The number of bugs and insects that will swarm your plants given the right environment is overwhelming! Without the presence of these pesky garden bugs and insects, our plants wouldn’t be able to thrive or produce in their given environment, so remember that next time you’re swatting away whiteflies and mosquitoes from your plants and legs.
Whiteflies are tiny, white bugs that settle on the leaves of your plants and destroy them from the inside out. You can keep them off your plants by targeting their senses. Whiteflies hate the scent of thyme, lavender, peppermint, garlic, limonene, marigolds, basil, and nasturtiums.
Keeping these bugs and insects from damaging your plants is a battle every gardener encounters during the growing season. Keep on reading to learn more about how you can use scent to repel them from your garden for good!
What The Heck Are Those White Bugs Flying Around Your Plants?
Perhaps you’ve recently been out to your garden, or inside watering your houseplants when you noticed some white bugs around the once healthy, but now drooping leaves.
Curiosity got the best of you, so you picked up the leaf and noticed a ring-like cluster of eggs and white bugs underneath them raising all kinds of red flags in your head, and now you’re here. Those little white bugs are called whiteflies, and they’re the reason your plant isn’t as perky as usual.
Whiteflies, oddly enough, do not fly at all. According to the University Of California, they’re part of a group called Hemiptera, also known as true bugs, that are composed of sucking mouthparts.
Closely related to the aphids, mealybugs, and scales, whiteflies use their sucking mouthparts to pierce and suck the juices out of the leaves and stems of your plants. Now those are true bugs.
Once whiteflies lay eggs on the undersides of the leaves, they never leave (until they grow their wings, that is, and then on average only live 3 weeks). They live out the rest of their life cycle sucking the life out of your plants, laying more eggs, and leaving the management up to you.
Due to their size, many people do not know where they come from. Read our article on where whiteflies normally come from, and how you can get rid of them naturally!
Why You Don’t Want Whiteflies Around Your Plants
Outside of noticing a growing number of white flying bugs around your plants, you might notice that their leaves are beginning to droop and turn yellow, which is a good sign that you need to start controlling the population before they destroy your entire plant.
Got ants in your plants? While piercing your plants, whiteflies secrete a sugary substance, “honeydew”, that will begin to attract ants to your plants. On top of struggling to reduce whiteflies, you will now be battling ants.
A small number of whiteflies is no room for concern. It is highly unlikely that they will be able to cause damage to your plants and overall, your garden. However, over time, whiteflies will continue to populate until your plants are infested with them.
Managing and preventing whiteflies from overtaking your plants is the key to a healthy garden and greenhouse.
In addition to the plants that whiteflies like, there are also a few that they don’t like. Take a look at our article on the 7 plants that repel whiteflies to learn about those!
8 Scents Whiteflies Hate (Why They Work)
Much like us, insects rely heavily on their senses to carry out daily survival tasks. Whiteflies, and most other bugs and insects, rely most heavily on their sense of sight and smell to find their resources.
Any pungent smell coming from the garden, or direction in which a whitefly might take flight, blocks their ability to find a potential shelter or food source. The strong scent confuses their senses, making them unable to smell out any potential attractants.
Whiteflies are attracted to the color yellow, so if you’re wondering why they might be on your plants in the first place, searching for yellow leaves and buds is the first step to understanding their takeover.
You will soon find out that although they might have been drawn in by sight, there are certain things you can do to draw them out by smell.
Whiteflies Hate Thyme
Thyme is a bug’s worst enemy. I mean, it can be ours too. Whiteflies have such a short life cycle, that it’s no wonder they hate thyme (that was supposed to be funny).
Seriously though, thyme is one of the few strong-smelling herbs that can stop a whitefly, and other pests, in its tracks. Literally.
When compared to other essential oils, thyme has been studied and proven to be the most effective in repelling and ridding your plants of whiteflies. Direct contact with the essential oil mixture will eliminate the whitefly.
Thyme can be used in more than one way. You can plant it around your garden, or nearby some of your garden veggies for mutual benefits and repellent of other garden pests. You can also extract the essential oils of thyme and create a DIY spray to use on your plants.
To create an effective DIY spray for your garden, start by purchasing some Amber Glass Spray Bottles.
When creating any essential oil spray, you must use glass bottles that are amber in color. Essential oils will eat right through a plastic bottle and become less effective when hit by sunlight.
Once your glass bottles have arrived, start by filling them up with some warm water and then add 10-20 drops of thyme essential oil. Shake up the mixture and head over to your plants.
