So, you need to get rid of cactus bugs on your succulents.
In this complete guide, you’ll learn:
- Common cactus pests that eat up your cacti
- Natural methods to get rid of cactus bugs
- How to keep bugs off your cactus
- How to control specific pests and remove the “white stuff”
- And more!
By the end of this page, you’ll have everything you need to get started.
Bookmark this resource so you can easily refer back to it.
And if you have any questions, ask me =]!
Sound good? Let’s get started.
What’s eating my cactus?
There are a few common cactus pests that are known to eat succulents.
Because cacti often have sharp and pointy spines, this deters many predators naturally which makes them appealing to small bugs who can fit between the spines.
There’s also plenty of nutrients to extract from succulents, and they’re relatively easy to chew into.
Combine that with the hot temperatures that they’re natively found growing in and you have a plant that not disturbed by wildlife or humans. And has plenty of nutrients to offer.
No wonder why cactus pests exist.
Common cactus bugs
Find out what pest you’re dealing with first before you take any action. Here’s a list of common cactus pests.
These are a popular cactus pest and is the culprit behind the “white fuzz” that you often find on your plant.
Are they spider webs? Nope. They’re mealybugs!
Mealybugs are rapid destroyers of succulents because of their huge numbers, which allows them to eat up even the largest cactus species quickly. Mealybugs on your cactus are no joke.
They breed quickly and are resistant to many pesticides.
They also spin white webbings all over the plant which gives them another layer of protection.
Plus they have a waxy shell that shields them from insecticides.
If you have mealybugs, you’ll want to quickly get rid of them.
Woolly aphids are aphids that suck out the nutrients directly from your succulents.
They produce a sticky, waxy white covering over the plant that’s often compared to cotton or wool.
These aphids are very destructive if you let them reproduce. The wax they make often gets confused over mealybug or cactus coreid fuzz.
They can take down both large and small cacti quickly and reproduce rapidly, so you need to start controlling them fast.
Use a combination of repellents, aphid killers, and natural predators to help disrupt the adult winged aphids. Neem oil and vinegar can also be effective.
Dish soap can also be used as a spray to kill them.
Red spider mites
Red spider mites are tiny bugs that can be found hiding on cactus leaves.
They’re very small and nearly microscopic, thus making them a difficult bug to catch.
A lot of cactus owners don’t notice they have spider mites until they find the obvious signs of spider mite damage, such as stunted growth or scarring on the plant.
Spider mites are difficult to control because they’re very good at hiding.
They attack the leaflet vines, usually in hot or dry conditions with no ventilation. The red spider mites on your cactus should always be removed ASAP.
You can use a variety of techniques such as neem oil, essential oil sprays, vinegar sprays, alcohol, or even pruning if you need to.
Spider mites are commonly found on:
- Chamaecyparis leylandii
Scales are small herbivores that chew through plants with their piercing mouthparts and extract sap.
This pest is less common but is still significant enough to mention. They also deposit honeydew secretions which can attract ants and leave a sooty mess on your cactus.
They’re resistant to most pesticides because of their outer exoskeleton and hard coating. The best way to get rid of scales is to use a variety of manual removal methods.
These are large beetles that will much on succulents with a voracious appetite.
They can be controlled using a combination of manual removal techniques and persistent repellents that have residual effects, such as neem oil.
These are commonly called “black bugs” when it comes to cactus. If you notice small black bugs on your succulents, longhorn beetles may be the answer.
Various cactus ants
While ants are commonly found on cacti, they’re not known to be destructive.
However, they can attract other pests that prey on them. Ants are also commonly found with aphids.
Slugs and snails
Slugs feed on newly spurted leaves on cacti, as they tend to target fleshy greens that are thin and easy to digest.
Flowering cacti or succulents with thin leaves are both susceptible to slugs and snails. They’re also known to attack potted cacti.
Spiny cacti are resistant against mollusks as slugs won’t crawl over anything that’s piercing or coarse.
But young cacti or spineless succulents can be easily crawled over and attacked by slugs and snails.
They’re active during the night and rapidly reproduce with dozens of eggs simultaneously.
You’ll want to get rid of the slugs ASAP because the population can jump exponentially. Slugs and snails can also attack potted succulents, so you may want to consider companion planting with plants that slugs hate.
These gnats appear as tiny flies that are slow-moving.
