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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White fly infestation of daphne bush

We had a huge daphne bush by our front porch (New England) that has had problems, so we were considering removing it. This year, however, it leafed out splendidly and we were considering a reprieve when I discovered it absolutely covered by whiteflies. My husband is in the process of digging it out and burning it. The trunk is massive. I know whiteflies don’t overwinter here, but how do they come back and what should I do to prevent future infestations? It was right under a hummingbird feeder and we live on a pond with lots of dragonflies, but they obviously didn’t do their job. Can I treat the soil? I have climbing hydrangeas nearby and plan to replace the daphne with a slow-growing binomial cypress.

Whiteflies

The whiteflies likely rode in on another plant, perhaps an annual or other new addition to the garden this summer. As you noted, they can’t overwinter in the northern US, so they shouldn’t be back unless they’re reintroduced. The best preventative technique is to thoroughly inspect any new plants that you have added or will add to the garden. If you find that only a few leaves are infested, remove those leaves. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils (neem oil, for example) can help to reduce populations, but they will require multiple treatments and alone won’t be strong enough to completely get rid of an infestation. There are also systemic insecticides, but these are not recommended because they will also kill pollinators and beneficial insects (like ladybugs, which actually prey upon whiteflies).

white fly attack on peper plant etc.

I found the following receipe home made organic is effective .
25 gms of each.
ginger.
hot green chilles
and white garlic
mix along with 3 drops of
dish wash detergent.
mix the above an grind well in small omestic
mixer grinder with 50 ml of good water.
collect the paste in a good bowl.
mix with 200 ml of water strain& get clear liquid
dilute to 500 ml with water. use it for spraying to the affected plant.
very effective if sprayed in the evenings 2 successive evenings
then once in every week. good. Wear goggles while spraying the liquid.

Whitefly

We use a sugar/water mixture to spray the underside of the leaves. It must be done every couple of days to work. They get stuck on the sticky mixture.

White flies

White flies have taken over my deck and back yard. I have a large area of Passion flowers and 2 crepe myrtles. In the late afternoon they begin to come out from under my deck (approx 1200 sq ft area) it appears and off the crepe myrtles. I can’t barely grill they’re so bad, thousands it seems. Have a big party coming up in 2 weeks! What can I do?

Whitefly remedy (finally)

I have a tall, potted ficus tree that has been infested with whitefly for, at least 3 years. I tried the oil/dishsoap/water (palmolive or dawn or murphys) concoction which did very little. I also tried worm castings, which were useless. Did not want to use neem because of the mess, cost and marginal success. I had decided to throw out the tree, but in a last minute ditch effort (in a fit of aggravation), I grabbed my 16 oz spray bottle, added a little water, then poured in a huge amount (did not measure) of Seventh Generation lavender flower and mint scent dish soap, then filled up the rest with water (no oil). After shaking the mixture, I tipped the pot over so the tree was lying flat on the terrace, then spayed all over taking care not to get it in the soil. I rolled the pot over to spray on all sides thoroughly. After using up most of the soapy mixture, I let it sit for a while. I then put an attachment on my garden hose and power sprayed the soap off. I left a little of the soap residue on the leaves from the puddle of suds. To be safe, I repeated this once more a week or two later and, now, surprisingly (!), new leaves are popping out everywhere and no whitefly. If your plant is in the ground, I would suggest purchasing some cheap box store plastic painter cloths and cover the ground around the tree/schrubs and scrunch up newspaper around the base/trunk since there will be a lot of suds (newspaper can also sop up the suds puddle). As a bonus, it also got rid of the mealy and sooty mildew. I have no idea what role the dish soap scent played. So far so good.

White flys

Help I'm infested and my hibiscus is really showing signs badly and they've moved to my tomatoes. Has anyone tried DE food grade?

I tried DE on my hibiscus

I tried DE on my hibiscus that is infested with whitefly but it didn't work. Have now tried the petroleum ointment and dish detergent on yellow cards, so hope that works!

whiteflys

Thank you, I'm having a heck of a time. Neem oil isn't working and I used peroxide 50/50 last night with no success.

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.

Whiteflies

Just Googled Ortho Rose & Flower Concentrate. It's still out there, so I will give it a try. I still don't understand why these whiteflies are just in my backyard. We live in Sacramento (Sacra-tomato) , the tomato capital of the world and I can't grow tomatoes in my back yard. I am so disgusted.

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!

 

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