Whiteflies are exactly what their name implies – small, white, flying insects that are closely related to aphids and mealybugs. Often discovered on the undersides of leaves, these bugs easily blend in with nearly any surrounding and can be quite difficult to detect. One benefit is that whiteflies are not a nocturnal pest, but rather are most active during daylight, which makes them somewhat easier to catch. Nevertheless, in warmer regions, they do have the ability to survive over winter and will reproduce year-round.
Dealing with a Whitefly Problem
Only 1/12 of an inch in length, the tiny whitefly can be quite difficult to spot. Somewhat triangular in shape, they tend to gather in groups underneath the leaves of many plants. The whitefly, like many other pests, harms the plant by sucking out its vital juices.
One way to identify the whitefly is via the honeydew substance that it leaves behind after feeding. Plants will quickly become unable to carry out the vital process of photosynthesis and will become very weak. You will notice that growth stops and the leaves yellow and wilt. Additionally, you may begin to see ants gathering around the honeydew.
Whiteflies may not be visible, but you should use your thumb to feel leaf surfaces for honeydew. If the flies are feeding, they will fly off in a swarm, which should be quite visible. When investigating for flies or honeydew, you may also find eggs. Typically laid in a circular pattern, eggs are yellow when fresh and brown when about to hatch. Either remove eggs or entire leaf and place in soapy water to destroy.
There are over 1500 species of whitefly common in North America. One typical species found in the garden is the silverleaf whitefly. It can be somewhat more yellow in color than other whitefly types, and also somewhat smaller in size. However, all types of whiteflies will feast on all types of plants.
Whiteflies are common in the warmer states, in warmer areas of the garden, and during the warmest times of the year. Greenhouses are also especially susceptible.
Getting Rid of Whiteflies
Thankfully, removal and control of whiteflies can be a relatively straightforward process.
Neem Oil & Insecticidal Soap
If you find that either or a combination of both of these two methods do not appear to be sufficient to eradicate your whitefly population, you may wish to graduate to treatment with a product containing Spinosad. Use care when using this insecticide. While it is generally considered safe for use in the organic garden, we do not recommend the use of Spinosad during your plant’s flowering phase.
Natural predators are also beneficial to prevention of whiteflies. Ladybugs, spiders, and dragonflies are a few examples of the many beneficial insects that will help to control pest populations. Hummingbirds are another predator to the whitefly, as well. Try to create a garden habitat that supports the lives of these creatures as well as your crops, and your plants will thank you.
Whiteflies, while tony, can be destructive. Thankfully it is pretty easy to control these pests and get your garden back to a healthy state in no time. With a couple of quick treatments and some light pruning, you should see your crops bouncing back and will be enjoying the literal fruits of your labor in no time!