15 Natural Whitefly Treatment Ideas
November 06, 2023
Whiteflies (trialeurodes vaporariorum) are those tiny, warm-weather loving, sap-sucking insects that you might see on your plants. Their bodies and wings are covered with a white, waxy material (although adults’ are yellowish beneath), hence the name.
Although they’re tiny and harmless to humans, large populations of whiteflies can be menacing. They can destroy plants and crops and cause leaves to yellow and fall off. Parasitic to a variety of weeds and crops, whitefly populations have no problem choosing a new host once one crop dries up or is harvested.
These rapidly reproducing pests are unfortunately common in South Florida (they love the weather, just like us). The ficus whitefly (which eats shrubs and hedges) and the palm tree spiral whitefly in particular are common to the area, meaning beautiful hedges built around private communities in the area, along with lush native vegetation like palm trees, are vulnerable to being destroyed.
Read on for a breakdown on natural whitefly treatments and how to get rid of whiteflies in your South Florida yard (or on indoor plants).
- Whiteflies are aggressive parasites common in South Florida that can destroy native vegetation, ornamental plants and landscaping, and food crops.
- There are a variety of steps you can take to deter whiteflies from your area, such as keeping your yard well-maintained with repelling plants and vacuuming up any whiteflies you see.
- If you suspect a whitefly infestation in your community, it’s best to contact a pest control professional immediately to nip the problem in the bud.
1. Vacuum ‘Em Up
That’s right—one of the easiest ways to knock out a whitefly population is to vacuum up any whiteflies you see in your yard. Using a small, handheld vacuum cleaner, suck up adult whiteflies (the slightly bigger, yellowish ones with white wings) early in the morning, when it’s colder outside and they’re slower-moving. Remove the sealed vacuum bag from the vacuum and freeze it for 24 hours to kill the bugs. Vacuuming adults close to the onslaught of an infestation, before they’ve laid any eggs or eggs hatch, can help curb the problem in its tracks.
2.Pick Up Infested Leaves
Another simple way to prevent a whitefly outbreak is to remove individual infested leaves from your yard (be sure to check the underside of the leaves). Particularly plant leaves that are covered with nonmobile nymphs, larvae, and pupae are key to remove and destroy.
This alone may keep the population at a level that natural predators can handle. Once you’ve harvested a whitefly-infested plant (or a plant has died from whitefly infestation), remove and destroy the whole host plant immediately.
3. Use Dish Soap and Water
Soapy water is a natural killer of soft-bodied insects like whiteflies. All you need to do is make a solution of water and dish soap—you only need one tablespoon of liquid dish soap per gallon of water.
Using a spray bottle, spray the affected plants just as the whitefly population is beginning to grow, and the whiteflies should die while the plants stay healthy. (But if you find the soapy water solution you’re using is actually abrasive to your plants, try purchasing an insecticidal soap designed for this purpose.)
4. Check Your Nitrogen Levels
Lower levels of nitrogen in the soil have been found to enhance certain plants’ resistance to whitefly infestation. You can test your soil’s nitrogen levels using a soil test kit from any hardware store, and adjust the fertilizer you choose accordingly (pay attention to the “N” level).
About 40 ppm of nitrogen is an adequate amount for the soil upon planting most vegetables. (Regardless of nitrogen levels when you plant your plants, plant and animal waste can later add nitrogen to the soil, which helps plants grow –but they only need so much).
Higher levels of nitrogen means thinner leaves, which make it easier for female whiteflies to lay eggs (they feed on leaves’ lower surface). Whiteflies studied on tomato plants in soil with 308 ppm of nitrogen were far more likely to survive and produce eggs that survived than those on plants in soil with 84 ppm or 140 ppm of nitrogen.
5. Apply Mulch and Fertilizer
Applying mulch and fertilizer can adjust the levels of nutrients in the soil, making your plants more resistant to whiteflies. Moreover, certain mulch and fertilizer products, like aluminum reflective mulch (which is blinding to whiteflies) and granular fertilizer, can act as natural repellents.
