Grr! Whiteflies have taken up residence in your garden…AGAIN! You’ve done everything you could to combat these tiny nuisances, yet they keep coming back. If only there were natural whitefly predators that could take up the job for you.
Don’t worry, there are several natural predators of whiteflies that won’t harm your garden.
These include ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, insect-eating birds, parasitic wasps, and even some beetles. Whiteflies can be difficult to treat, but when you bring in predators, they can quickly reduce populations for you!
Mother Nature usually has a way to balance out garden pests if you’re willing to take the steps to introduce them. Pesticides have been used so much that natural predators and beneficial insects have suffered. You can help yourself and your garden by adding some of these insects.
Why Do Whiteflies Keep Coming Back To Your Garden?
Whiteflies are a very prolific pest that are on the rise because of greenhouses and mild winters. They are resistant to most pesticides and often get accidentally transported by us when we purchase infected houseplants and garden plants.
They seem to be attracted to the most popular garden vegetables and fruits such as tomatoes, peppers, cabbages, eggplants, citrus trees, and berries. They also infect popular ornamentals such as hibiscus, bird of paradise, and leafy, foliage houseplants.
In some areas of the United States and most greenhouses, whiteflies can overwinter in the soil. They may be returning because the eggs are hiding out in a potting mix or your garden.
Read more here about where whiteflies come from!
Whiteflies Come Back For Plant Sap
Like aphids, whiteflies drain sap from their host plants. They pierce tender parts of the plant and suck the juice out. This dries parts of the plant out and causes it to slow down growth. In fruit and vegetable-producing plants, they slow down or stop production.
When they find a plant they can feed on, whiteflies start to lay eggs and produce more generations. A single whitefly isn’t going to harm a healthy plant, but when there are legions of these pesky bugs, they can dry it out quickly, and then move on to other plants.
Whiteflies don’t travel very far, so when they find a nice garden that has a lot of their favorite foods, they will stick around and raise a massive family.
Your Garden Is A Whitefly Haven!
Your garden could be a whitefly haven. If you get rid of every bug you see, or you have an area that isn’t bird friendly you could be hindering nature’s way of dealing with whiteflies.
Getting rid of every spider is another reason why whiteflies are so prolific. Some pesticides can get rid of beneficial bugs that could help with this pest.
Do you plant marigolds and fragrant herbs? If you don’t, you may be inviting whiteflies in, because many of these plants actually help to repel whiteflies. If these plants are absent in your garden, you probably have more pests such as aphids, thrips, caterpillars, and grubs.
Fortunately, your garden isn’t lost yet. You may have to take a few steps and spend some time attracting beneficial whitefly predators, but when you do, you’ll have a full-time army getting rid of them.
Natural Whitefly Predators
By planting certain species you can attract many whitefly predators. You can also attract birds and spiders to your garden to help with the control of these pests. These options are better than pesticides that aren’t very effective and may harm beneficial bugs.
The most common whitefly predators include spiders, lacewing larvae, tiny parasitic wasps, and ladybugs who commonly consume whiteflies and their larvae.
These predators are made for searching out and eliminating these whiteflies. This is far more effective than any spray! Not only that, but most of these predators will also go after aphids, scales, and many other common garden pests.
You’ll have your own insect army protecting your garden. So without further delay, let’s get into the various natural whitefly predators.
Lacewings Love Eating Whiteflies
Lacewings are small insects with long, lacy, net-like wings. Adults mostly feed on pollen and visit flowering plants such as coreopsis, angelica, cosmos, and certain herbs such as fennel, dill, and caraway.
These insects often lay their eggs on these host plants, especially when they find food for the babies nearby. This includes whiteflies, aphids, and other soft-bodied, small insects.
All About Lacewings
Lacewing larvae look frightening but they are harmless to humans. Whiteflies on the other hand, are no match for baby lacewing! They will relentlessly eat whiteflies, larvae, and their eggs for two to three weeks.
After a few weeks, the lacewing larvae pupate and eventually emerge as winged adults. These bugs may look slightly intimidating, but they can’t bite or sting you. They may emit a faint odor if they are disturbed though.
