Whiteflies

How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies on Plants

Whiteflies
D. Kucharski, K. Kucharska/Shutterstock

Noticing tiny, white, fly-like insects on your plants? You may be dealing with a whitefly infestation. Here are tips on how to identify, control, and get rid of whiteflies!

What Are Whiteflies?

Whiteflies are soft-bodied, winged insects closely related to aphids and mealybugs. Despite their name, whiteflies are not a type of fly, though they do have wings and are capable of flying.

Whiteflies can be as small as 1/12 of an inch, are somewhat triangular in shape, and are often found in clusters on the undersides of leaves. They are active during the day and will scatter when disturbed, so they can be easier to spot than some nocturnal insect pests.

There are hundreds of species of whiteflies, but most affect only a small number of host plants. However, there are a few whitefly species that affect a wider range of plants, which make them the most problematic in horticulture. These whitefly species include the greenhouse whitefly, bandedwinged whitefly, giant whitefly, and silverleaf whitefly, among others. Silverleaf whiteflies, which are slightly smaller and more yellow than other whiteflies, are especially common in the southern United States. 

Where Are Whiteflies Found?

In USDA Zone 7 and colder, whiteflies are not able to survive winter outdoors, so their presence tends to be limited to indoor plants or greenhouse environments. However, if outdoors plants are bought from an infested greenhouse, whiteflies may become a seasonal outdoor garden pest. (Always inspect plants before bringing them home!) 

In warmer regions, whiteflies are capable of overwintering and reproducing outdoors throughout the year, so they can be a problem for both indoor and outdoor plants.

You’ll often start to see whiteflies in mid- to late-summer when it gets warm and humid.

Which Plants Are Susceptible to Whiteflies?

Whiteflies can be found on a wide variety of plants, from ornamental flowers to warm-weather vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and okra. Some species may attack sweet potatoes, plants from the cabbage family, and citrus trees. Indoors, they will feed on most common houseplants, especially those with soft, smooth leaves.

Identification

How to Identify Whiteflies

Like aphids, whiteflies use their piercing mouthparts to suck up plant juices and, in turn, produce a sticky substance known as honeydew. Honeydew left on its own can cause fungal diseases such as sooty mold to form on leaves.

With heavy whitefly feeding, plants will quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, growth will be stunted, and eventually leaves may shrivel and drop off the plant. 

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

Where to Find Whiteflies on Plants

Whiteflies tend to prefer to feed on new growth, so check around any newly unfurled leaves first.

Check the undersides of leaves—especially around the veins—for white insects, even if they aren’t immediately visible, and feel leaf surfaces for sticky 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 often miss whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which hatch in about one week to a month after laying. 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
Whiteflies congregate on the undersides of leaves and lay their tiny white eggs in this secure spot. Photo Credit: University of Florida.

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 or tend to your houseplants, 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 (as with aphids and many other insect pests) with your watering hose or a spray bottle. This will cause them to scatter and will dislodge nymphs and eggs to some extent.
  • Consider spraying your plants’ leaves with an insecticidal soap, following the directions on the packaging. Be sure to spray the undersides of leaves, too. Follow up 2 or 3 times, as necessary. 
    • Tip: Spray plants in the evening when temperatures are cooler, as mid-day heat may cause an adverse reaction in your plant. Plus, spraying in the evening allows you to avoid accidentally spraying any pollinators or beneficial insects.
  • According to the National Gardening Association, the following simple homemade mixture should be helpful to control and deter whiteflies: Use a mix of dish soap and water. A good squirt of soap to a gallon of water should work. As mentioned above, only spray in cooler temperatures; 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 first, as mentioned below.
  • If all else fails and your whitefly population is persistent, you can (carefully) use a handheld vacuum every few days to remove them from your plants. This gets rid of both nymphs and adults. Just be sure NOT to empty your vacuum into a trash can inside your home afterward!

How to Prevent Whiteflies

  • Your first line of defense should be inspecting all plants for pests before you bring them home, as well as keeping any new additions away from the rest of your plants for a period of time. This will allow you to identify and curtail any pest or disease issues that appear.
  • Keeping natural predators around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. For this reason, avoid using insecticides. Ladybugs, spiders, green 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 that pollinate the garden for a better harvest!
  • Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch, especially around tomatoes and peppers. The reflective mulch makes it challenging for whiteflies to find their preferred 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 dish soap, 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.

