Ever heard of whiteflies, little insects that suck the juice out of every plant-based life they can attach themselves to? Perhaps little bugs are currently sucking the life out of your houseplant? Fear not, there are a few ways to get rid of whiteflies. But what are whiteflies, and how to get rid of them naturally?
Whiteflies are sap-sucking, little insects that attach themselves to houseplants, gardens, and greenhouses. To get rid of them naturally, it is advised to wash whiteflies away with water, and introduce natural predators into their environment such as ladybugs, and parasitoids.
Whiteflies are small insects with a passion for plants. As a pest, whiteflies form a nuisance for greenhouses, gardens and houseplants. Before we get into the natural ways in which you can get rid of a bunch of whiteflies, let us take a closer look at these little animals together.
Just Where The Heck Did Whiteflies Come From?
Whiteflies have been around for a very long time now. Indeed, whiteflies are said to date back to the Late Jurassic period, the third and last Jurassic epoch some 163.5 million years ago. As such, it is not entirely clear where exactly on earth they originate from. However, it has often been claimed that whiteflies come from South America, having then been transported by plant to the rest of the world.
In the United States, whiteflies were first reported as a pest, on plants in greenhouses in Florida in the late 1980s.
Since the discovery was made that whiteflies pose a major threat to a plant-based life, research has rapidly increased to shed light upon the little plant-sucking animals in white. Although there are more than a thousand different species of whiteflies, only a few are considered to be serious pests.
How to Identify a Whitefly?
Whiteflies present themselves in a tiny size with a shade of white. They are small and soft, oval-shaped insects baring the appearance of a moth.
The silverleaf whiteflies are the most common whiteflies known to North America, and are considered to be an invasive little species.
This means they, unfortunately, cause ecological harm when being introduced to new areas in the wild – destroying native habitats as they go.
A good thing for us is that whiteflies are actually not nocturnal insects. This means they come out more frequently during the day-time. In fact, it makes spotting whiteflies considerably more easy to do with the naked eye.
In addition, whiteflies are known to leave behind a slimy trail of mucus. This is also generally referred to as honeydew and can result in the formation of mold on top of the leaves – which then in turn damages the plant in question.
In the case a whitefly is attached to one of your plants, it is most likely situated underneath a leaf or two. As such, they can remain well hidden out of sight for a while, until the plant’s affection has been warranted some closer inspection. Indeed, once in a while, do make sure to flip some leaves when deemed convenient.
Quick fact: As legend goes, apparently whiteflies position themselves on the underside of leaves as to offer more protection to the eggs they lay in abundance. It could indeed explain why they tend to go underneath a leaf as opposed to attaching themselves on top in the face of the sun.
But why do whiteflies love our plants? What’s up with that? Well genetically speaking, whiteflies are closely related to the superfamily Aphidoidea, also referred to as Aphids. In short, they are sap-sucking insects that thrive on the juicy nutrition in plant-based life – that’s what’s up.
Whiteflies Are Sap-Sucking Little Insects
Aphids are peculiar, little insects which thrive on sucking the nutrition out of a good looking plant.
Strictly speaking, whiteflies belongs to the order of insects called, Hemipterans, also known as true bugs. As whiteflies closely resemble the characteristics of aphids, they are often studied under the same scope.
Interestingly enough, whiteflies are not to be confused with flies, as they do not carry a single trace of fly-DNA on their back. That said, they do have wings and the capabilities to set upon a brief flight.
While doing so, a single whitefly can slowly turn your healthy greenery into a yellow, deficiency showing plant. Whereas a group of whiteflies can cause your plant to stop being a plant entirely. Actually, once a single group has manifested itself to a plant, it might already be too late to reverse to oncoming process of decay. Timing is key.
Whiteflies in Greenhouses, Gardens and Houseplants
Alas, the nature of their being – the sap-sucking aspect – makes whiteflies an obvious pest when it comes to safeguarding plant life. Therefore, over the years, people have spend quite some time trying to control the whitefly population, both indoors in houses – but especially in greenhouses – and outdoors in fields and gardens.
Although there are a lot of different whitefly species reported to be sucking their way through life, only twenty of them are actually considered to form a serious pest. However, this is a fairly recent discovery in the world of Aphids.
Indeed, throughout history, most attention was allocated towards the greenhouse whitefly in specific, also referred to -although we wonder by who – as the Trialeurodes vaporariorum.
Ever since the early nineties, however, more attention has been placed upon different kinds of whiteflies, such as the silverleaf whiteflies, which are actually most common in the United States.
They began to deserve more attention due to the sheer destructive capabilities these particular whiteflies carried with them, inflecting both private and commercial plant-based life along the way.
Known to infest numerous greenhouse crops, whiteflies feed by removing plant sap, nutrition which is needed for the further survival of set plant. When doing so, preventing plant-based life survival on a large scape, it can cause serious damage to the agricultural sector.
Whiteflies are also reported to attach themselves to houseplants. When it comes to having whiteflies in your house, they most likely entered the safety of your home through the front door. Therefore, when inviting new plants into your house, it is always best to verify whether there are no bugs attached.
Finally, while the whiteflies are hanging on tightly to the leaves, draining the living juice out of your beloved plants, it might be time to consider some defensive measures. Going forward, let us have a look at how to naturally get rid of whiteflies.
How Do I Naturally Get Rid of Whiteflies?
Let’s look at a few quick ways to naturally get rid of whiteflies, without the need for possibly harming your plants.