Think of this odor as the smell of a stink bug, just not as strong or gag-inducing.
Adult lacewings live for about 4 to 6 weeks. During this time they eat pollen, drink nectar, and lay a lot of eggs.
Female lacewings can deposit up to 600 eggs in one lifespan. That’s a lot of whiteflies-munching larvae patrolling your garden day and night.
Ladybugs Are A Cure-All Option For Whiteflies!
You can attract or order an army of ladybugs, let them loose in your garden and wipe your hands because they will take care of most of your garden pests. Ladybugs and their larvae will devour whiteflies, aphids, thrips, mealybugs, scale, and mites.
Ladybugs will also eat eggs of common garden pests as well. These include, but are not limited to the potato beetle and the corn borer. These insects when they reach adult stages are big pests that damage commercial crops.
While adult ladybugs eat a lot of pests, the unsung hero is actually the ladybug larvae. They are small bug-munching machines that eat almost around the clock.
What Attracts Ladybugs?
Ladybugs want what everything else wants, shelter, food, and a place to raise their young. These all can be provided by planting a few certain herbs and flowers.
Herbs and flowers that attract ladybugs include:
- Queen Anne’s Lace
Ladybugs eat other insects but they will also go after pollen and nectar from the above plants. When ladybugs stick around they lay eggs that later turn into whitefly-eating larvae.
Many Spiders Eat Whiteflies
I know this may be counterintuitive to those who are severely afraid of spiders, but keeping them around will actually help keep down the whitefly population. None of us want to be bitten by spiders, but believe it or not, most spiders just want to get away from us and aren’t very harmful to us.
Of course, you want to stay away from the black widow and brown recluse, but these spiders don’t typically hang out in the garden.
Besides, it’s the spiders that actively chase bugs that go after whiteflies. These include jumping spiders, crab spiders, and wolf spiders.
To protect yourself from spiders while you’re working in the garden, just wear a pair of gardening gloves, and long sleeves when it’s not too hot.
Bring On The Birds To Control Whiteflies!
This option may feel more user-friendly, but attracting birds to your garden will help you get rid of pests such as whiteflies. Chickadees, wrens, bluebirds, and more all eat bugs, and they may zero in on your garden to help rid it of pests.
Another surprising bird that will eat small insects such as whiteflies, is the tiny hummingbird. Believe it or not, they don’t only subsist on nectar, but they also eat many small insects.
You can attract hummingbirds to your garden by putting out hummingbird feeders, or planting some of their favorite flowers nearby. Plant some daylilies, lupines, foxgloves, hollyhocks, petunias, and impatiens to start attracting hummingbirds.
They’ll come for the flowers, and then stick around for the main course, whiteflies.
More Ways To Attract Birds
Putting out bird feeders won’t do much to attract bug-eating birds. And the other birds who eat seeds and bugs will tend to stick to the feeder instead of looking for insect pests.
- Plant some hedgerows or small bushes. Smaller birds will fly into thick bushes for shelter and protection, and some check out vegetation for insect munchies. Some will even build nests there.
- Offer some various birdhouses. Birds who are feeding a clutch of chicks are constantly on the search for bugs to keep their children fed. They’ll eat bugs to sustain themselves, and nesting birds will be feeding young so they have to catch even more pests.
- Put out a birdbath. Birds are constantly looking for reliable sources of water. After a drink, they may go looking in the vicinity for a meal. When birds find a place that has fresh water for bathing and drinking, as well as an abundant food source, they’ll stick around for a while.
Hoverflies Eat Whiteflies
You may have seen hoverflies buzzing around but immediately thought they were a type of annoying bee. These harmless insects have colorful stripes that make them look much like yellow jackets or wasps.
Hoverflies are predatory insects that can hover in place and basically fly around like a helicopter, up, down, front, back, and all over. They may look intimidating with the bright colors and the habit of getting rather up close and personal, but they can’t bite and have no sting.
What they are good at is laying eggs that hatch hungry whitefly-eating larvae. Adult hoverflies are attracted to small-flowered plants such as yarrow, sweet alyssum, and Queen Annes’ Lace.