They’re often introduced to plants from infested soil. There’s no easy way to get rid of them once they’re found in the soil. Using commercial sticky tape can work.
Thrips are a recent discovery on succulents and aren’t a common pest in many parts of the US.
They’re best controlled with sticky tape or natural repellents like essential oils. You can find them in flowering cacti. These flies can stunt blooms or cause them to fail.
Plants that have a lot of buds that never bloom may be the work of thrips.
However, they’re not as destructive as many other common cactus bugs. If you suspect you have thrips, you can check out this guide on thrip control.
Sciarid flies deposit eggs. They’re also known as mushroom flies.
These eggs hatch and the grubs are known to be destructive, especially for smaller cacti. Sciarid flies target younger plants as they’re more prone to damage, especially seedling succulents.
They can be controlled through commercial sticky traps, essential oils, or commercial pesticides.
Sciarid flies aren’t a major problem for large cacti as they do minimal damage. But for smaller succulents, you may want to set up some sticky traps or spray some repellents to control them.
Various cactus moths and caterpillars
Caterpillars aren’t a common cactus bug, but some moth caterpillars will become a nuisance as they’ll eat young leaflets.
The larvae of moths (caterpillars) can be found munching on succulent leaves. If the adult moth deposits her eggs on the leaves, the eggs will hatch into caterpillars which will feast on nearby leaves.
Check for cocoons on the underside of leaves or flowers on your succulents. If you have a caterpillar infestation, you’ll want to start removing them as they have a voracious appetite.
You can also try companion planting using plants that are attractive to caterpillars to keep them away from your cactus.
The nymphs of these cactus bugs can wreak havoc as adult moths lay dozens of eggs that turn into caterpillars. Check for cocoons that are empty hanging on your succulent leaves or stems.
They’re easy to see and remove from the cacti by pruning or manual removal.
Watch for cabbage worms as they’re easily confused.
Eelworms are not a common pest on succulents.
They attack the roots and this results in a succulent with stunted growth. If you notice that your succulent isn’t growing, check the roots for eelworms, nematodes, or leafcutter bees.
Eelworms are easily killed by drowning them in hot water for half an hour.
You can dip the cactus root in hot water (50C) for 30 minutes or so to kill them off. Be sure to test this on a single cactus first as some are sensitive to hot water and can kill the plant.
Vine weevils are a hard-shelled, beetle-like cousin of the common rice weevil that attacks specific succulents.
They eat the succulent stem and hollow the thing out.
You may notice that you’re taller or larger cacti are sagging. Vine weevils can be controlled by pruning out the hollowed stems.
They tend to be found on Aeoniums and Echeverias.
The whitefly happens to be a harmless pest to cactus but is commonly found on them.
They don’t usually eat succulents and can be controlled using sticky traps. You may find an outbreak of whiteflies here and there.
But overall, they don’t cause any major damage and are more of a disturbance if anything.
Even in relatively large numbers, these flies only congregate on succulents which is why you may notice a flutter of white bugs when you approach your plants.
No, they’re not moths. No, they’re not mini butterflies. They’re whiteflies!
Cacti also attracts greenflies, which are just as harmless as whiteflies.
They may be found on the flowering spines of Aloe and Haworthia succulents. You can control them using a sticky trap or spraying essential oils.
These green bugs can be found on cacti ranging from a variety of different species.
Prickly pear is a common target for these green pests.
These bees are tunnelers. They dig pathways in pots and lay eggs hidden from sight.
They can cause your cactus roots to rot.
Any potted cactus can be susceptible to leafcutters, especially hanging planters in dryer conditions. They destroy cactus leaves and are capable of boring holes through roots often without you noticing.
If you have succulents in planters, you can repot the plants by removing the eggs as soon as you notice them.
You can also try companion planting. Use other plants that bees hate and plant them with your succulents. This can help repel them without needing to use any harmful chemicals.
How do you kill cactus bugs?
Cacti is a tasty and nutritious succulent that many bugs will have no problem eating.
There are some steps you can take to protect your cacti from pest problems.
Here are some natural techniques to control the majority of bugs that eat cactus.
Use a garden hose
Manual removal of bugs from a cactus would be painful.
Use a garden hose and spray off any bugs you come across. You’ll need a nozzle that allows you to control water flow, or you can use your thumb to create a powerful stream from the outlet.
