Featured image by: Rob’t, https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/52979960
Whiteflies are sneaky little pests that hide in your plant and often go unnoticed until they’ve accrued large numbers.
Today we’ll discuss more about these tiny pests and how to get rid of them!
Table of Contents
What are whiteflies?
Whiteflies are tiny, flying insects that love to reproduce and live on the undersides of leaves.
Despite their name, they are not flies (who are in the order Diptera). They are in the same order (Homoptera) as mealybugs, aphids, and scale. This is helpful to know as trying to control whiteflies is similar to their pesty cousins.
Whiteflies suck the sap out of leaves and, like their relatives, leave behind a sticky substance called honeydew.
This honeydew can attract black sooty mold and ants to the plant.
Whiteflies lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. These eggs are oblong in shape and are often a shade of white or pale yellow. The eggs will hatch to reveal nymphs called crawlers.
The crawlers are so tiny they are hard to identify, even with a magnifying glass. Nymphs eventually stop moving and remain in a single location until they molt into their winged adult stage.
Whiteflies live for about 2 months.
How to Identify that Your Plant Might have Whiteflies?
- Tiny white insects are on the undersides of leaves
- In larger numbers, you will see whiteflies fly off the plant when disturbed
- Sticky residue (the honeydew from whiteflies feeding)
- Black mold (grows on honeydew)
- Plant’s leaves that begin to wilt or turn yellow
- Plant has stunted growth
- Plant has premature leaf loss
- Plant has distorted or discolored new growth
- Plant has leaves that appear to be turning silver
Important note: most of these signs can also be an indicator of other pests as well
How to Get Rid of Whiteflies?
- Yellow sticky traps that you place in or near your plant. Click to see one example of the yellow sticky traps available from Amazon.
- Beneficial Insects
Beneficial insects have become my #1 solution for pests. Why? Because they are an all-natural, effective way of controlling pests that require nothing from me besides their release. I still look at my plants occasionally to ensure that I don’t miss any major growing infestations, but my mind is much more at ease knowing that I have someone on the job when I’m not looking.
My preferred beneficial insects are ladybugs because they eat such a wide range of pests and have been hardier than green lacewings in my experience.
In addition to whiteflies, ladybugs eat aphids, mealybugs, scale, and spider mites. Green lacewings also eat all of these guys as well.
Assassin bugs and parasitic wasps are other beneficial insects that are effective with whitefly, but I haven’t personally used them yet.
- Insecticidal Sprays
Insecticidal sprays, both homemade and purchased, can work to control whitefly populations. However, the plant really needs to be coated in it (particularly the backsides of the leaves) and may need to be sprayed again to do an effective job at reducing and eliminating the population.
One homemade insecticidal soap recipe I read about for whiteflies is 1 gallon of water, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, 2 teaspoons of dish detergent, and 2 teaspoons of white vinegar. I am going to try this the next time I deal with whiteflies.
You can also use the homemade insecticides that I’ve mentioned in other pest management posts:
Neem Oil and Soap spray: 17 ounces water, .5 tsp neem oil, and .75 tsp mild dish soap
Rubbing Alcohol and Soap spray: 4 ounces rubbing alcohol, 1.5 tsp mild dish soap, and 16 ounces water
How to Prevent Whiteflies?
- Regularly inspect plants
- Give them a bath in the shower or sink – rinsing the undersides of the leaves as well to spray off looming pests
- Consider periodic treatment even if you don’t have an infestation, like beneficial insects or insecticidal sprays
- Observe your plants regularly so if they begin to change in unexpected ways you can look more closely to see if a pest might be causing your plant to decline
Click to read last week’s article: How to Grow a Miracle Berry Tree Indoors