Caring for common houseplants or starting a small garden may seem fairly straightforward. Most plants only need fertilizer, sunlight, and water to survive, right? But what happens when your garden starts showing signs of damage such as yellowing leaves or stunted growth, even after fulfilling its basic needs?
You might have a whitefly infestation on your hands.
Though minuscule in size, these pests can do great damage to crops by feeding on the underside of leaves and leaving behind a sticky residue that supports mold growth. Today, we’ll go over the top 5 reasons why you have whiteflies and give you some attainable ways to remove them.
- Whiteflies are small, soft-bodied insects that feed on the underside of leaves, promoting mold growth.
- Whiteflies target a wide variety of plants including vegetables and greenhouse crops.
- Understanding what whiteflies are attracted to is essential to targeting their removal from your plants.
Whitefly Basics – What Are They?
A common misconception is that whiteflies are a species of fly, but this isn’t the case. Whiteflies fall under the order Hemiptera, which consists of insects that commonly feed on plants using their mouthparts such as aphids, cicadas, and bed bugs. Whiteflies share no DNA with flies!
The name whitefly is actually derived from the white, waxy substance that coats their small bodies and their functional wings. Since they are not technically flies, you don’t have to worry about these pests getting into your garbage bins or compost piles, but they will thrive off your hard gardening or farming efforts.
The lifecycle of whiteflies is incredibly fast, which is why they are so hard to control once an infestation has set in.
For a more in-depth look at whiteflies, head over to our article on how to identify whiteflies. This can help you identify which type of pest is infesting your lovely plants!
How To Identify Whitefly Damage
Whiteflies have quite a few different ways that they cause damage to crops, including both indirect and direct methods.
Stunted Growth, Wilting, And Yellow Leaves
Since whiteflies are closely related to aphids (a type of insect known for feeding on plants), they frequently use their mouthparts to feed on the underside of leaves.
This, in turn, causes the plant to slowly wilt over time if the issue is not taken care of. The whiteflies may also stunt plant growth and turn leaves pale or yellow.
If you run your fingers over the leaves of your plant and you feel a slimy residue, this is thanks to the in-direct method whiteflies use to damage your plants. Whiteflies secrete a sweet, sugar-rich liquid known as honeydew.
This substance promotes the growth of a fungus known as sooty mold. When left untreated, sooty mold can quickly spread to other parts of your plant and block the plant’s access to sunlight.
Presence Of Ants
In addition to causing plant damage, honeydew secreted by whiteflies may also attract ants with its sweet, sugary smell. Just when you thought you only had one problem, you now have a double infestation with the presence of hungry ants.
If you notice any of these common signs of plant damage, you must move quickly to avoid an out-of-control infestation as whiteflies breed quickly. First, let’s take a deep dive into why they are showing up on your crops in the first place.
5 Reasons You Have Pesky Whiteflies On Your Plants
Certain plants or environments are more attractive to whiteflies, drawing them into your garden and backyard. By understanding what attracts these pesky insects to your plants, you will have a better understanding of how to repel them.
You can read about the plants that attract whiteflies here to see if you have plants that are especially attractive to these tiny pests.
1. You Live In a Warm, Humid Climate
Since whiteflies thrive in hot and humid climates, they can be a serious problem in areas with these conditions. These creatures can typically be found in late to mid-summer in regions that experience high temperatures and humidity.
Whiteflies cannot withstand climates that experience deep freezes. The University of Massachusetts Amherst tells us that whiteflies prefer temperatures of 75F or higher, with some even preferring 80F and higher.
If you live in a hot and humid climate, this might explain the sudden presence of whiteflies on your plants and crops. Unfortunately, even if you are not located in a tropical climate, you might be introducing these pests to optimal temperatures through other gardening methods.
While it is known that whiteflies love warm and humid climates, it can be confusing to know where they are specifically coming from. For more information, you should check out our article on where whiteflies come from and how to remove them naturally!
2. Greenhouses Attract Whiteflies
With their tiny bodies and ability to fly, it is easy for whiteflies to enter greenhouses through even the finest of mesh. They may also enter greenhouses through open doors and gaps between walls.
Since many greenhouses are kept at optimal growing temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, whiteflies may decide to take up residence year-round.
Iowa State University tells us that the whitefly life cycle is fairly short, with the entire process from egg to adult taking place in 4-6 weeks. Additionally, female whiteflies can lay up to 400 eggs and frequently do so on top of plant leaves. So, it is imperative to act quickly once you’ve discovered a whitefly infestation!
The sooner you can uncover a whitefly infestation, the easier it will be to stop their constant reproduction cycle using removal strategies we will discuss further down.