This will blast away pests quickly and efficiently without you having to put on garden gloves and attempt to pick them off. Most pests hate water, so it has a residual effect to keep them away for a bit.
Of course, this won’t keep bugs off your cactus forever. Once the water evaporates, they’ll be back. So only use this if you’re trying to catch a runaway bug or “purge” your plant.
Be careful not to spray the cactus with an overpowering stream because this can damage the plant. You can slowly adjust the water pressure.
This is best used early on to stop bugs from establishing a nest or colony. Constant disturbances, such as water, will drive pests away and stop them.
If you start to notice more and more gnats, beetles, mealybugs, or other nuisances start to appear on your cactus, start spraying!
This will help reduce the likelihood that they’ll make a home out of your succulent.
Spray soapy water
You can make a DIY pesticide for your cactus at home by adding 8 drops of dish soap to a cup of water. Use a spray bottle to spray the soapy water on the cactus.
It’s very easy to use and super cost-effective. Just be sure to not overdo it by adding too much soap. Dilute the mixture by adding more water or use less soap if you notice plant damage.
Reapply every other day until you the bugs are gone. This is especially effective against tiny bugs on your cactus that are protected from manual removal.
Use rubbing alcohol
You can also use a low percentage of rubbing alcohol to spot-treat areas on the cactus.
Just dab a cotton swab into the alcohol and then swab it across areas on your cactus that are hard to reach. That’s it.
If you notice areas that have a lot of webs from mealybugs, you can use the alcohol to clean it up. The alcohol burns through the white webbing and the swab pick sit up for easy disposal.
This will also kill any mealybugs or spider mites that are hiding.
Since you have complete control over the swab, get creative. This allows you to really clean up the nooks and crannies on your cacti that you can’t normally reach and where bugs are hiding.
Of course, use garden gloves for protection just to be safe.
Note that some succulent species are sensitive to alcohol.
The best way to test this is to use a dab in a small area and see what happens after 2 days. If you notice the cactus pad changes color, avoid using any more on the plant. If you notice nothing, then go ahead and apply it to the entire cactus.
Prune the plant
Pruning the plant can help remove parts of the cactus that are beyond infested.
Rather than trying to save a pad that’s covered with mites, beetles, or gnats just prune it. This will save you time and help preserve the rest of the plant.
Safely remove the portion of the cactus if possible and dispose of it into a bucket filled with soapy water. This will kill any remaining bugs.
Then throw out the pad after letting it soak for a few hours. Use protective equipment to protect yourself during the process.
Pick off bugs with tweezers
Some bugs, like longhorn beetles, are very good at slithering into cracks and crevices on the plant.
This makes removing them a pain since they’re shielded from water. And you can’t use your hands because of the cactus needles.
Use a pair of tweezers to manually pick off the beetles.
You can repeat this process on a daily basis to slowly reduce their population. This probably won’t ever completely get rid of them, but it definitely reduces the number of longhorn beetles eating your plant over time.
They’re most active during sunrise and sunset, so that means check your plant before or after work.
Use sticky traps
If you have fungus gnats, you can use commercial sticky traps to catch them.
The best part about using these traps is that you don’t have to be there to constantly monitor them. The traps can be found in hardware stores or nurseries and are usually called “gnat tape” or “sticky traps.”
Buy a pack and use it as directed. You’ll likely place the sticky paper across the soil level. This is because fungus gnats are drawn to the cactus soil and tend to hang around there.
They’ll fly into the sticky tape and get stuck. You can place them horizontally across the soil level.
Use vinegar (carefully)
Vinegar can be an effective pesticide for virtually all cactus bugs.
But the problem is that vinegar can kill cactus also. So it’s a double-edged sword.
For this, I’d suggest only using the vinegar on cactus leaves or pads that are infested with pests that you can’t remove it any other way.
Small bugs like spider mites can be easily controlled with vinegar since it’s a liquid and seeps into all the nooks and crannies.
However, the cactus pad or leaf that you spray it on may wilt and fall off.
So you may be better off just cutting it off and pruning it. It’s really a judgment call. Vinegar may or may not kill the leaf, but will usually kill the bugs.
Pruning kills the leaf and pests 100%. Vinegar can be used to kill cactus mold or fungus. It’s very effective against single leaf or pad infestations.
Don’t spray your entire cactus with vinegar because the acidity will kill the plant.
How to keep bugs away from your cactus
Here are some tips to repel bugs from your succulents.
