Whiteflies

How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies

whiteflies-pests-garden

Whiteflies and their small, oval nymphs reside on the undersides of leaves and cause the leaves to become sticky with honeydew.

The Ohio State University

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Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of whiteflies.

What are Whiteflies?

What are those little white flying bugs on your plants?

Whiteflies, also known as aleyrodidae, are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to aphids and mealybugs. They can be found in most any region, but they are so tiny that they are usually camouflaged.

They can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, somewhat triangular in shape, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. They are active during the daytime, so they are easier to spot than some other nocturnal pests. Whiteflies are capable of overwintering and reproducing throughout the year in warmer climates.

One common species of whitefly is the silverleaf whitefly, which is slightly smaller and more yellow than other whiteflies. Silverleaf whiteflies are especially common in southeastern states. All species of whiteflies affect a wide variety of plants.

You’ll often see whiteflies in mid- to late-summer when it gets warm; they are also a common pest in greenhouses.

Whiteflies tend to suck on ornamentals and warm-weather vegetable plants, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. They also like sweet potatoes and plants from the cabbage family.

Identification

How to Identify Whiteflies on Plants

Whiteflies suck plant juices and, in turn, produce a sticky substance known as honeydew. Honeydew left on its own can cause fungal diseases to form on leaves.

Due to whitefly feeding, plants will quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, and growth will be stunted. 

Honeydew is a sign that the whiteflies have been feeding for several days. You might also see ants, which are attracted to the honeydew. 

Check undersides of leaves around the veins for white insects, even if they aren’t visible, and feel leaf surfaces for honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly all fly off the leaves in a swarm, so it’s very obvious.

You may also find eggs laid on the undersides of leaves. This is the beginning of a new generation! When the eggs hatch, the larvae will look like teeny white ovals without legs; they don’t move but they immediately start sucking the plant juice. This is why gardeners miss the whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which can hatch in between one week and a month. They are usually laid in a circular pattern. Eggs are pale yellow when newly laid and brown when about to hatch.

whiteflies-eggs-control-identify.jpg
Photo Credit: University of Florida. Whiteflies congregate on the undersides of leaves and lay their tiny white eggs in this secure spot.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies

To control whiteflies, there are various solutions and traps that you can use. The biggest tip is: start early!  In the mornings and evenings, as you wander the garden, check the back of the leaves for eggs or notice when little bugs “fly away” as you approach your plants.

  • Always start with blasting whiteflies (and aphids and many insects) with your watering hose. This will cause them to scatter. Then, spray your leaves with insecticidal soap. Coat them; be sure to spray the undersides of leaves.Only spray plants when temperatures are cooler—such as late in the day, as heat may cause an adverse reaction in your plant. Follow up 2 or 3 times. 
  • According to the National Gardening Association, this homemade mixture should be helpful to control and deter whiteflies: Use a mixture of dishwashing liquid, such as Palmolive with lemon, and water. A good squirt of soap to a gallon of water should work. As mentioned above, only spray in cooler temperatures; early in the morning or late in the day is best. The NGA mixture is a pretty benign combination, and whiteflies are nearly impossible to get rid of, so it’s best to try more preventative tactics, as mentioned below.
  • If all else fails and your whitefly population is persistent, you can use a handheld vacuum every few days to remove them from your plants. This gets rid of both nymphs and larvae.

How to Prevent Whiteflies

  • Keeping natural predators around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. Ladybugs, spiders, lacewing larvae, and dragonflies are a few of many beneficial insects that can control a whitefly population. Hummingbirds are another natural predator. Try creating a habitat that will attract dragonflies and damselflies (which also helpfully eat mosquitoes) or beautiful hummingbirds.
  • When it comes to whiteflies, avoid chemical insecticides; they’re usually resistant and all you end up doing is killing the beneficial insects—their natural predators—and the insects which pollinate the garden for a better harvest!
  • Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch, especially when it comes to tomatoes and peppers. The reflective mulch makes it challenging for whiteflies to find their host plants. 
  • Set out yellow index cards coated with petroleum jelly to monitor whiteflies, especially when it comes to tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, or cabbage crops. A half-and-half mixture of petroleum jelly and dishwashing detergent, spread over small boards painted bright yellow, is sticky enough to catch little whiteflies, too. To whiteflies, the color yellow looks like a mass of new foliage. The bugs are attracted to the cards, get stuck in the jelly, and die.

Reader Comments

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appreciation

It is a worth reading article. Thanks a lot and congrats.

Got chickens?

With a small flock of 30 hatch-lings around 4 weeks old, the coop and run is right next to the garden. All the plants that tend to attract these white flies are on the other side of the garden mesh fencing. The plants thrive with the chicken poo and the bugs are eaten when they fly around in the coop area. Sure this works out in the country, but what about the city folks? Instead of chickens, look for those bug zappers like the tennis rackets that run on 3VDC. Place next to the plants. Behind it, put up a bright yellow painted board. Unplug just before it rains.

