Mint is supposed to be one of those indestructible plants. Google “growing mint” and you’re met with cheers (or jeers, as the case may be) such as “a cinch to grow!”, “perfect for beginners” and “so strong it can be invasive.”
So why does mine look like it’s on its deathbed? Its bottom leaves are yellowing and falling off. The remainder look curled and brittle. Yet just a few doors down from me, my neighbour has mint sprouting up between their pavers. Hrm. Maybe I should give up gardening and start a mommy blog.
Except, looking closer, I notice little bugs that look like miniscule albino hedgehogs. They’re tiny, fuzzy white critters, obviously the cause of my mint’s struggle. Turning to the interweb, I find out that I am the not-so-proud owner of mealybugs, so named, I learn, “because the white wax on their bodies makes it look like they were rolled in flour.” Nice. A type of scale insect, mealybugs feed on plant sap, weakening or even killing the host plant. Which is why it’s a good thing they’re attacking my mint, because it’s up for the fight. A non-beginner plant might have given up the ghost.
Sadly, I’ll probably toss out my mint, because mealybugs are supposedly difficult to get rid of, organically or otherwise. Maybe my neighbours will spot me a replacement.
BTW, Hanna has a great post on mint and the origins of its Latin name: mentha.
Mary Ann says
Wow, I thought mint was truly indestructible! I gave some away to friends and have been pulling compost bins full of out of my backyard, where it has taken over a whole corner. No bugs on it at all. The scent is wonderful though, I must admit. Good luck ridding your mint of these pests.
Eh, I never had luck with mint either – even when it spread like a cancer through my herb bed, it was always papery and icky-looking. I keep meaning to put some in a pot but maybe the mealybugs would get it. Ew!
Andrea Bellamy says
Mary Ann – I know! I’ve reached a new low.
Karen – huh. What’s the deal? Papery-looking mint? Who wants to eat that?
Oh boy, sorry to hear about the little buggers on your mint! Unfortunately I think that you’re right about getting rid of them.
We had them a few years ago, and they ended up liking all of our tomatoes, but left everything else alone. But they ‘hopped’ to different containers on different parts of the deck.
Here’s to hoping for better luck next year :)
I have had mealy bugs before and survived!
What you need to do is cut back the mint (throwing away the foliage that contains most of the bugs). Then, you can spray the remaining stubs of mint and the base of the plants with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Both are considered organic. Neem oil works best, but can burn your plants if it is really hot. Spray again in seven days and again in 14 days.
It worked for me! The mint bounced right back. And you are right…any other plant would bite the dust. But mint is tough!
Mealybugs are supposed to be considered a “soft-body” inseact, meaning that they absorb quite a bot through their skins. And they don’t like adsorbing toxins.
In a horticulture class I took in high school, we used plain old dish detergent washed onto the leaves of the plants to kill those nasty little things. If you want a greener route, there is an insecticide that is sold that is water+chili peppers. It’s basically capsicum and water. It burns the insects and they don’t usually survive. We used these two in conjunction and never had a problem getting rid of them.
Honestly though, mint is such a hardy plant (i.e. WEED) that you could probably take one healthy plant and re-populate the area after getting rid of the diseased ones fairly quickly.
You had a horticulture class in high school? Lucky!