle leaf fig?
Everyday I treated my prized fiddle leaf fig tree without giving a second thought to its neighboring office mate. When I felt like I was at my wit’s end, constantly discovering a fresh brigade of mealybugs each morning, I realized I had been missing their true source: the nearby bonsai. By then, I had learned to look on the underside of each green thing. Needless to say, when I turned the bonsai upside down, I was horrified to find every millimeter of the poor thing crawling with more white, cottony mealybug substance than I had ever seen anywhere in all my days of house planting. In fact, I almost dropped the palm. It resides outside now, thank you very much, and my mealybug problem is gone.
I apologize if my story has left you with the heebie-jeebies. However, if I’ve saved even one fiddle leaf fig by telling my mealy story, then I’m glad we had this talk. If you catch and treat these little bugs early on, they won’t give you much trouble. Let them colonize in a secret place, though, and you’ll be sorry you did.
For more tips on how to avoid common growing pitfalls, check out The Fiddle Leaf Fig Expert, the new, ultimate guide to caring for your ficus lyrata. And if you’re dealing with a pest you’re not sure of, post a picture of it in our friendly online group. It’s likely someone has faced the same pesky parasite and knows how to help.
Meg S. Miller is an influential speaker and multiple award-winning author with nearly a decade of writing experience. In her latest book, Benefit of the Debt (April 28, 2018), Miller offers a unique perspective that gives fresh insight into common sources of brokenness within Christian marriages. Miller, her husband, Joe, and their three children live near Washington, DC, where they own and operate an organic farm. When not writing, Miller loves doting on her six prized fiddle leaf fig trees. Learn more about Meg at www.benefitofthedebt.com.