June 11 2017

The Fig Lives! Ridding a Fig Tree of Mealybugs

how to rid a fig tree of mealybugs

One of my dreams is to have a large potted fruit bearing fig tree. Fresh delicious figs in the summer – yum! The key to this plan is keeping a fig tree alive, of course, and fig trees can be finicky. The last thing they need is a pest like mealybugs attacking them.

I overwintered my fig tree in a nice south facing window, and I thought it was doing really well. It put on two figs at the beginning of spring, and I was considering moving it outside.

But then came Mealybugs

mealybugs
The mealybug infestation I suffered looked something like this, only in the soil instead of on the tree trunk.

The first symptom I noticed was what looked at mold at the base of the plant. A few days later, the leaves wilted, and the new figs started withering.

When I picked up the pot, a few bits of a white moldy substance fell out of the drainage hole. I took to the internet to identify what I thought was fungus; but after searching around, I realized it was much more likely to be mealybugs. The bugs were infesting the entire pot. The tree was dying, but I did not want to just throw the whole thing out.

How to remove Mealybugs

Most of the information I found on the internet explains how to remove mealybugs from the stems and leaves of a plant. In my case, however, the bugs were attacking the root system. So I couldn’t just cut the infestation out.

First, I emptied the entire pot, taking care to remove the roots of my little tree from the soil without damage. I then washed the roots off outside to remove remaining particles of dirt. The removed most of the infection, but I did not want the bugs to come back.

Mealybugs attach themselves to the host plant with a waxy substance. So even though I couldn’t see any little larva or eggs latched onto the roots, I wasn’t sure they were entirely gone. To play it safe, I dipped the roots in water heated to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. This was warm enough to detach any remaining bugs, but not so warm that it would kill the plant.

Then, to be extra and especially sure that the bugs were gone, I sprayed the whole plant (roots and branches) down with Insecticidal Soap for Organic Gardening. This last part might have been overkill.

Fig Tree
Fortunately, it got better!

Satisfied that the bugs were gone, I replanted the fig tree. The poor thing dropped the rest of its leaves from stress. Only little brown buds were left. I was concerned that I had killed it.

The Aftermath

A week later, however, the buds sprouted green leaves. The pot is still bug-free, and the fig tree is happily existing on the back porch. Neither the mealybugs nor I killed it. So I leave this here in the hopes that someone else faced with a similar dilemma will be able to use some combination of the above methods to save their plant.

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