3. The Time Of The Year Affects Whitefly Infestations
If you’re reading this article during the late spring or summer, there’s a chance the weather is to blame for your sudden whitefly infestation. As long as the weather stays warm and humid, whiteflies will continue reproducing, causing havoc to your garden and greenhouse.
This is especially important to keep in mind if you live in a region that experiences lengthy summers.
Each summer, do your best to closely inspect your gardens and flowerbeds frequently. The sooner whiteflies are noticed, the easier it is to deal with them.
4. You Transported a Plant From an Infested Greenhouse or Nursery
If you enjoy purchasing plants from your local garden center or nursery that has an undetected whitefly infestation, there is a chance that you unintentionally carried these pests home with you.
As we mentioned, whiteflies typically feed on the underside of leaves, meaning they can be hard to detect without lifting each leaf and peaking at its’ back side. This means that your local garden center may not even be aware of the presence of whiteflies in the first place.
Always err on the side of caution and closely inspect each new plant you take home. If whiteflies are detected, you can use some of the removal strategies listed further down in this article.
5. Your Houseplants May Attract Whiteflies
Unfortunately, you are not out of the clear if you live in a colder climate, as whiteflies can appear on indoor houseplants any time of year.
Similar to greenhouses, houseplants are typically kept at temperatures that whiteflies thrive in. Maybe your home isn’t hot and humid, but whiteflies will look past this if they find soft, healthy leaves to feed on.
Whiteflies are not picky eaters and are attracted to a plethora of common household plants, including poinsettia, petunias, lantana, and hibiscus.
Additionally, whiteflies may also feed on the leaves of indoor vegetables such as tomatoes, hot peppers, and lettuce. Don’t let this brief list fool you though, as whiteflies will typically feast on any houseplant they can latch onto.
Whitefly Removal Tips
So, what can you do to remove these life-sucking pests from your houseplants, vegetable garden, or greenhouse? Though threatening in large numbers, their minuscule size makes the removal of these nasty critters fairly straightforward as long as you’re consistent.
Let’s examine a few of the most successful whitefly removal methods.
To effectively deter whiteflies away from your garden, try spreading a reflective mulch made from aluminum or silver polyethylene around your plants. The reflected light will confuse whiteflies, impacting their ability to locate your plants.
Not only does reflective mulch confuse the daylight out of incoming whiteflies, but it is also shown to control soil temperature and retain moisture, leading to healthier plants.
Leberna Silver Reflective Mylar Film Sheets can be added to your existing mulch to create a reflective appearance and confuse whiteflies. This has the added bonus of avoiding harsh chemicals, keeping your garden organic!
Yellow Sticky Traps
Resembling a yellow post-it note, sticky traps can be used to detect and monitor whitefly infestations. These traps work by attracting whiteflies and other flying insects toward them, as many insects are attracted to the color yellow.
When used over a few days, yellow sticky traps can capture hundreds of plant-damaging insects including whiteflies, gnats, aphids, and leaf miners. They are very easy to install and are an inexpensive way to trap these nasty buggers. The Gideal 20-Pack Dual-Sided Sticky Traps is a great place to start.
However, don’t expect sticky traps to eliminate your whitefly problem. They are better used to monitor the population while you employ other tactics. That said, they still capture and eliminate some, which is always helpful!
Hand Removal of Leaves Infested With Whiteflies
This tip may seem obvious, but if your whitefly infestation is small, simply removing and properly disposing of infected leaves can do the trick.
Take a close look at your plants for signs of whiteflies or whitefly damage, and carefully pluck off any infected leaves or flowers. If done early, removing a few leaves will not impact your plant’s ability to grow.
The main thing to keep in mind here is that this technique only works if your whitefly infestation is small. If there are multiple plants impacted by the presence of whiteflies or your crops are showing obvious signs of sooty mold, this strategy may not work.
For a more detailed guide on removing whiteflies, check out our article on the easy ways to remove whiteflies from outdoor plants.
Dislodge Whitefly Eggs and Adults With High-Pressured Water
Another simple but often effective removal strategy involves the use of water to wash away whitefly eggs and adults.
Since these insects are only a few millimeters in size, they will easily dislodge with a spray of the garden hose or even a simple spray bottle filled with water.
This removal strategy is also great if you are looking to avoid using pesticides and harmful chemicals around your garden, as the high pressure of the water is all you need to remove these plant-eating pests.
It has been suggested that hydrogen peroxide is another way to dislodge whiteflies, but it should be used with caution as it can damage your plants. You can read more about it in our article on whether hydrogen peroxide can get rid of whiteflies.