They feed on the pollen and nectar of these small plants, but when they find a good food source they lay eggs. Then like ladybugs and lacewings, the larvae go on a whitefly-eating mission.
Parasitic Wasps Help Control Whiteflies
There are tiny wasps that are helping gardeners and greenhouse owners with the battle against whiteflies. Parasitic wasps such as Encarsia Formosa are too small to affect humans but they do a number on whiteflies.
These tiny wasps will either consume whiteflies themselves or lay eggs in the little whitefly nymphs. The egg hatches and then eats the nymph, and it goes on to eat more and lay more eggs in more nymphs.
The parasitic wasps can smell a plant that has been taken over by whiteflies. Apparently plants smell different when they are being fed upon by whiteflies and the wasps recognize that smell. When the wasps zero in on that plant, they get down to the business of reducing whitefly numbers!
Release The Predatory Mites!
Another effective biological control method is to allow predatory mites to take on whitefly populations. Montdorensis are Australian mites that eat small insects such as whiteflies, spider mites, and russet mites.
They will lay eggs on the undersides of leaves just like whiteflies do. When they hatch they go right to work eating whiteflies, larvae, and eggs. These mites live for 6 to 7 days. During this time they can consume up to 14 whitefly larvae in a day.
These mites don’t survive temperature extremes, but then again, whiteflies don’t survive cold winters.
How To Get Whitefly Predators Into Your Garden
Now that you know plenty of natural predators that will help you control whiteflies in your garden, how do you get these predators to show up? By planting certain plants you can attract most of the predators.
If you’re looking for a much faster start you can also order some predatory insects such as lacewings and ladybugs.
Additionally, you can try using some of the scents that whiteflies hate to help repel them!
Purchase The Predators!
Most of the insects we’ve mentioned above can be purchased online. Before you jump headlong and start searching for these insects, make sure that these bugs won’t end up becoming a nuisance in your area.
Just like invasive plants that end up taking over such as bittersweet, wisteria, and kudzu, releasing the wrong insects into your area could lead to a disruption in the natural balance. Do a little bit of research before letting loose the insect hordes
How And When To Release The Ladybugs
When looking for ladybugs you can get plenty right here, NaturesGoodGuys – Live Ladybugs. Though you can just open the package and let them go, if you do this, many or most will simply fly away because they are usually shipped under refrigeration.
The ladybugs then warm up by the time they get to you and this makes them feel like they have woken up from hibernating.
Their first instinct is to fly away. To prevent all of them from going away, wait for a few rainy days and release them during a warm gentle rain.
This will cause many of them to hunker down in a shelter until the rain has passed. By then, they will have found the whiteflies and most will decide to stick around for a little while.
You can also release them at dawn or dusk. When it’s dark and cool out, the ladybugs will hang around for some time before taking flight.
This process will increase the damage they do to the whitefly population. When more ladybugs stick around, more will lay eggs, then you have aerial and ground troops that eat whitefly pests.
Bring On The Lacewings
Full-grown, adult lacewings don’t travel well, nor do they last very long, so you’ll only be able to find eggs. This may be better for you because both lacewing and ladybug larvae eat more whiteflies than adults.
Larvae also can’t fly away, so they stick around on the infested plants and eat whiteflies and their eggs constantly until they pupate and grow into adulthood.
You can get plenty of Green Lacewing Eggs right here.
Tips On Releasing Lacewing Eggs
When you get your lacewing eggs, it’s best to go ahead and set them out where you have a whitefly invasion. The eggs come in small bags that need to be protected from full sun and rain.
Place them on infested plants but in the shade. They should start hatching within 5 days.
The lacewing larvae will then patrol your garden and consume small whitefly and aphid pests for 2 to 3 weeks before they pupate. Adults will hang about for about 2 months—especially if you have some of their favorite plants—then they lay more eggs.
Introduce These Plants To Attract Whitefly Predators
Beneficial insects such as ladybugs, lacewings, and hoverflies, tend to eat pollen and nectar in adulthood. In order to attract these insects you need to plant a variety of plants that bloom at different times and grow to alternate heights.
