How to Identify and Get Rid of Whiteflies


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.


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.

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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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

Pigeons don't carry spider

Pigeons don't carry spider mites nor do wild pigeons carry mites (they usually attack domestic pigeons) the pigeons won't do harm to any crop either unless they find a seed source to feed on. i also have whiteflies on my plant (holy basil) and i find that they are in clusters almost all the time. I used an insecticidal soap but they came right back. i used a mix of orange oil and neem oil and that worked perfectly. Now that the flies are back, and its cold out so i can't take the plant outside(tropical, frost intolerant) so do you have any good working method to take them of the plant?

White flies - dreadful

White flies - dreadful things! I have millions of them, mostly low on the ground, and when I do the weeding, they fly off the plants like clouds. It is an English garden with lots of phlox in different colours. I have tried your mixture, but there does not seem to be any improvement. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. These pests also cling onto the house screens, and even come into the house! Should I increase the rubbing alcohol amount please? Thank you, Elizabeth

Hi, Elizabeth, that does

The Editors's picture

Hi, Elizabeth, that does sound dreadful! You can try more alcohol; it's a fairly inexpensive option and, it seems, can't make things worse.
White flies develop in warm weather, some say high-nitrogen fertilizers encourages them, but not matter what brings them, management is difficult. Natural enemies—beneficial bugs such as lacewings, bigeyed bugs, minute pirate bugs, and lady bugs among them—are one of the best ways to avoid and eliminate WFs. Healthy soil conditions and a variety of plants helps to welcome and keep these.
You do not want to use pesticides (sounds like you do not) because these could eliminate good bugs, too.
Believe it or not, some people recommend vaccuuming off WFs in the early AM or when it's cool. (Put the bag in the freezer to kill them!) Some people use "sticky traps" to catch them. The more WFs, the more stickies you need, and keep them out of direct sun. Even reflective aluminium and reflective plastic placed on the ground can deter them. (In heat, reflecting mulches can also cause too much heat and burn plants, too, though.)
It is advisable to remove seriouslyinfected/fested plants.
Winter should bring and end to the WFs...but then, to the flowers, too. At that time, study up on benficial bugs and the plants that attract them—and be ready for a glorious next season.
Best—Almanac editors

white flies

I just vacuumed my palm plant out of sheer desperation, and it worked! for now anyway.....

thank you for all the

thank you for all the remedies for white fly. i have zillions of them in my yard. i live in a trailer park and the homes are pretty close together. the ones on either side of mine are empty for the summer, so i get all the white flies from their yards too. the flies are killing everything in site. if i spray everyday, will i, hopefully get rid of some of the damage? help!!!!!!

You can try some of the tips

You can try some of the tips suggested here and see if you can get rid of some. The best strategy is to prevent problems from developing in your garden. Import natural enemies to provide adequate control of whiteflies. Remove plants that host high populations of whiteflies. Whiteflies in early stages of development can be controlled by removing infested leaves, vacuuming plants, or spraying with water.

i just to have millions of

i just to have millions of white flies in my yard, until these medium side black ants appear, those ants feed in the white scally eggs of flies before they hash, the flies are banished from my yard, and the ants are in the trees out there.

I am from Malaysia. I

I am from Malaysia. I suffered for a long time from this whitefly attack on trees in my home garden. Tried many things. After about 10 years got the solution.

It is nothing but water.

Wash the underside of infected (and to be infected) leaves with a jet of water (finger pressed garden hose is quite sufficient). You have to do it for few days and you will find the whitefly density thins down. After sometimes they leave your garden. But you have to continue the treatment once in a while. It is very cheap and very safe. The only requirement is your persistent application of water.

I have a very large

I have a very large Confederate Rose (hibiscus family)that is totally infested with whiteflies. It's August in New Orleans and they are thriving! I have ladybugs but, apparently, not enough to keep up with the whiteflies. My question - will the alcohol/water/liquid soap mixture harm the ladybugs too? I hate to lose them but have to do something drastic to rid my garden of the pests.

Hi Sherry, The soap spray

Hi Sherry,
The soap spray will only kill soft-bodied pests like the whiteflies. You can also try to vaccuum the flies off the rose (early in the morning or late evening when they are sluggish) or hang sticky traps around the bush.

I had a big infestation of

I had a big infestation of white flies last summer on my hibiscus. The plant was almost six feet tall. I have fought these bugs unsuccessfully in other gardens before, so I did a radical thing. I gave the bush a severe pruning, reducing it's height by a third, removing some branches, AND pulling off all the leaves. Took away the white fly food source. I raked up the debris under the bush as well. Then, for good measure, I sprayed the naked branches once with a commercial insecticide.The plant looked pretty sad when I was done, but it revived in a few months, and it looks beautiful now. No white flies!

I live near a lake have

I live near a lake have gardenias but no sign on leaves of white flies nor do I have a garden. When u walk in the yard swarms of little white bugs come up. They don't bite but r very annoying. They r everywhere. We have sprayed for mosquitos and rarely get bit so we know it isn't mosquitos. They r attracted to light because at night somehow they get in swarm to the ceiling closest to the light. We have our bug guy spray all around our home and our house but nothing works any suggestions.

