Why Is There White Stuff On My Cactus

White fuzz on cactus can hinder their growth and lessen their visual attractiveness. What then creates the white fuzz on cacti, and how may mealybugs be removed from cactus plants?

Pour rubbing alcohol into a garden spray bottle after combining water and rubbing alcohol in a 1:3 ratio. To get rid of the bugs, spray all the cactus that are covered with white fuzz. You might also add ladybugs to your cactus to eat the mealybugs and get rid of the white fuzz on the plants.

I’ve used the Bazos ladybugs on my plants, and they work incredibly well at organically removing mealybugs and other damaging pests like aphids. You can use them if you don’t want to use pesticides on your indoor plants and outdoor gardens.

Why does my cactus have white fuzz on it?

The substance that appears to be cotton fibers is actually a fine wax made by adult cochineal scale insects, and the little black specks may be their nymphs. On cholla (Cylindropuntia spp.) and prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus, it is typical in this region. The white beards that resemble those on other cacti, such as the Peruvian old man (Espostoa lanata) and Peruvian old woman (Espostoa melanostele), are not an insect byproduct but rather typical, healthy changed tissues. Landscape chollas and prickly pears have a white waxy coating produced by cochineal scale that helps shield these actual bugs from predators and insecticides.

I’ve seen prickly pear pads covered in that white fluff almost entirely. Mild infestations, like the ones Doa Ana County Extension Master Gardener Dael Goodman and I saw at in Las Cruces earlier new week, are more typical. In New Mexico, there are multiple native cholla and prickly pear species. There are numerous of them in the Goodmans’ front yard, and we immediately noted that some species were more affected by the cochineal scale than others.

Topical pesticides, especially natural ones like petroleum oils and insecticidal soaps, are unlikely to be effective no matter what time of year it is if the insects are shielded by a white covering. Also, keep in mind that the ultimate goal isn’t to completely eradicate cochineal scale from your garden—partially that’s impossible—but rather to control the populations of insect pests until beneficial insects come to the rescue.

You will be shocked to see a bright red liquid that seems to appear out of nowhere if you squeeze a glob of the white goo that has healthy females hidden inside. Carmine, a natural dye used for millennia to color textiles and create artwork, is produced inside the bodies of cochineal scale insects. Because this carmine component is also utilized in red foods and cosmetics like sausages, lipstick, pie fillings, and vividly colored alcoholic beverages, check product labels for it. Before the firm converted to an artificial dye in 2006, it was used to create the vibrant color of Campari liquor, but a new generation of craft distillers and other producers are increasingly adopting it as a substitute for synthetic red components.

Goodman and I attempted to film the flowing red fluids squeezing the white tufts on her prickly pear pads with a small stick, but we hardly noticed any redness. The female cochineal population may be declining at this time of year, or those specific tufts may be so old that the residents have long since disappeared and have only left that waxy material behind. We’ll give it another go with a fresher sample in the summer.

Six cholla species and seven prickly pear species are covered in Robert DeWitt Ivey’s stunning reference work Flowering Plants of New Mexico. There are five yellow-flowered prickly pears in that group. Identification might be aided by paying close attention to the pad sizes and spine specifics. If you intend to approach closely, make preparations and carry tongs.

At the Agricultural Science Center in Los Lunas, Marisa Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist for New Mexico State University.

How can I eradicate mealybugs from cacti?

Mealybugs can be readily removed if you catch them early, before they have a chance to multiply.

Scrape the mealy insect off your cactus by using a q-tip in rubbing alcohol that is 70 percent strength.

To be sure, examine the plant from top to bottom. For a few more days, check the plant daily to make sure no new pests have arrived.

For each mealybug, use a different side of the q-tip because you don’t want to distribute them more than required.

You will need to spray your plant if the mealybugs are more numerous and cannot be removed one by one.

Before you can totally get rid of these pests, you will need to repeat treatment multiple times to destroy them in all stages.

Using a Homemade Dish Soap Spray

Making your own homemade mealybug spray from things you probably already have on hand is another option.

Neem oil, if you can find it, should be added to the combination for a far better success rate.

Your plant will receive a layer of protection from neem oil, making it more difficult for insects to eat through it.

With Blue Dawn dish soap and a 2 percent soap to water ratio, I’ve had the most results.

For instance, my spray bottle holds 650ml (or 20 oz), so I added 13ml (or half an ounce) of dish soap before adding water to cover the remaining space.

Use distilled or bottled water to prevent mealybugs from benefiting from the minerals in your tap water.

You want to make sure you get every area of your cactus since these small creatures can hide in crevices and crannies. Spray this mixture immediately on the surface of your cactus.

If there are still some bugs present, repeat the process again in a few days. To remove any remaining soap, spritz the cactus with distilled water after the bugs have all disappeared but don’t use any soap this time.

Avoid using too much soapy water because dish soap is still a detergent and might harm your houseplant if used excessively.

Use 70% Isopropyl Alcohol

The best method for getting rid of mealybugs on your cactus is typically to kill them using isopropyl alcohol.

Spray every bug and white fuzz spot you notice with 70% isopropyl alcohol (often referred to as rubbing alcohol) with a spray bottle.

Avoid using alcohol that is 90% strength since it will flash off too rapidly and not be as effective.

And if you opt for this strategy, be careful to keep your plant away from hot or direct sunlight to prevent burning. Spray ideally in the morning or at night.

The mealybugs are almost instantly killed by the isopropyl alcohol, which almost dries them up on touch. This will only work if you spray every single bug you see, just as the soap water method.