6. Water Your Plants
Keeping your plants healthy and strong is one of the best things you can do to make them less susceptible to whiteflies. Particularly in less rainy times of the year, make sure you are regularly watering (but not overwatering) your plants as a preventative measure. What’s more, watering your plants with a hose will cause any whiteflies currently sitting on the leaves to scatter.
7. Use Earthworm Casting
Earthworm casting is a type of organic fertilizer that provides a serious boost to soil structure and plant growth. When applied properly, earthworm casting can act as a natural insect repellent while also absorbing an enzyme into your plants that’s harmless to them but poisonous to whiteflies. When whiteflies consume leaves containing this enzyme, they’ll die and their exoskeleton will dissolve.
8. Clean Your Yard
Debris in your yard can act as a breeding ground for whiteflies, so be sure to rake your yard and pick up any leaves, sticks, or trash. Whiteflies are notoriously fast reproducers, so it’s essential to maintain a high standard of cleanliness.
9. Allow Sunlight
Sunlight is crucial to keeping your plants thriving and strong enough to fend off whiteflies (remember photosynthesis?). Also, despite their attraction to the color yellow and yellow-green light, whiteflies also tend to stay out of direct sunlight, especially in the presence of aluminum reflective mulch (which blinds them).
10. Plant Whitefly Repelling Plants
Certain plants can act as natural whitefly repellents and protect the rest of your garden. Read on to learn which are the best choices.
Dill’s strong scent is repulsive to most insects with strong noses.
Essential oils in catnip give off a scent that’s repulsive to many insects, including whiteflies.
The spicy, bitter essential oils in bee balm repel pests like whiteflies.
The scent of basil leaves can be discouraging to whiteflies (but beware—whiteflies will infest basil in a pinch).
The sulfur-based compounds in chives repel pests like whiteflies, who are more interested in the sweet taste of sap.
11. Use Sticky Traps
Sticky traps (particularly yellow ones, which are attractive to whiteflies) can be effective for curbing an infestation. You can also do it yourself using petroleum jelly. Place yellow sticky traps near infested leaves, facing the plant but away from direct sunlight. Be sure to clean the traps regularly.
12. Make Your Yard Bird Friendly
Many species of songbirds and hummingbirds are natural predators of whiteflies. This means that a simple way to handle your whitefly problem is to make your yard more bird-friendly. Invest in a bird feeder, birdhouse, or birdbath.
Keep native species of plants around while removing invasive ones, and offer places to nest by keeping dead trees with hollows or creating a small brush pile of debris at the end of your yard (far from your garden, as whiteflies are also fans of debris).
13. Neem Oil
Neem oil is an all-natural pesticide produced by neem trees. Not only is it a repellent to insects like whiteflies, it also acts as hormonal birth control and hinders their ability to eat.
14. Let Predators Run Free
One way to prevent a whitefly infestation in your yard is to allow their natural predators free reign in your garden. Harmless and beneficial insects like ladybugs, spiders, and dragonflies eat whiteflies.
Certain beetles, mites, lacewings and parasitic wasps are also natural enemies of whiteflies—so if you’re looking to eliminate just whiteflies, keep your yard or vegetable garden hospitable to other crawlers.
15. Watch Your Plants
Care for your outdoor plants daily and be sure to inspect each leaf (and the underside of leaves) for whiteflies. Whitefly infestations move fast, so it’s imperative to catch them early, and the easiest way to do so is by keeping a regular eye on your precious garden.
Professional Whitefly Control
If you notice a whitefly infestation in your garden, it’s likely to spread fast. It’s best to contact a professional pest control service immediately. A professional exterminator can examine your yard for any factors that may be promoting whitefly population growth and treat accordingly with the market’s most effective methods, ensuring that the problem won’t return. If you’re unsure whether you have a garden pest infestation on your hands, better safe than sorry.