Depending on your specific plant, not all of these can be used. Use what you think can help benefit and protect your plants.
Because there are so many different types of cacti, I can’t write some “rule-of-thumb” that works for all.
There is no easy solution.
Always quarantine new plants
Whenever you add new plants to your yard, always place them in their own contained area.
This prevents pests from the nursery escaping into your yard and infesting your other plants.
Keep your new plants away from your old plants for at least 2 weeks and check it often for pests. Look for plant damage, holes, wilting, jagged leaves, and other signs of pest damage.
Also check for webbing, eggs, or dropping leaves.
Depending on what plant you bought and the pest, the damage will vary. Just be diligent and check it daily to see if you notice any damage.
After 2 weeks, you can safely bring the new plant and situate it with your old plants. To be safe, you may want to bump it to a 3-week plant quarantine.
Keep your yard maintained
Pests love unkempt yards that offer a lot of hiding places, food, and other debris to eat. If you don’t keep your garden clean and tidy, you’re just asking for bugs to come.
This means practicing basic yard maintenance to keep it clean:
- Mowing the grass weekly
- Cleaning up leaf debris, grass trimmings, and other foliage
- Keeping your plants pruned and not overgrown
- Draining water buildup or puddles
- Protecting woodpiles
- Keeping drains and gutters clear
- Maintaining fountains, ponds, pools, and other water features
- Mulching the soil
- Cleaning up compost
- Securing trash bins
- Disposing of trash and clutter
- And just basically keeping everything organized
You know. The basics. The stuff you should already be doing.
Keeping your yard clean makes it less attractive to bugs, which will prevent bugs from getting onto your cacti. And all your other plants.
Keep plants fed
Water, feed and mulch your plants as needed.
This keeps them healthy which will help reduce the available food for pests.
Bugs are attracted to decaying plant matter. Keeping your plants healthy means no rotting plants.
This, in turn, leads to fewer available plants for bugs to eat. Which then means fewer bugs attracted to your garden!
It all starts with keeping your plants healthy. There are plenty of bugs that eat healthy plants.
But there are more than eat decaying plants.
Whatever plants you have- get educated about proper maintenance if you’re clueless on how to take care of them.
This will save you a lot of headaches in the long run.
For all new plants, you bring into your yard, be sure to do your research on them (or at least read the little tag that comes with the plant for care instructions).
Overwatering leads to decaying and vulnerable plants.
The water runoff also may pool if you have blocked or backed up drains.
And if you’re not sure about how much water to use, look for these signs of overwatering:
- Wilting leaves
- Plant edema
- Stunted or short plants
- Yellow or white leaves
- Browning leaves
- Damaged roots
- Wet soil that never dries
- Small leaves
Overfertilizing will build up excess food for bugs to eat.
The nutrients will be stuck in your soil and bugs will eat it.
Only fertilize as necessary based on the plant’s needs. Make sure the soil drains well. And clean up any and up gutters or runways.
Excess fertilizer is bait for pests. Only feed your plants as much as they need. Less is more.
Plant companion plants
You can plant companion plants with your cacti to help repel bugs.
Depending on the pest you’re dealing with, you can research plants that naturally repel that specific pest. You can check out this list of pest repelling plants.
Dealing with a specific pest? Refer to specific guides for each pest:
- Spider mites
- Fungus gnats
Care for your cactus
Sometimes cacti attract many pests because they’re not being cared for properly. If this is the case, you’ll want to do research and find out how to offer the right TLC for your succulent.
You could be overwatering, underfeeding, or planting it in the wrong area which makes it sick and attracts pests. There are many different variables that can make the plant unhealthy.
You want to make sure that you’re caring for it the right way so that it can stay healthy. A healthy cactus will attract fewer problematic pests than an unhealthy one.
- Are you planting it in the right soil?
- Are you watering at the right time? The right amount?
- Do you feed it cacti food as a supplement?
- Does it get the right amount of sunlight? Partial? Full?
- Is the container large enough if it’s potted?
- Do you water enough? Too much? Too little?
- Do you prune as necessary?
- How’s the planting depth? How’s the spacing?
Sure, a lot of it is trivial. But they all matter to keep your succulent healthy.
How do I get rid of the white stuff on my cactus?
The “white stuff” comes from the white webbing that mealybugs deposit, or cochineal scale.
