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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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

The Editors's picture

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

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

The Editors's picture

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

The Editors's picture

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,

The Editors's picture

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

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