How do I treat pests on succulents & cacti?

How do I treat pests on succulents & cacti?

An inevitable part of every gardener’s life is dealing with pests. Those of us enamoured with succulents are more fortunate than most – we have fewer bugs trying to munch our plants. Still, audacious insects attempt it occasionally, so you should be prepared to defend yourself and your plants.


The first (and most important) step to treating any pest is to quarantine affected plants. Infestations will usually take several days to a week to treat, and you need to ensure that the pest isn’t able to spread to unaffected plants.

A successful quarantine relies on you catching the pest early. I probably don’t need to tell you to do regular inspections because you’re already looking at your plants every day. If you’re not, for some strange reason, make an effort to look carefully at every plant in your collection at least once a week. Check under leaves and in nooks and crannies. Pests like dark, damp places.

If you find something suspect, quarantine immediately. Take the plant into another room, if possible, or at least 2 meters away from the others. Then, begin treatment.


mealy bugs

Photo from

Perhaps the most common succulent pest and, fortunately, one of the easiest to treat. They are easy to identify too: specks of white cottony material about 1-2 mm in length. They tend to group in crevices; often where the leaf meets the stem.

You can treat these by washing them off with a particularly powerful stream of water. Some succulents drop leaves at the slightest touch, however, so this approach won’t work for them.

Instead, try spraying a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution on the affected areas. It won’t harm your plant. A neem oil solution is also very effective in treating mealybugs.

There is a much more detailed explanation of mealybugs, their prevention and their treatment, over at Sublime Succulents if you want to check it out!



Photo courtesy of Flickr

While most pests are soft-bodied insects like mealybugs or aphids, scale is a hard-bodied bug. What this means for you is that treatment is more difficult.

They usually appear as brown to black colored bumps that are oval in shape. Scale hugs the plant very tightly, and won’t be removed by simple brushing or water. You can try the alcohol solution detailed above, but chances are it will take several treatments to get some results.

While I generally try to avoid using insecticides because of the collateral damage it can cause to beneficial insects, a scale infestation means you have to get serious. Try an insecticidal soap or neem oil solution. Don’t apply them during the day, or the oils that linger on your plant could cause it to burn.

Fungus Gnats

Picture by Reddit user /u/bornslippy_nuxx

Also called sciarid flies, these pests look (and act) a lot like fruit flies. Also like fruit flies, they’re not very harmful to your plants – they’re just annoying.

These gnats pop up when your soil stays wet for too long. They lay eggs in the dirt, then the larva munches on dead and decaying matter. Those baby fungus gnat require moisture to survive, so they’ll go away if you adjust watering frequency accordingly.


I’ve got rid of them several times by simply inflicting a drought – I delay watering until I don’t see the flies anymore. The adults only live for 10 days or so, and the eggs and larvae wither if they’re not moist. A more immediate solution is to mix some hydrogen peroxide into your water the next time – that’ll get them too.

To prevent them from appearing at all, make sure you only water when the soil is totally dry – then wait another day or two. Top-dressing like a layer of gravel on top of your soil can also help dissuade the flies from making your plant their home.

Remember, Prevention is the Best Treatment

Most of these pests can be avoided by simply having good garden hygiene. Don’t let your plants or their soil stay wet for too long. Make sure there is plenty of airflow of dry air. Prune occasionally, and remove dead plant matter from pots.

A pest invasion isn’t a reason for panic. By catching it early you can mitigate the damage done. Many infestations will require treatment to be repeated every few days until the pest goes away.

Even if a plant is severely affected – it’s ok! These are succulents we’re talking about. Just propagate it.

About the Author

Patrick Grubbs runs the website Sublime Succulents – a site dedicated to saving succy lives through education. When he’s not writing tutorials about pest control, he’s figuring out how to fit more plants on his windowsills.

Which locations do succulents thrive?

Which locations do succulents thrive?

The answer to the question – which locations do succulents thrive in – is :  any and all locations!  There are so many succulents that there will always be a species that will thrive in a location in your garden.

If you are a succulent novice or a well seasoned succulent gardener there will always be a new succulent that you acquire that you will be uncertain about which location to put it in.  Does it cope with full sun, is it a shade lover?