Ladybugs vs. Whiteflies
As life makes the circle complete, whiteflies have natural predators just like any other animal in the wild.
The best-known predator that poses a natural threat to whiteflies is the beloved ladybug, although some other insects might do the job as well.
In general, ladybugs, or lady beetles, are well known to be trusted guardians when it comes to protecting plants. Especially in regards to protecting plants from sap-sucking little animals such as whiteflies. Even more, these ladies are known for their big appetite, being able to eat – on average – a few thousand aphids (remember, aphids and whiteflies are related) in a year.
Ladybugs venture out when the sun is set high in the sky and the temperatures are running mild. Preferring warmth over cold, they mostly come out during spring and summer – just like the little whiteflies do. Although usually known for their redness and tiny black spots on the back, ladybugs come in various colors and sizes.
In order to use ladybugs against whiteflies, you’ll want to introduce a small amount of them into your plants over a two week period and monitor their effectiveness against your infestation.
You can purchase LIVE ladybugs online. Yes, literally.
Click here to checkout Bug Sales 1500 Live Lady Bugs, with instructions on how to use them to protect your plants.
Parasitoids vs. Whiteflies
Besides their hunger for aphids and other soft-bodied insects, ladybugs tend to lay their eggs amidst their prey, who once they burst, start feeding off the aphids they are born into.
When their eggs hatch and burst into life – after some three to ten days – the larvae start to feed on whatever they can find. As such, ladybugs present themselves as natural parasitoids, which is another natural way to get rid of whiteflies.
In general, parasitoids are insects whose larvae operate as a parasite which defeat their hosts by merely completing their growth cycle towards adult life. In short, they feed on their hosts until they are mature enough to stand alone in life themselves.
The larvae stage lasts for about fifteen days, after which they grow into a full ladybug. It is said that a single ladybug can lay over a thousand eggs – in colors shifting from yellow to brown.
In most countries that give importance to their greenhouse industry – basically, any country that can – commercial biological control of whiteflies is made possible with and by the use of parasitoids. Meaning that an ecosystem is actively created in which parasitoids thrive to serve as a biological control agent against whiteflies or other insect characterized as pets.
Another example of a well-known parasitoid, besides the previously mentioned ladybug, is the yellow, hovering wasp.
Especially in the summertime when the whiteflies are most actively out and about, thinking which plant they will attach themselves to next, wasps may come to pay whiteflies a quick visit bearing the gift of ominous, egg hatching larvae.
Besides their larvae, wasps are actually known to eat many aphids themselves. As such they, like the ladybug, serve a double purpose in the fight to naturally get rid of whiteflies.
Quick fact: Interestingly enough, not all wasp larvae are strictly parasitoids, and some wasps actually feed their larvae themselves.
Finally, the same goes for the green lacewing, also called Chrysopidae, as they are known to occasionally devour aphids and other soft-bodied pests such as whiteflies.
If there are signs of green lacewing activity in your backyard, it might be an indication that whiteflies, or other pests, are present. Lacewings can be easily spotted by their light-green look, oval-shape, translucent wings, and golden eyes.
In the end, it is generally recommended to release natural enemies of the whitefly in your garden. Meaning that it is advised to let the other insects and parasitoids do the dirty work for us. Indeed, during summer, most of the predators will naturally present themselves with elegance and grace.
Natural Repellents vs. Whiteflies
In general, most animals have a few plants they just do not mingle with. The same goes for whiteflies, which tend to loathe the sight of strong aromatic plants such as basil, parsley, marigold or mint.
When it comes to getting rid of whiteflies in your garden, you can opt to make use of the above-mentioned natural repellents to make your patch more unattractive. In this case, it is best to spread and plant them around your garden, perhaps on the outer edges of your patches as to serve as a natural barrier of potential disgust.
However, it must be said that these natural repellents are not entirely guaranteed to show the wanted results, and it is not clear how disgusted whiteflies can get. Of course, this strategy is often recommended to repel larger mammals, yet even there it is known to not always be conclusive.
Whiteflies in The House: Water vs. Whiteflies
Wash wash wash!
Although it might not be as festive as it sounds, whiteflies do occasionally appear to be in the house! Of course, when it comes to your home, you want to keep the insects out as much as possible, as opposed to introducing them into the party.
So, perhaps inviting natural predators inside is not the ideal solution going forward.
Therefore, when it comes to houseplants, and even when it comes to gardens, some suggest the use of various repellents (soaps) and insecticides (sprays). However, for this situation, we really do not recommend the use of insecticides unless you really have to use them. If the infestation is bad enough, call a local professional to get some assistance.
In the rare case, you do really want to make use of a trap of some kind, you can as a last resort make use of a sticky trap made of non-toxic material. For more information, you can have a quick look at Kensizer’s yellow traps.
Instead, the easy and non-lethal way to get rid of the whiteflies on your houseplants is to simply clean your plants with some good old, refreshing water. In the end, the best way to prevent whiteflies from casually sucking sap in the house is to control your plants and to keep them clean.
When you do end up having whiteflies on your houseplants, you might want to reconsider where you got the plants. They might be coming from an infested greenhouse, or garden. When getting new plants into the house, it is always advised to make sure they are clean, so hold a thorough bug inspection when you can.
That’s a wrap for now. When in doubt, you can always try to capture a small sample of the tiny animal you come across, and request support from your local pest control. You can also choose to contact our nationwide network of pest and wildlife control professionals to find a contractor near you for free within a matter of seconds.
Happy whitefly repelling!
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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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