Emerald wave sweet bay plant
I have an emerald wave sweet bay plant that isn't thriving. Most of the leaves have shriveled and are dry looking. The leaves also have a sticky substance on them and some white cotton like stuff on the stems and leaves. What can I do to help it get better?
Arlington County Virginia
Unfortunately it looks like you have a severe infestation of Mealy bug insects. These are piercing sucking insects that can do severe damage to indoor plants.
First my advice is to clean the plant using q-tips and rubbing alcohol or just plain soapy water.Here's a recipe for a spray that you might try: Mix 1/2 cup of ordinary rubbing alcohol with 1 quart of liquid dish detergent (think, Dawn). The alcohol helps strip away any waxy coating on the mealybugs so the soap can penetrate and kill them. Wait 20 minutes after spraying, then rinse the plant with water. Repeat, if needed, every three days.
Mealy bugs are usually not a problem on outdoor plants as there are natural predators that eat them, but they can have several generations indoors. Sometimes it becomes necessary to throw away a heavily infested plant. If after treatment you don't see robust new growth emerging, you might think about exercising this option.