Whiteflies

How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies

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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.

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Reader Comments

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Hi, Tracy: You can find all

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tracy: You can find all kinds of recipes for homemade whitefly sprays (see below, for example), but all involve some sort of soap to basically dry out the flies. Try slowly stirring together a mixture of 3 quarts water, 1 tablespoon dishwashing soap (not detergent, not antibacterial), and 1 teaspoon white distilled vinegar, and spraying. If this doesn't seem to have had any effect after 3 days, repeat, but with 2 quarts of water, not 3. Good luck!

I sprayed once for whitefly

I sprayed once for whitefly on my small palm, and I wanted to replace some small plants near it. Would it be okay to spray the palm with insecticide with new plants under it?

Instead of using an

Instead of using an insecticide try a homemade soap spray.
In a 32-ounce spray bottle mix 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water, and 1 tablespoon liquid soap. Spray the mixture on the foliage of the plant.

How often can you spray the

How often can you spray the homemade remedy? Is there an amount that is too much? The have really infested one hanging plant out front. I doused it with water spray then did the home remedy after. How often should I spray it?

Try spraying the solution

Try spraying the solution three days in a row. Check to see if the infestation has cleared up. If not, spray again. Make sure you coat as much of the plant as possible with the solution including underneath the leaves.

2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5

2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water and 2 tablespoons of liquid detergent.
My question is what size are the "parts"referring to?

"Part" can be any

"Part" can be any measurement. So it will depend on how much solution you want to make. For example, you could mix 2 cups alcohol with 5 cups water, then add 2 tablespoons detergent.

A "part" refers to 4 ounces

A "part" refers to 4 ounces

I'm just noticing whiteflies

I'm just noticing whiteflies on some of my indoor plants. They are food plants, however, and I do not want to use poisons on them! 2 of the plants are cat nip and cat grass (also green onions, parsley and oregano are near by)... it is still too cold in NJ to plant these outside and the nip and grass stay inside year round for my cat. How can I eliminate the flies and yet have the plants remain safe for people and my cat to consume?! If the sticky traps only get the adults, won't I be stuck in an endless cycle?

Whiteflies love warm weather

Whiteflies love warm weather so putting the plants outside will not get rid of them. If you don't want to use sprays on your plants, some people recommend vaccuuming off whiteflies. (Put the bag in the freezer to kill them!)

Hi I have lots of white fly

Hi
I have lots of white fly on a ficus plant on my balcony. We live in the UAE and insecticide is not available.
There's a web like film around new shoots and what looks like a wood louse ( is this a nest of some sort?)
Another plant which I had (gardenia) had spider mites and I had to sadly throw it away as my treatment of soapy dishwater in a spray bottle didn't work!
Please help
Thanks
Cath

I believe you have what is

I believe you have what is called "wooly aphids". Apparently they secrete the webby stuff... I have it bad on my rose bush, which sadly seems unsavable, and a little on my strawberries. I went out with a flashlight and smushed them all then spayed with the soap solution. My fingers are crossed.

i had some kind of bug(s)

i had some kind of bug(s) creating a web like mass all over my potted impatience plant on the porch, I placed it under a tree in front of the porch, let the rain wash it off, that plant has sprung back to its old self and looks great. It is full of blooms, so I left it there. Living in Central FL does pose it's problems with pests.

White fly problem

White fly problem

I was wondering if the

I was wondering if the soap,water.and alcohol mixture can be applied to all vegetable plants or will it kill some

Hi, Mary, The mixture advised

Hi, Mary,
The mixture advised above has been recommended for years, here and elsewhere, primarily on houseplants and ornamenals outdoors. (Note that the alcohol is the "rubbing" variety.) Excessive amounts of detergent/soap may damage plants, especially buds. Alcohol should not be mixed with oil and never used near fire. And, like a lot of things, too much can be a bad thing: excess alcohol can burn, or chill, leaves.
For vegetables, we can suggest that you get a Pyrethrum from a garden supplly store. It is organic and, mixed with water, is safe—and very effective—on veg plants.