Plant herbs such as rosemary, dill, fennel, cilantro, parsley, thyme, mint, and basil to attract many of these adult predators. Not only will you have fresh herbs to go along with your vegetables, but you’ll be using nature to fight off undesirable bugs.
You can also plant marigolds, sweet alyssum, and zinnias between your crops to bring the predatory insects in close. Planting yarrow, coneflowers, and even sunflowers will attract nectar-loving, whitefly-eating insects, as well as hummingbirds.
Here are some other plants that repel whiteflies naturally (and how to use them!)
Now That You’ve Attracted Them, How Do You Keep Them?
Attracting beneficial predatory insects is one step in the equation. Now that they’re here, how do you keep them from taking flight and moving to the suburbs?
They have a food source, now they need water and shelter to keep them from searching for a new address.
Don’t worry because you don’t have to go all out and spend months of time and lots of money to make this happen, it’s really pretty easy.
How You Water Your Garden Matters
Watering your garden with a sprayer instead of a drip hose will supply whitefly predators with water.
Droplets stick to the plants, and small puddles will accumulate on the ground. The beneficial insects now have a source of water.
Add Some Mulch To Your Garden
These predatory insects need a place to hide away from the rain, heat, and predators that want to eat them. Some may hide on the undersides of leaves, while others like to seek safety in mulch or leaf litter.
Mulching your garden provides a lot of benefits. Not only will it help to keep the roots cool and retain water, but it can provide shelter and hiding places for predatory insects.
You can mulch with wood chips, straw, or leaves. All of these materials are organic and will help replenish the soil with nutrients. They also serve as shelter for ground beetles, and other insects that feed on whiteflies.
Provide A Naturalized Corner
Somewhere near your garden think about letting the grass grow a little taller, or plant some small shrubs and just let them grow. This will provide year-round shelter for predatory bugs as well as alternative feeding grounds when your garden is finished.
Mounding grasses, flowering shrubs, and perennial flowers—especially tiny clusters of flowers—are welcoming to predatory insects and may have them setting up a permanent residence.
Build A Ladybug House
Don’t worry, we aren’t asking you to build an elaborate mansion or a “deluxe apartment in the sky” for insects. All it takes is a few scrap pieces of wood, some bamboo, and a hot glue gun.
You could even purchase a prefab birdhouse instead of building one of your own, so let’s start with that. Just remove the front face of the birdhouse, cut some bamboo pieces to lay in it, the holes facing out, then glue them in place.
You can paint or decorate the outside of the house, or leave it natural, but that’s basically it. Now just hang it somewhere near your garden or in a tree. When you purchase your ladybugs, release them in the ladybug house and watch them crawl inside.
Building one is as simple as putting together a small, open-faced box, and again, filling it with short tubes of bamboo. You can also add a few small sticks to fill in some of the gaps, but now you have a nice shelter for ladybugs and other beneficial insects.
That’s A Wrap!
Whiteflies are a terrible nuisance that can severely damage your garden. They are tiny and difficult to manage, but when you get Mother Nature involved, they don’t have a chance.
Purchasing, and attracting beneficial predatory insects such as ladybugs, green lacewings, and spiders can help turn the tides in your favor.
You can also make your space more inviting for insect eating birds who can help to reduce plant eating bugs.
Instead of reaching for potent pesticides that will get rid of beneficial insects and pollinators, attract whitefly munching bugs and birds. You’ll help to balance the natural scales and have a healthier garden altogether.
Gabarra, Rosa, et al. “Movement of greenhouse whitefly and its predators between in-and outside of Mediterranean greenhouses.” Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 102.3 (2004): 341-348.
Messelink, Gerben J., et al. “Biological control of thrips and whiteflies by a shared predator: two pests are better than one.” Biological Control 44.3 (2008): 372-379.
Sarwar, Muhammad. “Food habits or preferences and protecting or encouraging of native ladybugs (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae).” International Journal of Zoology Studies 1.3 (2016): 13-18.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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