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.

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Reader Comments

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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.

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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!

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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

WHITE FLY

Yes, I have used Neem oil for a long time with good results on pests and blights,molds as long as other problems. I only use 100% pure cold pressed Neem oil (you can get it at Amazon ). In a gallon of water I add 1 or 2 Tbls. of Neem, a good squirt of dish soap, 2 crushed asprin, and about half the time I also toss in a couple Tbsp. of Epsom salts. Shake well and spray under and over leaves well, stems, and soil around plants. Shaking frequently to keep oil mixed (soap helps with this ) Enjoy your gardens ! Before you know it we'll be shoveling snow !! n.w. Pennsylvania

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

The Editors's picture

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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