Remedies for cochineal

Remedies for cochineal

Also known (and improperly) as coccide, the cochineal (Coccoidea Handlirsch) is a plant parasite belonging to the order of Rhynchota, to the suborder Homoptera and, specifically, to the section SternorrhynchaIt is one of the most annoying and harmful insects that infest our tree crops and represents a difficult problem for anyone who is struggling with the management of a vegetable garden (whether it is organic or not). But, although it is a very resistant parasite, it is still possible to intervene with bio remedies capable of defending our plants and limiting their spread and proliferation.

In this article we therefore want to introduce you to remedies against cochineal and show you the main species present on our territory.

Male and female cochineal

Cochineal differs sexually, and also visually, between male and female (with some hermaphroditic exceptions). The former has a small, elongated body with thin legs and a developed chest. The female, on the other hand, often has the head and thorax united, has no wings and the legs are almost completely absent. Reproduction occurs sexually, but cases of it also occur sometimes parthenogenesis.

What are different species of cochineal

They exist in nature different species of cochineal, which we distinguish according to the type of tree crop they attack and the damage they cause. Let's see which are the main ones.

Citrus fruit cochineal

Citrus fruit cochineal

One of the best known species is the

cottony cochineal

, Icerya Purchasi Mask. It belongs to the order of the Rincoti and to the family of


As the name suggests, the cottony cochineal attacks above all citrus fruits (but also


, the


and ornamental). If not yes remedies a strong infestation, causes decay and foliar desiccation. In severe cases, the plant dies.
This species of cochineal is of Australian origin and is mainly present in areas with a temperate climate. It has a reddish body, covered with whitish wax. Attacks the underside of citrus leaves, fruit peduncles and younger branches, stealing sap from the plant, resulting in slower development. In addition, it produces an abundant honeydew, staining the vegetation and fruit and causing the appearance of smokiness.

Cochineal half a grain of pepper

Cochineal half a grain of pepper

Another very common species in our country that needs to be remedied is the cochineal half a peppercorn, Saissetia oleae Olivier. Also in this case it is an insect of the order of the Rincoti but of the Coccidae family or Lecanides.
This species mainly attacks olive trees, but also citrus and ornamental fruits. For its proliferation it prefers a mild and temperate climate.
Brown in color, tending to black, the half-peppercorn cochineal, in the oviposition phase, causes damage to the branches and leaves through nutrition bites. The insect settles on the underside of the leaves, stealing the plant's lifeblood. Consequently, it hinders the development of the shoots and causes less fruit production, which easily fall off.
The affected plants perish, with the drying of the branches and leaves. Obviously, fruit production is also seriously compromised.
Like the cottony cochineal of citrus fruits, "Saissetia oleae" produces honeydew, which in addition to creating asphyxiation and causing burns to the leaves, attracts ants, which in turn stimulate the parasite to produce even more honeydew, further favoring the appearance of fumaggine which aggravates the damage even more.

Carmine cochineal

Carmine cochineal

One last species of cochineal that we want to introduce you to is the carmine cochineal, Dactylopius coccus.
This type of insect is known above all for its virtues, rather than for the damage it causes. In fact, from its body and its eggs, thecarminic acid to produce carmine. The latter is a very popular natural dye both in the food industry, with the name of food coloring E120 or E124. It is also used in cosmetics, to produce lipsticks. It must be said that carmic acid, today, can also be extracted synthetically, using modified bacteria for this very purpose.
However, the carmine cochineal is to be classified as a parasite. It grows on the Cactaceae plants of the genus Opuntia (the well-known prickly pear, just to be clear). So, if your purpose is to grow and harvest prickly pears and not to produce carmine, then immediately remedy the presence of this insect. Also, if you follow a vegan diet, pay attention to dyes. You can find them in many red-colored foods: candies, soft drinks, syrups, ice creams.
Obviously it is to be considered a natural dye, but in any case of animal origin. Finally, it should be emphasized that the ingestion of this dye it seems to have a negative impact on children's hyperactivity.

Remedies for cochineal

THE remedies against cochineal they are not always easy to apply. Defend the plants from the attacks of this parasite it is not at all simple. Each of the different species we have seen, in fact, has natural defenses that prevent the action of predatory insects.
Furthermore, the production of honeydew and fumaggine attracts other insects such as ants, which favor its proliferation even more.
Some species, such as the cottony of citrus fruits, produce waxy substances that limit the action of natural preparations such as macerated nettle and the macerated garlic. Also the use of chemical insecticides, which we do not recommend regardless, is ineffective against this parasite. It also causes a lot of damage, increasing the insect's resistance.
Let's see, however, what are the biological remedies against cochineal more effective.