Pyrethrum Update

This kills bees quickly. Do not use.

Thanks for the Info on White

Thanks for the Info on White flies am going to try. I have 2 big Hibiscus in my bath tub waiting for Spring. My Bathroom is Infested with these evil LIL Buggers.. My Hubby is Fed up with them. LOL

Hi Just read all of your

Hi
Just read all of your articles and decided to do something about my white fly infestation.
Got a shallow dish added chilly power, dish washing liquid and frothed it up with luc warm water.
Then bathed each tomato branch in the shallow tray.

Now there are hardly any white fly and in the substance after bathing the leaves and branch i had 10 green caterpillars.
Gold!!
Now i just hope this does not affect the plant or fruit.
cheers shaun
Melbourne australia

I don't have any rubbing

I don't have any rubbing alcohol at the mo - could I use brandy??

V

I have been reading here

I have been reading here several articles and advices about white flies and what can be done to get rid of them. I have one small plant that came from a seed of a tomato and is growing nicely, But i noticed a few days ago that on the bottom side of the leaves were already white flies. I have wiped them off with my hand. But i have to check daily if they don't come back.
I have always learnt that u must avoid water on the leaves of tomatos because the plants will be infected. And you also give that advice to one person here. But on the other hand u advice to spray cold water on the bottom of the leaves because that will keep the white flies away or kill them. Is this not a contradiction???

It's true that it's best to

The Editors's picture

It's true that it's best to water tomatoes directly into the soil and to avoid getting water on top of the leaves. But, to get rid of white flies you need to spray the undersides of the leaves with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Repeat the application every three days until no more whiteflies are present.

This is the first year I've

This is the first year I've ever had white flies it was terrible. If the winter kills them off is there any chance that they will come back next year? Any eggs left in the soil? Any thing I should do to my soil before planting in the spring?

Unfortunately, white flies

The Editors's picture

Unfortunately, white flies can withstand very cold temperatures. All of these applications are deadly to the white fly: insecticidal soap, neem oil, horticultural oil, permethrin, bifenthrin and lambda-cyhalothrin. The key is persistance. Get the insecticide in contact with the insect. It is critical to direct your spray upwards under the leaves.

I have noticed that my mint

I have noticed that my mint is covered with the white fly. Help please

I live in a apartment complex

I live in a apartment complex which has tons of pigeons, my green beans were doing great at the beginning of the year and produced some green beans, then the white flies set in. I used organic insecticide which seemed to work for a couple of day, but the little buggers killed my plants! I am starting all over again with new seeds, does anyone one know if the pigeons have anything to do with spider mites?

For whiteflies, you might try

The Editors's picture

For whiteflies, you might try placing yellow sticky traps around your garden--this will catch adults (as well as any other insect, good or bad, attracted to the yellow). Check under the leaves for infestations, and remove heavily infested leaves.
As to pigeons, we don't know of any relationship with spider mites. They do sometimes get mites that attack birds, such as pigeon mites, but these, to our knowledge, do not affect plants. Certain bird mites might also attack humans, though, (usually for a short time) if they can't find a bird.

My whiteflys are pestering

My whiteflys are pestering me! Later I tried fly catching tape and It worked really well.☺️Thanks for the tip and also pigeons sometimes pester white flies so they go away. Quite a
Lucky place to live in!

Wendy lea

Wendy lea

I am having a big problem

I am having a big problem with these tiny white flys on my hibiscus tree so i made a homemade mixture of alcohol water and dish soap sprayed the plant it seemed to help and now i have a HUGE problem with the big black flys being on it and they have just completely taken over the plant. is there anything i cant do to get rid of these now im here in michigan and the weather is starting to get chilly and soon i will be bringing my tree in the house and i dont want to carry any of these pests in with it. PLZ help :) thank you

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