2021_gardening_calendar_ad_updated.png

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Bed bugs

The only thing that works is a professional exterminator heat treatment. The process take a all day they bring in heaters and treat our entire home or apartment for I think 4-6 hours at 130 or so degrees. Bed bugs travel on your stuff and your clothes and shoes. Wherever you lay your purse the risk of touching off a bed bug infestation in that place, that includes your friends, family, work place. They hide in cracks and crevices, even in electrical outlets. So just spraying where you see them won’t work and it wouldn’t kill the larvae So you won’t break the cycle. The heat is the only thing that works, I know I’ve done it, It is necessary and expensive, ask the company you choose how to do the same treatment to our car. Because the home can be infestation again if you bring it back in from your car.

Whiteflies in bed bugs

I don't know exactly what's happening but when I came home a couple days ago I think there were bed bugs in my room and I've been trying to find something that will get rid of them. Nobody seems to have any answers so I went to the store and picked up some hot shot bed bug killer. It's supposed to kill fleas bed bugs their eggs everything you know. For some reason they're in my car they're in my room and I feel like they're crawling all over my body. I am freaking out cuz it constantly feels like there's something crawling on me so I sprayed this Hotshot all over in my car and now I have white flies everywhere and they're making me get off stuffy and sneezing and they're getting in my eyes I don't know how to get rid of them I don't understand what is going on here?. Could somebody please help me I'm going crazy?! Mindy

White bugs on the back of every leaf on my huge Confederate rose

Which method is best for

Hollyhocks

The white flies are going to town on my new hollyhock plants. This is the first year from seed so they are a huge green plant right now, hope next year for flowers. Does anyone know , can the flies get on humans? After i spray my garden i feel itchy just from seeing them!

costs of getting rid of white flies

My gardner has charged me 60.00 to treat for two treatments for white flies. Does this sound reasonable?

In the winter I get white

In the winter I get white flies on my indoor basil and rosemary. This year I'm seeing the worst infestation I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with on my squashes (zucchini, pumpkin and acorn squash) outside. With my houseplants I found that spraying my plants with a laundry detergent and water mixture regularly was helpful, but I'm completely overwhelmed by the thought of trying to save my giant squash plants with my tiny spray bottle of soapy water.

Whitefly/aphid infestation

My crepe myrtles are attacked every yr by whitefly. This is the worst year yet. I’ve used the natural soap, olive oil, water solution; now I’m trying the neem oil solution. The flies are not bothering any other plants or veggies. I am losing this battle in addition to my 3 crepe myrtles.

Add Geraniums to the affected Plants List

I had a beautiful geranium that I sadly had to destroy due to the white flies. I see it's not on the plant list Please add it.

Plants covered in white flies

Hi, we just bought a house and have just realized that the large hibiscus plant, lemon tree, and camellia plants are covered in white flies and have white leaves that look like paint was splattered on them and even have what looks like spider webs around the base. Is there hope to get rid of these or do these plants need to be ripped out before they infect the rest of the garden? Thank you!

White flies

My Hybiscus is loaded wth white flies. H e l p ! I can’t throw it out, it reminds me of my trip to Hawaii.

White fly

I have had the same problem.I bought the sticky yellow cards from my hardware store, they have caught 100's of them. I am finding that by hitting the plants gently each morning they fly off, and go to the yellow cards, but this is going to be ongoing for awhile, so I intend to use the soapy spray as well. I wish you luck.

White flies

I have these pests on my house plants. Do they ever infest pets or humans?

Whiteflies on Pets and People

The Editors's picture

No, they are only harmful to plants. For pets and humans, they’re just an annoyance!

Whiteflies in soil

I bought a Christmas cactus a month ago and it was doing great, and I only noticed now that the soil appears to be infested with whiteflies. They don’t seem to be on the foliage, only the soil. Every treatment I’ve seen is for getting rid of them on the leaves—how do I get rid of them in the soil??

white flies vs fungus gnats

White flies are actually a bright white in color and are not in the dirt. Fungus gnats are what you are dealing with. They have a 6 day life cycle and eggs are in the dirt. They are hard to get rid of. Overwatering is the main culprit. Keep soil drier. Christmas Cactus' like it better that way, anyway. The yellow sticky cards that you can buy work really well for indoor infestations. If all else fails, I had to take a plant out of the dirt, rinse it's roots and put it in new dirt once. The old dirt should be pitched or you can bake it in your oven to kill any eggs, etc.

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 Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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 Editors's picture

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.

Pages

FREE BEGINNER'S GARDEN GUIDE!

Sign up for our email newsletter by entering your email address.

BONUS: You’ll also receive our Almanac Companion newsletter!

The Almanac Webcam

Chosen for You from The Old Farmer's Store