White oil

Most gardeners, to eradicate cochineal, recommend the use ofwhite oil. It is a mineral oil resulting from the fractional distillation of crude oil. In agriculture it is used as an insecticide. The refining process eliminates the toxic substances present, for this reason its use, under certain conditions, is allowed in organic farming.
White oil can only be applied to fruit trees and during the winter, when the plants are in a dormant state and the temperatures are very low, but not below zero. It must not be used in the presence of snow or precipitation, under penalty of ineffectiveness.
For those who choose this remedy, we recommend that you specifically follow the instructions on the product label (product you can find here).
In any case, the use of white oil is allowed in organic farming, but keep in mind that it is still a product deriving from the processing of oil, therefore not exactly ecological! As far as we are concerned, we advise, if possible, to choose other types of remedies.

Soft potassium soap and pure Marseille soap

The use of the pure Marseille soap and potassium soft soap as an insecticide to be used in the biological defense of the vegetable garden, it can be a valid alternative. Actually this product has several uses, which we have already told you about previously. Here we tell you that even against cochineal it has a certain effectiveness. It can also be used in the hot season, when the cochineal proliferates and produces the greatest damage. It acts by contact, causing the insect pores to clog, which then dies of asphyxiation. It also washes the plant from honeydew and fumaggine.

To improve the action of the soap, the cochineal present on the plant can be cleaned beforehand. For this operation, a soft bristle brush (or cotton swabs) and the soap and water solution are used.
At the following links you can find the pure Marseille soap and the soft potassium soap, in a specific formulation suitable for agriculture.

Neem oil

Another active ingredient effective against cochineal, and usable in all seasons, is neem oil in a simple formulation (which you can find here) or azadirachtin in specific formulations for agriculture. Also of these products we talked to you in depth in a previous article.
To improve the action of neem oil, it can be mixed with pure Marseille soap. In this way, a double effect is obtained at the same time.

Macerate of fern

Among the natural macerates, the most effective against cochineal is the fern macerate. This macerate can be used pure in the winter months or diluted in 10 liters of water in spring and summer. In this case it is advisable to first clean the plant infested with cochineal and then apply the macerate in the coolest hours of the day. Its repellent action ensures that the parasite does not recur. It can be used in conjunction with any of the remedies seen above.
At this link you will find a preparation ready for use.

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Organic cultivation

Organic Cultivation is a blog that was born from our desire to spread the good practices of organic farming. To do this we decided to give our knowledge to anyone who wants to get involved and create their own vegetable garden (even using a terrace or a simple balcony). Growing without the use of pesticides is possible and we want to prove it by presenting alternatives biological and effective for any type of problem linked to agriculture.

Cotton cochineal: what it is and how to get rid of this parasite

If your plants find themselves full of flecks that look like cotton, they are not inhabited by a spider, but infested with a dangerous pest: the cottony cochineal.

A dangerous parasite, how it works

There cochineal cottony, scientifically Iceryaparmisi, is a type of parasite that attacks plants. It belongs to the genus of the so-called Rincoti and to the Margarodidae family, and includes different species of equal danger. It can infest practically all types of ornamental plants, succulents, garden and apartment plants, fruit trees. THE Rincoti, originating in Australia, they are distinguished from each other by the type of secretion they produce and by the color of their exoskeleton: which ranges from brown to reddish to white. The dimensions of these unsightly little animals are very reduced and precisely for this reason they are not easily recognizable and consequently it is not always obvious to detect their presence in time to intervene before they cause serious or now too obvious damage.

These small parasites work by infesting the structure of the leaves of the plant by sucking its lifeblood and consequently producing a sugary, better defined substance honeydew. This substance puts the plant in further danger as the sweet substance in many cases attracts other animals and parasites, such as ants or pathogenic fungi that can determine the fumaggine. Following a mealybug attack, the plant usually dies prone to secondary infections. There cottony cochineal it does not only produce aesthetic damage, which can in fact be even slight, but it affects pathologically.

There fumaggine it is a fungal phytopathology, in practice it leads the affected plant to necrosis and gradually to death. These parasites must be recognized before they can cause harm.

The cottony cochineal insect does not exceed 5 millimeters in length. The females are oval and have the back covered with a white patina that looks like cotton, while the males (sometimes with wings) are yellowish in color. In their juvenile state they are orange. Adult females are able to fertilize themselves, i.e. hermaphrodite. In short, males are not decisive for reproductive purposes and are in fact not very widespread. The females fertilize the eggs in the winter months and these usually hatch towards spring. In one year the cottony cochineal can fertilize up to 300 eggs.

What to do? Prevention

As mentioned, the parasites that cause the cottony cochineal they can be different, consequently the remedy is not unique and infallible: natural remedies work for some varieties of cochineal, while chemical ones for still other types. In any case, it is certainly better to act quickly, so that the damage does not extend further. The ideal thing would obviously be there prevention.