You will spray the leaves and whiteflies directly, making sure to spray the undersides of each affected leaf. Do not spray your plants while the sun is out and hot.
Essential oils mixed with sunlight can burn holes directly into your leaves. Otherwise, spraying your plants with thyme essential oil is completely harmless when following the correct directives.
For an even more effective spray, try adding a drop of dawn dish soap to create your own natural essential oil insecticide soap.
Lavender Repels Whiteflies
While the calming aroma of lavender creates a better environment for us, it slows down the ability of a whitefly to search for a suitable environment.
Lavender can repel whiteflies as it is just one of many scents they hate.
Much like thyme, lavender can be used in two different ways. Try planting lavender in your garden to repel whiteflies. You can also create a DIY essential oil spray using the exact steps as you did with thyme.
For this one, I actually prefer to plant lavender as it’s so pungent and beautiful!
For the essential oil route, try mixing the two essential oils in equal parts (10 drops lavender, and 10 drops thyme) with water to repel whiteflies, ticks, mosquitoes, and other pesky garden bugs.
Like any essential oil spray, be sure to spray often. Spraying your plants at least once a week is highly recommended and be sure to spray after any rain.
Whiteflies Hate Peppermint
Peppermint is another versatile essential oil used to keep away whiteflies and other bugs.
If you’re struggling with whiteflies in the garden, planting peppermint near your veggies can deter whiteflies from entering your garden in the first place.
You can also create a DIY essential oil spray much like the ones above. For the most effective garden spray, try mixing equal parts of thyme, lavender, and peppermint with warm water and a drop of dawn dish soap.
If you’re battling whiteflies in the greenhouse or around your house plants, you can create a barrier around your windows and doors with peppermint essential oil. You can place a few drops of peppermint on a cotton ball and place it in the corner of your home.
This method is also effective in repelling spiders, ticks, flies, roaches, ants, moths, and other bugs and insects from entering your home and garden.
Whiteflies Hate Garlic
Garlic, along with other alliums from the family, is one of those scents that whiteflies hate. Garlic creates such a pungent smell, that it confuses the senses of the whitefly blocking their ability to find a place to eat and rest.
Garlic can be planted directly into the soil in clove form to repel whiteflies and other garden pests. Planting garlic is also effective in keeping the deer out of your garden! For this one however, make sure you crush up some garlic often so the scent becomes more pungent.
You can mix up a garlic spray by crushing a few cloves of garlic into some warm water and spraying the underside of leaves on each of your plants.
Whiteflies Hate Limonene
Limonene, produced naturally in a variety of everyday plants, is an effective way of keeping whiteflies out of the garden.
Several studies show that limonene, which is derived from citrus essential oils such as lemon and orange, is a natural repellent for whiteflies.
Limonene can be found in celery, tea tree, and citrus fruit peels. When derived, limonene is used for medicines, cleaning products, flea and tick treatments, and other pesticides.
According to the EPA, limonene was first registered as an insecticide in 1958. It is now widely used in a variety of insect repellents and proven effective against whiteflies and other bugs and insects.
For your use, try purchasing some products that contain limonene. Orange Guard is a home pest control spray made with the active ingredient, limonene, entirely from orange peels. This spray can be used in the home and around the home and garden to repel a variety of insects, including whiteflies.
Look for plants and oils that contain limonene to create a spray of your own. Soak some orange peels in water, drop some tea tree essential oil in your mix from above, or plant some celery in the garden to annoy those whiteflies even more.
You can read our full list of the best whitefly sprays here!
Whiteflies Stay Away From Marigolds
Marigolds are known by us for their musky smell and beautiful flowers, and whiteflies have come to know them the same way.
Marigolds create a scent so strong that whiteflies hate them. However, since marigolds only produce flowers in the shades of yellow, orange, and red, they might draw whiteflies in by sight.
Try to avoid the color yellow when planting marigolds around your garden to avoid attracting whiteflies to a different plant in your garden.
Whiteflies Dislike Basil
Basil is one of the most beneficial companion plants for your tomatoes. Whiteflies love the foliage on your tomato plants but hate the scent of basil.
Planting basil in your garden not only allows you to reap the benefits of this decadent herb in the kitchen but also allows your plants in the garden to grow healthy and bug-free.
If you’re battling whiteflies indoors around your house plants, try starting an herb garden on your windowsill.
Growing lavender, thyme, peppermint, and basil will keep the whiteflies from entering your home through any cracks or rips in your window screens while you’re enjoying the cooler weather before and after the summer months.