Release Some Ladybugs
Luckily, whiteflies do have quite a few predators out in the wild.
One of the best-known predators is the brightly colored ladybug, a trusted garden defender for many gardeners and hobbyists. The reason ladybugs are commonly used to protect gardens and flower beds is thanks to their big appetite. Instead of feeding on plants, ladybugs prefer a diet of whiteflies, mites, aphids, and fruit flies.
Ladybugs aren’t the only predator of whiteflies, either. We have a fantastic guide on the natural predators of whiteflies and how to attract them to your garden.
To effectively utilize ladybugs in your garden, follow these tips:
- Release the ladybugs late in the evening or early in the morning.
- Gently mist the ladybugs after releasing them to encourage them to stay put.
- Never release ladybugs in the middle of the day – they will simply fly away.
- If you know which plants are infected with whiteflies, place the ladybugs near them so they have a food source and are encouraged to stay in your garden.
Best of all, these whitefly-loving beetles can be purchased directly online and will be safely delivered to your home. Check out Natures Good Guys 1500 Live Ladybugs and let these hungry defenders naturally take back your garden.
Use Other Plants to Repel Whiteflies Naturally
If you’re looking to avoid toxic pesticides, you may find success utilizing other plants to repel whiteflies from your garden or greenhouse. Since whiteflies feed on the leaves themselves, growing plants that have a bitter taste can discourage them from infesting the plants.
If you’re okay with some pre-planning and a slower removal process, try growing a few of these plants in your garden to repel whiteflies. Some of the most effective plants are basil, peppermint, and French marigolds.
If you’re interested in learning more about this removal strategy, check out our article on 7 plants that naturally repel whiteflies!
Contact A Professional
Whiteflies can quickly turn from a few bugs here and there to a full-blown infestation. If this is the case, you may need to reach out to a pest control specialist to get them under control. Pest specialists can identify whitefly infestations and use their knowledge to develop unique repellent techniques that are specific to your situation.
If you decide to go this route, use our nationwide pest control finder to connect with a local professional in your area.
Use Scents That Whiteflies Hate
Believe it or not, whiteflies have a sensitive olfactory system that helps them identify food sources and find other whiteflies. By using smells that they find displeasing, you can repel them from specific areas of your garden or certain plants that they find highly attractive.
Some of the best scents to use against whiteflies include:
For a full list of scents, head over to our article on the scents that whiteflies hate.
Whitefly Prevention Tips
Even if you stopped a whitefly infestation once, as long as the weather is warm and you have tasty plants they can snack on, whiteflies can quickly return if prevention strategies are not in place.
Inspect Plants Closely
To prevent further infestations, always inspect your plants closely, paying special attention to the underside of leaves. Feel for the sticky, slimy presence of honeydew and look for signs of dark gray, sooty mold.
Additionally, inspect any new plants before bringing them inside your home as the nursery or garden center they came from could be infected with whiteflies. If whiteflies are detected on your new plant, hose it down with some water and remove any impacted leaves.
Isolate New Plants Temporarily
If you recently brought a new plant home, try keeping your new addition away from existing houseplants for a brief period of time to identify any potential issues. The last thing you want is to infect your other plants!
That’s All For Now!
Whiteflies can be an annoying pest to have in your garden or greenhouse. They like to hang out on the underside of leaves, making them difficult to catch before their populations get out of control.
There are 5 main reasons why you may have whiteflies on your plants:
- You live in a warm, humid environment
- You have a greenhouse
- It’s the warm time of the year
- You transported them from an infected nursery plant
- You have houseplants that attracted them
Identifying the presence of whiteflies and their damage is an important first step to repelling them. Once you’ve identified them, there are various ways to get rid of them without resorting to harsh chemicals or insecticides. If all else fails and you can’t seem to get rid of those pesky whiteflies, reach out to a professional for help!
Byrne, D. N., & Bellows Jr, T. S. (1991). Whitefly biology. Annual review of entomology, 36(1), 431-457.
Messelink, G. J., van Maanen, R., van Steenpaal, S. E., & Janssen, A. (2008). Biological control of thrips and whiteflies by a shared predator: two pests are better than one. Biological Control, 44(3), 372-379.
Sarwar, M. (2016). Food habits or preferences and protecting or encouraging of native ladybugs (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae). International Journal of Zoology Studies, 1(3), 13-18.
Van Lenteren, J. V., & Noldus, L. P. J. J. (1990). Whitefly-plant relationships: behavioural and ecological aspects. Whiteflies: their bionomics, pest status and management, 47, 49.
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