We know that the cochineal it spreads in particular in hot and dry environments, which is why attacks occur more often during the summer. To avoid the appearance of these pests, a first step is to water the plant regularly whether the green is indoors or outdoors at home. The fact that the plants are in the apartment is not enough to protect them, since in the house, as well as outside, conditions suitable for this disease can form. One way to prevent is therefore to wash the leaves of the plant.

Which plants are most affected?

We have seen that cottony cochineal affects more or less all plants. This is partly true but, as history tells us, his favorite plants are those of citrus fruits, so much so that in the past it has earned the name of citrus cochineal.

Its origins are in Australia. It then arrived in the United States towards the end of the nineteenth century and then made its appearance here in Europe, towards the twentieth century. In Italy, Naples was the first city to be hit and gradually expanded to other hot cities.

The cottony cochineal prefers all woody plants, those for example of citrus fruits, but also ofacacia. It mainly infests and ruins the gorse plants, the pittosporum and the robina.

Natural remedies against cottony cochineal

When we understand that the plant has already been infested with this parasite, we can think about how to fix the situation. The methods as mentioned can be natural or not. Natural remedies are better, in the sense that they respect the environment and the plant itself. However, these do not work for all types of cottony cochineal, consequently you could be forced to resort to chemical insecticides. In this case, it is recommended to look for products that are not harmful to humans and therefore also allowed in agriculture.

The first thing to do is to physically remove the insects and secretions produced during lymph extraction. Therefore, every part of the plant must be washed carefully, even where there seems to be nothing. They are very small insects and therefore it is difficult to see them.

One of the best natural remedies are antagonistic insects, or some types of ladybugs or wasps specifically counteract the formation and proliferation of cochineal colonies. Another natural remedy is to wet the leaves carefully with water, in order to detach the specimens of the unwelcome host from the leaf blade. If the plant in question is attacked by the cochineal cottony it is a fruit plant, it is possible to operate some pruning, in order to create air between branches and leaves and favor the passage of heat and sun: the sun's rays in fact they cause the death of parasites. As an alternative to water, you can also try the strong way with the use of alcohol. By soaking a cotton pad with this substance and rubbing the parts that have obviously been affected by this insect. Even the soft soap it is a type of natural defined remedy. In fact, when sprayed with water on the affected parts, it causes death, killing them as well eggs of parasites deposited on the leaves. The problem is thus eradicated.

By watering the plant regularly, a spray can be used, perhaps adding some essential oils such as tea tree oil and propolis. As an alternative to the essences you can also use Marseille soap in flakes. They have a repellent action and in addition, the mechanical action of the water favors their detachment.

Chemical remedies

The verdigris and i pyrethroids they are solutions against cottony cochineal, in particular to prevent it. Other useful substances against this parasite are themineral oil which has neurotoxic effects, thewhite oil, insecticides that they have at the base imidacloprid. The latter products are highly chemical, therefore, to prevent them from poisoning the plant, they should be used when it is in a vegetative state, that is, it is not flowering.

Do-it-yourself anti-scale cochineal

After removing the removable parts affected by cochineal, dilute a tablespoon of alcohol in a liter of water. Spray this solution directly on the insects, preferably in the hottest hours of the day, even three times a day every 2-3 days. If the plant is delicate, spray it in the evening, when the sun does not go further on the leaves.

Take liquid Marseille soap and dilute 25 cc in a liter of water. If it is solid you will dilute 10-20 g always in the same quantity of water. Always act by spraying directly on the parasites: the insecticidal action obstructs the respiratory organs of the parasites which consequently die. Repeat the operation up to 3 times a day every 3-5 days.

Why are cottony mealybugs so difficult to get rid of?

Yes, the cottony cochineal is a real enemy for those who care for plants at home or in the garden. It feeds on the sap of our plants, damages them and attracts other parasitic insects to them, as well as fungal attacks. Then, when the attack is high, smokiness can also occur. It is a parasite difficult to eliminate, very aggressive.

First of very well suited to the environment. This makes the insect particularly strong. In addition to sticking to the leaves, it affects the fruits, branches and shoots of the plant. In fact, it does not extract only the lymph. Based on the environment it infests, it changes its eating habits.

When they reach theadulthood, turn out to be very insects resistant. Unfortunately, in fact, the action of pesticides often turns out to be nothing. On their body there are protections that make the insect almost waterproof. Not only that, to defend themselves from other predatory insects, they produce substances that keep them away.

Finally, its rapid colonization makes it difficult to eliminate. Only one diseased plant among many healthy plants is enough for the parasite to spread. If we add their resistance and the ability to stick practically anywhere, this insect is once again confirmed as one of the most fearsome for those who care for plants.

Kerria Lacca: a cottony cochineal useful for the environment!