Whiteflies Hate Nasturtiums
Nasturtiums are an effective way to repel whiteflies. While growing and blooming, nasturtiums produce an airborne chemical that whiteflies hate.
This airborne chemical can be so strong in smell, that it masks the scent of your delicate garden veggies nearby!
It is common for nasturtiums to be planted around the perimeter of gardens, acting not only as a repellent for certain insects but as a trap crop for other insects.
The airborne chemical repels whiteflies but draws in other garden bugs and insects trapping them before they ever notice your garden veggies.
Other Ways to Keep Whiteflies Away For Good
Each of these scents work together to repel whiteflies from infesting your plants or finding your plants as a desirable host to live out their life cycle but might not work in all situations. The key to being whitefly free is to prevent them from finding your plants desirable to begin with.
Here are some quick, easy ways to keep whiteflies out of your garden and greenhouse before they become a problem:
- Check your plants before bringing them home. When purchasing plants from a greenhouse or plant store, it is not uncommon to find aphids, scales, mealybugs, or whiteflies on them since they’re surrounded by an abundance of foliage.
- Avoid planting yellow flowers near your garden such as sunflowers. Sunflowers are large, yellow plants that can draw whiteflies in by sight and be found desirable to shelter in. Whiteflies love to suck the sap out of flowers, so avoiding the color yellow altogether or keeping them far from the garden is a great start.
- Watch your plants. Cucumbers, watermelons, and tomatoes develop fruit from their yellow flowers attracting whiteflies, so watch these plants carefully. Keep an eye out for any whiteflies around your plants.
- Use yellow sticky traps and reflective mulches to deter whiteflies from entering the garden. Yellow sticky traps around the perimeter of your garden will keep them at bay, and reflective mulches will blind them from noticing desirable plants in your garden.
- Try hydrogen peroxide. On top of these other solutions, some people believe that hydrogen peroxide can get rid of whiteflies.
Companion planting Can Get Rid Of Whiteflies
There is no doubt that we, as humans, function at our best around certain groups of people. The same goes for plants. Pairing plants with their better half will maximize the potential of your plants and the overall efficiency of your garden. This is called companion planting.
Companion planting controls repels, and deters insects and disease naturally by using the individual properties of one plant to somehow benefit the one growing right next to it.
This could simply be using a towering tomato plant to shade cool-weather-loving lettuce or using the musky smell of marigolds to keep the whiteflies off your vine-crawling cucumbers.
If you’re looking to garden organically, which is simply avoiding the use of chemicals such as pesticides and insecticides to control pests and disease, then companion planting is one of your best options long term.
How To Use Companion Planting To Combat Whiteflies
As mentioned, the scent of marigolds, basil, nasturtiums, and other strong-smelling plants can throw off the senses of whiteflies. Planting these nearby whitefly-loving plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and watermelons can significantly reduce the number of white pests in your garden.
Outside of the garden, tomato and basil blend beautifully in a bowl of pasta. Inside the garden, they blend even better. Planting basil next to tomatoes repels whiteflies, aphids, and the nightmare of any tomato plant – the tomato hornworm.
To keep your cucumbers from becoming a victim, plant marigolds nearby to deter more than just the pesky whitefly.
Nasturtiums will also make a great addition to your garden, especially near your watermelons. Not only do whiteflies hate the smell of them, but so do squash bugs, which is a whole other story in the hard-to-manage pest book.
Now it’s your turn to take these practices and combat the sap-sucking whiteflies on your plants.
Don’t become discouraged by the number of bugs and insects around your plants, as that is a sign of a healthy ecosystem. It is when the numbers and quality of your plants get out of control that it becomes a problem. In any instance where you’re unsure where to turn, contact a professional.
Use these scents and whitefly repelling plants to keep your plants producing and those whiteflies searching.
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Johnston, N., Paris, T., Paret, M. L., Freeman, J., & Martini, X. (2022). Repelling whitefly (Bemisia tabaci) using limonene-scented kaolin: A novel pest management strategy. Crop Protection, 154, 105905.
Schlaeger, S., Pickett, J. A., & Birkett, M. A. (2018). Prospects for management of whitefly using plant semiochemicals, compared with related pests. Pest management science, 74(11), 2405–2411.
Zhao, Q., Zhu, J. J., Qin, Y., Pan, P., Tu, H., Du, W., … & Baxendale, F. P. (2014). Reducing whiteflies on cucumber using intercropping with less preferred vegetables. Entomologia experimentalis et applicata, 150(1), 19-27.
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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