Small flies

I have small flies with a golden green back. These are not white flies.
I have tried spraying with the water soaked combination and also added some peppermint essential oil’s but they are still on my vegetables. I am afraid they will lay Lorber oh my vegetables any ideas on how I can get rid of them

small flies

Unfortunately, we’re not able to give you the best controls without knowing the exact pest. Some flies are just nuisance flies that don’t harm the plants (some might feed on decaying plant matter, such as in soil or mulch); others, such as the metallic green/gold long-legged fly, are beneficials that hover around plants because they are seeking other insects as prey (for the long-legged fly, that includes aphids, gnats, mites, etc.). Still others are actual pests of the plant. Although yellow sticky traps are more for monitoring pest populations, if you have a small crop, you might try hanging a few around your plants to see if they trap these pests (if they are attracted to yellow). This may also, however, trap beneficials. To deter flies in general, it may help to clear out any decaying plant debris, old mulch, and weeds around your plants. Hope this helps!

White fly control

This article states that you should "Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch".

Aluminum should never come in contact with our food, or the soil that it grows in. Repeat after me - Alzheimers.

Aluminum

The environmental concern, when it comes to aluminum, is in the process of making aluminum products. That is harmful to the environment. However, aluminum reflective mulch is not shown to be harmful when used in vegetable gardens. The aluminum would have to be buried in the soil and left for years before a noticeable amount would appear. However, if you are concerned, reflective mulches do not contain aluminum, so we could suggest that as an alternative.

My Permanent Whitefly Solution (Try at your own risk)

Here in South Florida we have a big problem with these whiteflies. I really enjoy growing exotic peppers in my back yard. After trying about everything out there and failing miserably several times, a friend of mine that also grows peppers introduced me to a product made by Ortho called "Rose & Flower" Insect & Disease Control Concentrate, which I bought at Home Depot. Active ingredients are Acetamiprid...0.26% and Triticonazole...0.78%. For many years I have gone for the "Organic" approach but always lost the battle to the whiteflies so I almost have given up on growing peppers. Because of my job, and having to work long hours, I really don't have the time to care for and treat my plants on a daily basis, just barely on the weekends. I understand this product is not labeled for fruits and vegetables and that I (or you) should not be using it on peppers, but I will tell you this folks, this product literally brought all my pepper plants back from the dead and I have not seen the whiteflies in over 3 months after the first treatment. All my plants are looking healthier every day and they are now bearing fruit like crazy. For me, this has been a God send. In the past I did use several pyrethrum based products but noticed that chemical taste in the peppers so I stopped using them. With this product I have not noticed any chemical taste. I believe there has to be some systemic absorption here in order for the product to be effective for so long. I am by far no expert in this matter, so I wanted to ask the advice of any knowledgeable person in this forum regarding this product. I've downloaded the MSDS sheets from their website but can't say I saw anything of extreme concern....but once again I could be wrong, so I humbly ask from anyone to please enlighten me on this matter. Thanks.

exotic pepper disease control

Wow— Well, you already know more about it than we do. We researched several “.edu” web sites and can find nothing re safety or the like. Perhaps someone reading can shed light on the matter … ? Sorry, Max—

Risks

There may be a few health risks associated with the triticonazole: (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pi105)
In short, mice studies show increased liver cancer, and related chemicals correlate with adrenal, thyroid, kidney, and testicular effects in animal studies.

Ortho Rose and Flower Concentrate

Max, good try - took your message to Home Depot but did not find Ortho R&V Concentrate. Two store employees were looking when another customer overheard and volunteered that FedGov outlawed one ingredient so product was pulled from sale shelf. Sorry to learn as white flies are ruining my tomato plants this year. Will now try a morning application of the soapy water & alcohol daily, for several days and see where this goes.

Infected Plants

You do not need to treat your home–they can not survive in a home setting without a host plant.

Whiteflies/Mealybugs

I had a couple house plants with either or mealybuys (not exactly sure which) - I tossed them. Do I need to treat my home too ? Or will they go away with the plants gone ?

Thanks!

Whiteflies/Mealybugs

That was supposed to say it was either whiteflies or mealybugs

I have white flies all over

I have white flies all over my yard. I see them in swarms flying over my lawn, and they are stuck in the screen of my screened porch - which is on the second story. I don't see much damage to my plants. How can I control or get rid of them. Are they attracted to lawn fertilizers?

