I am not a plant person. Our plants survive despite my lack of a green thumb. The fact that I have now spent hours trying to rid our cactus plant of mealy bugs doesn’t fit. I never even liked cacti before. They are mean. Spiky. If there were genres for plants, I would place the cactus in modern art, which I also don’t like much. You have to look for its beauty, because at first glance, the cactus is uninviting.
The problem is that we inherited our cactus. It was in wonderful shape when we brought it home. And it is huge.
I feel like I would be dishonoring the man who helped it grow for the years before we owned it if I let the mealy bugs beat the plant. And since it is such a large cactus, filling the window behind our living room couch, it is a presence that would be missed. Like him.
I went to the plant store a few months ago asking about the strange white cotton-like balls appearing on our cactus. That’s when I learned about mealy bugs. Gross.
I spent an hour wiping them all off, my hands getting cut by cactus needles. I sprayed the cactus so much that it dripped on to the table, which then had to be cleaned.
The mealy bugs were stronger than the spray.
I returned to the plant store. The plant expert shook her head sadly. Those mealy bugs are hard to beat. Once you have them, they are nearly impossible to contain. She instructed me to dip cotton swabs into rubbing alcohol and wipe down our cactus.
She could not have understood what I meant by “huge cactus.” It took an hour and a half, and I couldn’t get them all.
Her second step was to pour some mealy bug pesticide into the soil, and wait.
I wait now, as if peering over the hill at dawn scanning for the tips of the enemy bayonets. Wars have been fought for less, I guess, than honoring the dead.