If the succulent you buy comes with an ID tag (that’s if you are very lucky) its possible it ‘might’ give you a ‘vague’ idea of the sort of growing conditions the succulent would thrive in.  General suggestions like ‘full sun’ or partial shade’, ‘fertilise in spring’.  They are generalised by the nursery for all plants that they grow.  For further explanation on some of these see: (How much sun do succulents need? Morning or Afternoon? Full or Part? )

This ID tag contradicts itself – may tolerate dryness but the soil must not dry out! – not helpful!

But how will you know if your succulent is just surviving or if it is thriving?

Signs that your succulent is just surviving.
There are signs that will tell you that your succulent is not doing well.  Such as, stretching (etoliation) from not enough sun/light, wilting leaves from over watering, puckered leaves from under watering and burnt leaves from too much sun. It is surviving but not as well as it could.  These signs do not mean that it is dying but it could be doing a lot better in a different location.

Stretching succulents: If your succulent is not receiving enough sun/light and is stretching then it needs to be moved straight away into a position that gives it more light.  Stretching (also known as etoliation) is not reversible, the only remedy is to prune the plant back so that it can start again in its new sunnier position where it wont stretch and will grow compact and healthy.

This is an example of an etioliated/stretched succulent. Tall and lanky rather than short and compact.

Burnt leaves: If your succulent has burnt leaves it may be because it has been previously grown in a part sun/part shade situation at the nursery.  The good news is that having burnt leaves will not kill a succulent, once the burnt leaves become the oldest leaves they will shrivel and die.  The new leaves that grow from the centre will be strong and healthy and will have acclimatised to full sun and will not get sun burnt. Succulents will acclimatise to new locations in 2-3 months

Note:  The only exception to this rule is if there is an abnormally hot day/week (around 40C/104F) the chances are that even a succulent growing in full sun can still get sun burnt leaves.

Sedum succulent with sunburnThese leave are suburnt.

Wilting/Pale leaves: Over watering can cause the leaves to look pale or yellow and they will wilt.  If you notice this on a few leaves then do not water the succulent until you see signs of recovery.  This could be weeks or even a month!  It may already be too late and the plant will die but you may catch it in time.   See post: How often should I water succulents? Do succulents need water?

overwatered succulent

Puckered Leaves: It does not happen very often but sometimes you can underwater your succulent and it will have puckered leaves.  Give the plant a drenching of water and leave it to dry out.  Do not make the mistake of then giving it too much water.

Underwatered succulent leaves

Puckered leaves can be a sign of an under watered succulent

Signs that your succulent is thriving
It can take some time to know if your succulent is thriving.  It is not something you can know within a week of receiving the plant. The signs that it is thriving are:
– not showing any of the above mentioned conditions
– new growth – especially in the succulent’s growing season
– flowers – a succulent will only flower in the right growing conditions
– pups/babies -succulents will only produce offspring if it has the right growing conditions to do so
– getting to its maximum species size

Succulents can thrive and look different!
A succulent will always adapt to its growing conditions.  See example below. Both of these succulents are the same genus/species and are producing babies/pups ie thriving.  Sempervivums (House Leeks) are grown on roof tops in Europe so would receive full sun at some times of the year and no sun at others and would therefore look different during different seasons.

Sempervivum grown in part shade Sempervivum grown in full sun

These Sempervivum are exactly the same species.  The Sempervivum on the left are growing in partial shade.  The Sempervivum on the right have 8 hours of full sun.  

Whether your succulent is grown in the ground or in a pot.  If it is not doing well do not be scared to dig it up and move it or put the pot somewhere else.  The majority of succulents are very hardy and if it is not doing well in one position there is no harm in moving it to another location. 

I have found that planting a succulent in the garden, that is not doing so well in a pot, makes the world of difference.  As long as the soil conditions and drainage are correct the roots of the plant will fair better in the ground, as the conditions are not so variable, compared with a pot which can heat up and dry out quicker and constrict the roots.

succulent garden australia

The difference between a succulent ‘surviving’ and a succulent ‘thriving’ is location, location, location!

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