The easiest way to remove it is to prune the leaf or pad that has the webbing.
If that’s not an option, you can use rubbing alcohol and spray it onto the webbing. Then use a cotton swab to clean it off.
You’ll want to focus on getting rid of the mealybugs first because if you don’t, they’ll just produce more of the webbing over time.
Mealybugs can be difficult to control because they’re resilient to most pesticides and have a waxy outer coating that shields them from poisons that would otherwise kill them.
Sadly, they’re also a common pest found on succulents.
Use a combination of active removal techniques, such as making a neem oil spray, vinegar spray, and alcohol rub. You can also try attracting natural predators that eat mealybugs. See this guide for details.
How to treat cochineal scale on cactus
Cochineal scale bugs attack cholla and prickly pear.
They appear as a white fuzz on the pads where the chochineal scale bugs hide. These pests suck out nutrients from the leaves and is an extreme nuisance.
They won’t kill the plant as they extract nutrients from it and need to keep the host alive, but sometimes when the population over blooms, they can be deadly and weaken the plant. This makes it an easy target for other cactus bugs.
They produce the white fuzzy stuff
The waxy white fuzz protects the eggs and pests from outside predators. If you take the fuzz and crush it, you’ll see the bugs hiding under it as they scatter.
There are a few ways you can handle cochineal scale. You can start by using a regular garden hose with a pressurized nozzle.
Spray the white webs off the cacti. Not all of it comes off easily. So don’t waste your time. The point is to saturate the fuzz with water.
After that, make a soap mix and spray it. This will soak up the fuzz with poisonous dish soap, which will kill the cochineal scale over time.
The eggs may be sheltered, but once they hatch and are exposed to the soap, they’ll be killed.
You can also use neem oil or Volck oil spray.
Test it on a small part of the plant first. If it’s okay, then spray it onto the pads where you notice the white stuff on your cactus. Apply as needed.
Don’t use it on hot days where the full sun is out.
Neem oil can burn the plant. Reapply every week.
You should notice a slight reduction over the course of 30 days. The cotton should start to disappear and turn color to a darker white.
Also, try pruning off pads that are heavily covered in white cotton.
This is much faster and easier than trying to save every pad. Cutting it off will allow the cacti to focus its limited energy on the other pads, which aren’t infested yet.
Consider doing this if you don’t have the time to constantly monitor your plant.
How to get rid of coreid bugs
These bugs eat prickly pear cactus and can cause circular spots to appear on the cactus pads.
They can also eat cactus that’s been weakened and cause blackening of yellowing of the pads. Coreids can also wreak damage rather quickly due to their large numbers.
However, compared to mealybugs and woolly aphids, they’re relatively easy to control.
Use dish soap
You can make a soapy water spray and spray them to kill them instantly.
Add a few drops of dish soap to a cup of water and just hose them down. Then wash your cactus using the hose to get rid of the dead coreids which can attract other bugs.
Be sure to watch the base of the cactus because that’s where coreids congregate.
Also, double-check each cactus pad on both sides. They’re not hard to see and are easy to catch.
You can also manually remove them, but use proper protection before doing so. Wear garden gloves and an apron with all other protective equipment.
A small shop vac can also be very efficient so you can suck them off the cactus and then shoot them out into a vacuum bag.
Lastly, you can use some pesticides such as neem oil.
The nice part about this is that it has a lasting effect.
So once you spray your cactus, the essential oil stays on there for a few weeks and keeps mealybugs, aphids, coreids, gnats, beetles, and other bugs off the plant.
Be sure to test the oil on a small spot first before applying it to the whole plant. Neem oil can be toxic, so watch for burning before using it all out.
Here are some references you may find useful:
- Pests of Cacti and Succulents – World of Succulents
- Cacti and succulents – UMN Extension
Did you get rid of the cactus pests?
That’s all I’ve got for you!
By now, you should have a solid foundation to identify, control, repel, and naturally get rid of a variety of bugs commonly found on cacti and succulents.
If you have any tips, leave them below to help out others. Or if you have questions, post it and I’ll check it out!
consider telling a friend if you’ve found this guide to be helpful =].
Thanks for reading.
Currently an active researcher in the pest control industry for the past 8 years- with a focus on using natural and organic methods to eliminate pest problems.
I share handy DIY pest techniques I come across here to help out others (and possibly save them from a mental breakdown).
Fight nature with nature.