What You Need to Know About Ficus Whitefly
Ficus Benjamina make great privacy hedges. That is, until ficus whitefly infests these hedges and trees on your property and causes them to lose all of their leaves. If precautionary measures are taken, ficus whitefly damage can be prevented so that you will never have to play catch-up to save your ficus hedge and trees.
Already seeing significant whitefly damage on your ficus? Don’t give up yet. It’ll take some patience and proper care, but 100% recovery of your privacy hedge is possible.
Ficus Privacy Hedge
If properly cared for, this is how a ficus privacy hedge should look. This hedge is well fertilized and treated with regular ficus whitefly prevention. Even though adult whiteflies may occasionally be present around the hedge, they are only there temporarily as they get blown in from neighboring properties with untreated hedges. Since this hedge has a systemic insecticide in the leaf material, whitefly are unable to ingest any plant juices without also ingesting insecticide.
Before installing your ficus benjamina hedge, make sure it gets full sunlight. Without enough sunlight, ficus benjamina will never do well. Also make sure it is trimmed regularly, especially on the top. Time and time again we’ve seen ficus privacy hedges go without trimming, which results in the top growth blocking sunlight from reaching the lower leaves. Over time, this will eventually result into a very thin hedge that provides no privacy as it was intended to do.
If you live in sub-tropical regions like South Florida, you have likely see the effects of whitefly damage. When hedges and trees get infested by ficus whitefly, they will lose most of their leaves. What were intended to be privacy hedges now appear more similar to chain link fences.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the adult whiteflies that cause the most whitefly damage. It’s the immature whiteflies that are in the crawler stage. Often we see people checking for whitefly by shaking the ficus benjamina leaves to see if adult whiteflies come out. A much better indicator for the presence of damaging whiteflies is to look on the underside of leaves for the nymphs.
Ficus whiteflies feed on leaves by sucking juices from the plant tissue. This results in the hedge not having adequate nutrients, resulting in severe stress and defoliation. After ingesting the plant juices, ficus whitefly secrete a substance called honeydew. While you can’t actually see the honeydew, it attracts black fungus and sooty mold. If you see this sooty mold it is a sure sign of whitefly or other insects feeding on your ficus or other plants or trees in the immediate area.
Prevent Ficus Whitefly
With any pest control strategy, we always recommend being proactive instead of reactive. It’s much easier and less costly to prevent whitefly damage than to react to it and return ficus to full health. With years of product testing, we have found the most reliable whitefly control and prevention through the use of a systemic insecticide, imidacloprid. Since imidacloprid is not water-soluble, it is long lasting if applied via the root drench or injection methods.
The chart above provides an application rate chart for a popular product, Dominion 2L, that contains the active ingredient imidacloprid. This chart is specifically for drenching the roots of ficus hedges, with the rate varying depending on the height and length of the ficus hedge to be treated.
While we tested granular forms of imidacloprid, we get the best results from liquid applications since it is immediately applied with water to carry the active ingredient to the roots. Also, it doesn’t get accidentally blown away by landscapers when they are removing leaf debris under the ficus hedges and trees.
In areas with a large volume of ficus benjamina, like the many privacy hedges on Palm Beach Island, there is an extreme amount of whitefly activity. These areas require more frequent preventative applications to protect against the adult whiteflies constantly being brought by wind from neighboring properties that are untreated.
Fun Fact: The Town of Palm Beach actually has such a severe ficus whitefly problem that their code enforcement regularly issues fines to owners of ficus privacy hedges who do not treat for whitefly.