However, be careful with the alcohol; too much of it can harm the plant.

It might be better to dip a q-tip in the isopropyl alcohol and kill the mealybugs one at a time if you have caught them early and are certain that there are only a few bugs.

Nowadays, it can be challenging to get isopropyl alcohol, so if you can’t, try the dish soap and neem oil method first.

As there are probably other components in hand sanitizer that could be detrimental to your plant, I wouldn’t advise using it to get rid of mealybugs.

Systemic Insecticide Spray

Finally, you can buy systemic pesticide (bonide granules) at your neighborhood garden center or greenhouse to eradicate mealybugs from the inside out. Mealybugs become poisoned by the fluids.

In essence, you’ll water your cactus while using the pesticide, which works more like an antibiotic than a topical application like the other two techniques.

I advise applying a spray (either the soap mixture or rubbing alcohol) together with the systemic pesticide to get rid of mealybugs permanently.

This is because mealybugs may still be present in your soil, making it preferable to attack them from all sides.

Ideally, repot your plant in fresh soil if you can to ensure that no bugs or eggs are still present.

Other Methods That Might Get Rid of Mealybugs

You might try taking the natural approach and introducing other bugs that will devour the mealybugs if you have mealy bugs on your outdoor cacti.

Ladybugs will devour them, and mealybugs and aphids are both consumed by the larvae of the Green Lacewing.

To eliminate bugs, larvae, and other pathogens, some people bake their soil in the oven.

You can sterilize a small amount of soil by putting it on a baking sheet and roasting it in the oven for roughly 45 minutes at 175200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Is cactus milk toxic?

The toxic African milk tree, also known as Euphorbia trigona, is a succulent that many people mistake for a cactus. When this euphorbia plant is cut, a deadly sap is released.

If this sap gets on the skin or in the eyes, it can be quite irritating. You should therefore put on the appropriate safety gear when propagating. These contain a set of rubber hand gloves, long-sleeved overalls, and protective eyewear.

The African milk tree releases a huge amount of toxic sap when cut, making it extremely poisonous. If the sap unintentionally contacts your skin, wipe the area thoroughly with water right away. This will lessen irritability.

How can you tell if your cactus is in trouble?

When a cactus looks shriveled and husk-like, it is dead. Additionally, dead cacti can become unstable in their soil and topple over. They could start to smell rancid and becoming mushy, both of which are indicators that they are rotting. Cacti that are dead lose their spines and frequently appear brown.

Are mealybugs harmful to people?

Mealybugs are drawn to plants both inside and outside. The pests will target a variety of plants, including African violets, gardenias, and fruit trees. Mealybugs conceal themselves under leaves and flower petals, making it even more difficult to see their tiny bodies.

These pests are frequently found in gardens, flowerbeds, and indoor plants. The warm spring and summer months are ideal for the mealybug to flourish.

These pests damage plants by puncturing their leaves and stems and ingesting their sap, which causes the leaves to wilt and turn yellow. Mealybug honeydew, the pests’ sticky excrement, attracts additional insect pests and encourages mold growth on plants. Mealybugs do not eat people or infect them with diseases.

Preventing the introduction of infected plants into the interior of the house is one of the simplest strategies to control mealybug infestations. Any plants that are bought can be carefully examined by the homeowner before being brought inside or planted as part of an outdoor landscape. It is a good idea to “quarantine the plants for around two weeks,” even if the plants don’t seem to have mealybugs. Cutting off or culling infected leaves or stems will prevent mealybugs from having a chance to increase their population on the infected plant, preventing damage. To stop mealybugs from spreading to other, uninfected plants, simply disposing of infected plants may be the most effective way to prevent damage as a last resort.

If a minor mealybug infestation is found, the afflicted plant(s) may need to be treated with alcohol-soaked cotton swabs to get rid of the pests, exposed to running water to kill the pests, or washed with soapy water.

If the mealybug infestation is severe, the treatment strategy can call for a solution that not only kills mealybugs but also kills ants that eat the honeydew that the mealybugs create. This is crucial because ants can carry mealybugs from one plant to another and shield them from predators, increasing the number of infected plants. If the treatment plan calls for the use of a product, it is typically better to let your pest management professional administer it because his or her training and expertise ensure that the product’s labeled use instructions are strictly followed.


Mealybugs are tiny, oval-shaped insects with soft bodies that are coated in a white, powdery wax. Additionally, several species of mealybugs have projections that protrude from their bodies, creating the impression that they have numerous legs on the side and back of the body. They resemble tiny cotton specks when spotted on plants.

Mealybugs move slowly, but when they locate a good spot on the plant, they frequently become motionless and group together.


Mealybugs consume plant liquids for food, which weakens the plant and causes the leaves to droop, wilt, and become yellow. Additionally, the insects create honeydew, a gooey material that encourages mold growth on plants and draws in ant predators. The plant may perish if the mealybug infestation is not eradicated.

Mealybugs & Ants

Mealybugs draw ants by excreting honeydew, which the ants eat because it is sticky and delicious. Mealybug infestations typically manifest as yellowing and wilting leaves on plants, and if the infestation is not resolved, the plant may eventually perish.


Mealybugs feed on plants and will infest the majority of the host plant’s tissues. They commonly inhabit various outdoor plants, including annuals, bushes, and shrubs, where they are typically found on the underside of plant leaves and stems. Nearly any plant in greenhouses, households, or businesses will become severely infested by mealybugs. They consume plants by driving their needle-like mouthparts into them and sucking out the plant juices.