Hi, Darlene, You may be right

Hi, Darlene, You may be right about the fertilizer. Excess nitrogen, such as in “quick” fertilizers, over–stimulates foliage/plant growth causes aphids to reproduce more quickly. Use slow-release and/or organic fertilizers. 

whitefly

I live in UK in a council property, surrounding my garden is a dense ivy/bramble hedge which is rarely maintained on the other side of my garden. The problem is Whitefly which seems to have infested the hedge. My nurtured garden plants are attacked each year by them. Leaving all of them a little sad and struggling. The hedge is about 100 feet long. What would you suggest which wouldn't kill beneficial insects but could be used on such a vast hedgerow?
Thanks

whiteflies

I,too, had a huge infestation of whiteflies on my State Fair Zinnias this year. My concern is: Will they winter over in the soil and will I have them again next year? If so, what can I put on my soil NOW to kill them???

Whitefly

Whitefly does not overwinter in the soil so putting anything down now will not be effective. The best strategy is to prevent a breakout by not planting species prone to attract them. Remove all plants that have served as a host and find alternatives. Come spring, be vigilant about removing any foliage that does become infected; hose down plants with water sprays (whitefly likes dusty conditions). Laying down a reflective mulch of silver polyethylene can help to reduce populations, as can yellow sticky traps and insecticidal soaps or oils. The main thing is to get ahead of those pesky flies–once they arrive, they are very tough to get rid of!

Whiteflies invading my city

Hi! I've been having problems with these plague for a some weeks, attacking my cantaloupes at first then passing to my others plants and couldn't get ride of them, then, one morning I saw them flying all over my backyard and it is pretty unsettling, I started to grow some plants from seed inside my house, tomatoes as an example, I was hoping to transplant them because they need more soil, but now I'm scared and it seems that they are all over the city where I live, I had seen them flying everywhere. Is this going to be temporary or should I get give up on my dream of get a vegetal garden?

All Is Not Lost!

Hi, Alejandra: So sorry to hear about your challenges! Fortunately, many insect infestations run in cycles, so perhaps next year will not be so bad. In any event, please see the Reply to the question immediately below this for a formula to help deter whiteflies. Keep trying, and good luck!

 

do NOT use this homemade recipe - it killed my plants!

I trusted Farmer's Almanac to offer sound and safe gardening advice. I followed the homemade recipe for white flies and it has completely burnt my plants! I am sick about it! All my hard work, time, and money is probably out the window :( !! My plants are either shriveled like they're burned, or have dropped all their leaves. Being that it is just past mid-July, I doubt they will recover at all. I am so very disappointed that this recipe was posted on Farmer's Almanac (FYI - I followed the recipe to a T, and sprayed in the a.m. and the leaves had time to dry before the sun was on them). DO NOT use the homemade recipe - you will kill you're plants!

Whitefly Spray Recipe

I am sorry to hear your plants are flagging–that is an upsetting situation. I am not sure which recipe you used (we have a few on offer), but the National Gardening Association recommends a mixture of dishwashing liquid, such as Palmolive with lemon, and water–a sizeable squirt of soap to a gallon of water. The thing about any spray application is that timing is key. It needs to be done when the insect is at its most vulnerable stage—usually as larvae. The truth is, whitefly is nearly impossible to get rid of. It is a matter of preventative measures and population control, which this recipe should help with. The best method of control is beneficial insects. I realize this doesn’t help you at this point, but maybe it will of use at a later date (though I hope you will not have to deal with whitefly again!) Consider replacing your plants with non-host species. Again, very sorry to hear about your struggle.

 

 

whiteflies

That's a bummer, but I'll tell ya. By the time you get to dealing with whiteflies, it's too late. The plants get sucked dry--literally dry up. That's what whiteflies do. It's almost impossible to get rid of them once they get going. You gotta start real early.

Remove damaged leaves?

Hi, I have an infestation on my squash and I'm wondering if I should cut off the damaged leaves. I have ordered some ladybugs to help as well. Should I cut off droopy, yellowing, or white-splotched leaves? Thanks

Squash Leaves

Hui Jennifer,

If the damage is so great that the leave couldn’t possibly be photosynthesizing, then sure go ahead and remove them. If they are only mildly munched, just let them be. Good for you for choosing to bring in some beneficials!

white fly

Thanks for the tips. Can neem oil also work on this fly? I practices organic farming and don't want to use any chemicals on my farm. Thank you.

Yes, neem oil works well on

Yes, neem oil works well on whiteflies. Great idea!

White flies

Love your tips, but they're not much help to me.
I have two big citrus trees, thick with leaves and fruit, and I can't see killing enough white flies with insecticidal soap to quell a huge infestation. Got an alternative?

White flies in my house.

How can i get rid of them?

White flies usually start

White flies usually start with houseplants. They are hard to eliminate. It’s best to isolate any plant to avoid having all the plants infested. Remove by hand any leaves that are heavily infested with whiteflies. The best solution is preventative. Check houseplants carefully before you bring them inside your house, especially the undersides of leaves which can be sponged and cleaned.

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