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Mealybugs make a meal of houseplants

One of my jade plants has some sort of white fluff on the stems. Is this normal?

Jade plant

Jade plant is one of many houseplants that can be affected by mealybugs.

White fluff is not normal. Your jade plant is no doubt hosting an infestation of mealybugs, tiny sap-sucking insects that will damage the plants if they are left to multiply. They appear as small, cottony growths on the stems and leaves of jade plants and many other houseplants. They do their damage by inserting their piercing mouthparts into the plant’s tissue and extracting the juices.

Mealybugs thrive in a warm, dry environment – such as inside a home in winter. Female mealybugs don’t fly, but once established on a plant, they can find their way to nearby houseplants so it’s good to get rid of them as quickly as you can – not always an easy task, because that fluff is rather waxy and resistant to pesticides.

The best way to begin to eradicate the insects is to remove them by hand. Dip a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol and wipe them off. You may have to do this two or three times until all the unseen eggs that may have been deposited have hatched. If the infestation is heavier, follow up with a spray of insecticidal soap.

Always be watchful for insects to reappear, and try to get rid of them quickly. In addition to jade plants, mealybugs may find their way onto African violets, ferns, pothos, Norfolk Island pine, schefflera, diffenbachia, pothos, philodendron and many other popular houseplants.

Mealybugs are a common problem, and information is readily available. The North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension provides information here.

Jade plant rejuvenation

QUESTION: I have a jade plant that has grown well for several years, but the stems are tall and bare and all the leaves are at the top. I admit there are times I forget to water it. Can this be fixed?

Jade plantGiven the right conditions, a jade plant (Crassula ovate) should be an easy-care houseplant. It’s shiny, fleshy leaves make it an interesting addition to your décor. If it has been neglected, it can probably be rejuvenated as long as there is still healthy growth.

You can take stem cuttings of the old plant and root them in new soil. Houseplant expert Barbara Pleasant suggests this method: Cut the stems just below a node, and allow the cuttings to dry for about five days, then plant them in a mixture of damp sand and peat moss. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. Each cutting should grow roots and form a new plant. You may also have some success if you root the cutting in water, and plant the rooted cutting in potting mix.

That doesn’t address the problem of neglect, though. Jade plants can be forgiving, yes, but they do need a little attention.  The plants become leggy when they receive too little light. They need about four hours of filtered sun each day, and average room temperature. Allow the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Spring through fall, feed every few weeks with a balanced houseplant fertilizer at half the normal strength, Barbara Pleasant suggests. It is not necessary to fertilize in winter. A jade plant may enjoy the summer outdoors as long as you can provide a shady, protected spot.