Not all evil comes to harm. There are some species of cottony ladybugs useful in agriculture, just like the Kerria Lacca. It is also known as lacquer cochineal. Its secretion is a resinous substance, used in the industrial sector to create shellac. It is a natural polymer, whose chemical composition is very similar to that of various synthetic polymers and is in fact used as a natural plastic. Kerria Lacca is also used as a dye.

Lives on shrubs on tree plants. The relationship is, as is the case for all species of cottony mealybugs, of type parasitic. About 2 or 3 generations are born each year and give rise to very numerous colonies.

The nymphs emerge from the eggs, less than a millimeter long. They already have their mouthparts, they have eyes, legs and antennae. Immediately after birth, the larvae congregate around a twig. The colony has 50 to 100 larvae for every cubic centimeter.

The natural plastic they produce, they begin to secrete already after 1 or 2 days of life. It is produced by the lacciparous glands. Inside them remains the larva, where it makes its first moult. The fact that they congregate in colonies leads to the creation of a single block of lacquer.

This insect is native to various tropical and subtropical regions. We find it in India, in Southeast Asia and in some southern areas of China. And it is above all here that the insect is exploited for the production of shellac. Man causes infestation on a plant, so as to obtain the lacquer. Once taken, it is purified and takes the form of chooses yellow / brown.

The economic activity that is fueled by these insects is of considerable depth. There shellac as a natural polymer it is used instead of various synthetic polymers. Used for the production of paints used for restorations and musical instruments. It is also used as a food additive in the sweets industry. It is in fact edible and is used to make candies, pills and fruit shiny.

How to spot mealybugs

The scale insects cause considerable damage and weaken plants on which they are installed. You will see them without problems, because they adhere to the stems and the underside of the leaves.

Some species secrete a honeydew that attracts aphids or ants.

Mealy bugs cause damage that is not visible at first. Their presence is later revealed by a yellowish spot on the leaves.

Prevention of scale insects: natural products to prepare yourself

Lime milk

From November limestone the trunk of the trees, especially the fruit ones. It is about sprinkle the trunk with milk of lime, an organic product of 100% natural origin, which heals and protects the stem from parasites such as scale insects.

Instructions: First, scrub the trunk of your tree with a broom brush, so that the product then adheres better. Shake the can carefully before use to make the liquid homogeneous, since the milk is liquid on the surface and very dense on the bottom.

It's enough apply it evenly with the brush (opt for a fairly wide model) on the trunk, up to the attachment of the main branches. Attention, it is an irritating product. Wear gloves and carefully follow the instructions for use. One liter of milk of lime protects from five to seven trunks, depending on the diameter.

Black soap

Instructions: pour 150 ml of black soap into 1.5 l of water. Spray this soapy solution on sensitive vegetables two or three times a week.

"White" oil

Instructions: in winter, do a preventive treatment once with this insecticidal oil. Thanks to its repellent effect, it significantly reduces the risk of attack in spring.

Mealybugs and damage to plants

Fumaggine via Wikimedia

Cochineal is an insect phytophagus, then feeds on the sap of the infected plant producing then a sugary substance, the honeydew. This substance attracts other parasitic insects, including ants, and predisposes the plant to fungal attacks: in the presence of an infestation of scale insects, in fact, the manifestations of fumaggine, a disease of the mycelium that reduces the photosynthesis capabilities of plants. However, there are many other factors that favor its distribution and aggressive action:

  • Food adaptability: most varieties of cochineal attack not only the leaves, but also other areas of the plant such as buds, branches and fruits. They therefore adapt quickly to the host environment, changing eating habits far beyond the simple extraction of lymph
  • Resistance: the insects in question, at least in adulthood, are very resistant to external agents, so much so that they suffer no effect from exposure to many of the pesticides on the market. This ability is due to the protections that cover the body, often of a waxy and waterproof nature, which act as an effective barrier. In addition, some varieties secrete contrast substances so that they are not victims of other predatory insects or animals
  • Reproduction and dissemination: although the reproductive rate of scale insects is much lower than other pest species - think of aphids - they tend to spread very quickly thanks to passive propagation. An infested plant placed in a healthy nursery, for example, will quickly cause the colonization of all neighboring plants. This peculiarity, in conjunction with the high resistance explained above, encourages its diffusion.

There are, however, varieties of cochineal useful for agriculture: Kerria lacquer is essential for the production of shellac, as the name suggests, while red food dyes are extracted from the genera Kermes and Dactylopius.

Composting is certainly one of the simplest and most effective methods for enrich the soil and make your garden lush and productive. What you need are the kitchen scraps and all those substances rich in nitrogen such as grass, leaves or straw. You can compost even if you live in the city.

As you have seen, it is possible to do a lot to preserve our crops without using chemicals and pollutants. Again it is nature to provide us with the solutions to the problem. Good growth everyone!

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