Hi, I am just wondering...I

Hi, I am just wondering...I have aphids and whitefly on my climbing roses. If I introduce lady bugs, how do I get them to stay on the plant? Won't they fly away? Thx

If conditions are favorable,

If conditions are favorable, the ladybugs will stick around. It sounds like they will have plenty of food!

Help! 2014 It's the end of

Help! 2014 It's the end of June. I have severe white flies everywhere this year swarms even. Why? I usually have them a bit in the spring. I can get them under control with insecticidal soap. This year, no way. What else can I do? Is there a beneficial nematode I should use?

Whiteflies, apparently, are

Whiteflies, apparently, are active year round (depending on the climate) and there are hundreds of types—and types for specific plants—but, thankfully, only a few that bother our plants. But, of course, when those few types multiply, look out!
Nematodes are not the solution (as far as we know). There are some natural enemies, but—it seems from our research—that these are effective against specific strains of whiteflies. For example, see here: http://biocontrol.ucr.edu/bemi... It relates to greenhouse whiteflies/plants, but you get the idea. To that point, however, it's possible that your whiteflies can in with/on your plants.
As noted above, ladybugs and spiders might help to control the population. Other than that, we recommend insecticidal soap or try the Epsom salt solution below from Tom. See other comments below for other ideas.

I wonder if the alcohol

I wonder if the alcohol treatment will kill the tomato horn Worms and im also wondering if the mulch will help stop the moths from laying larvae in the ground under My tomato plants..the other morning I went out to my garden and saw a moth Under my tomato plant, I killed it!!! today the tops of 3 of my tomato plants Are wilted over Some leaves are still green and curled over in the conners, the brown leaves are curled over I uncurled them and found little tiny caterpillars..Now i have a lot of work ahead of me picking at my 10 plants. I cant even believe im having this problem again this year after moving my garden to a different area in my yard..This is my 1st year dealing with white bugs and i have a feeling its wont be my last..

Re: Shelly L. (I wonder if

Re: Shelly L. (I wonder if alcohol)
I heard that if you take coffee grounds (Starbucks used to give it out freely) and put it around your tomatoe plants, mixing some into the soil, it would stop the tomatoe worm larvae from forming. Something about too much acid. Yeah! ~ Darcy

Sorry to tell you but the

Sorry to tell you but the white flies are back and everywhere, they've already started on my lilies, my blueberry plants, my house plants I took outside to get some Sun, my rose bush, and all the trees around my yard. i sprayed them last year with pure rubbing alchol 99 percent and 75 percent they died instantly. Those little bastards jump off the plant once they feel the spray, i watch where they jump and i squish them on the ground with my hand..i use gloves and when i dont i wash my hands when im done squishing the tiny white jumpers. The tomatoe worms i had the same problem as you did. I move my little garden away from the area where my old one was,. I planted 5 cherry tomatoes and 5 big boys, from the start of spring I had tomato worms, I gave up this year. I'm not planting anything, farmers market here I come. My son told me to try epson salt he said spray the leaves and the stems see what happens with the white flies they might not like the taste and move out..

I hope adding the alcohol to

I hope adding the alcohol to the mix helps I have a battle from last year continued thru the winter on my bonsai fikus tree, that was infected by a petunia in a hanging basket, thanks for the info, love it!

Re: chrysblue I also practice

Re: chrysblue
I also practice bonsai. Recently moved to another county and 2 months in I have a big whitefly and fungus gnat problem with many of them.
Last night I put a bucket of ladybugs out in amongst all my bonsai. But I am scared for them and want to spray with pesticide tonight,mwhich would kill the beneficial ladybugs I just introduced. Any advice?

Every time I have had

Every time I have had petunia's I have a problem with those white flies, this time they have attacked my bonsai ficus tree , not sure how to spell it but, I treated with just soapy water and they disappeared but came back 3 times now almost killing the tree, then it gets recovered and wham , they are back so I hope this time with the alcohol added it will work better, and I have lost one dill plant so far .

Excellent advice

Excellent advice

I am attempting something of

I am attempting something of a different approach. Incense. I have been trying to smoke em out. the garden beans seem to love it. more leaves forming now, as before the plants seemed to be stunted. not sure if the plants are reacting to the weather or the incense? the temp highs have been nearly unchanged. overnight lows petty much unchanged. anyway the flies are still present, but I have only burned the incense twice. keeping them up wind and safe of course from fire danger. I only do this while i'm tending the garden. it takes me about 1/2 hour to water all my garden. I now use 8 gallons a day. was 6 but the plants I started with were doing so well that I planted 8 more types (cabbage,cauliflower,parsley,onion,pea,spinach,squash,a yellow garden bean)and a neighbor informed me or the marigolds so they are throughout my garden now,well they just broke ground 3 days ago. I sure hope I don't lose the garden due to heat. the 8 gallons is split 3 times a day. sunrise then between 11:30am-1:30pm depending on soil moisture then before sunset. I keep the two 1 gallon milk containers and two 1 gallon water containers outside during the day to water with ambient temp H2o and inside at night for high 60deg H2o.

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