whiteflies on leaf

If you enjoy the outdoors, it's likely you have come across whiteflies or whitefly damage in the South Florida area. Perhaps you have put in many hours of work, prepping your garden area in a nice sunny spot, planting seeds, weeding, feeding, watering, and propping up certain plants.

And, just when you are looking forward to seeing your beautiful, colorful vegetables growing, you notice tiny little white insects all over the leaves of your plants. Whiteflies! But what can you do about them? Today, we will get into what can be done to prevent these crop-destroying pests. First, let's talk about what these garden-destroying pests are.

whiteflies in garden
inspecting whitefly infested plant

What Are Whiteflies?

These tiny insects are aptly named since they are, indeed, whiteflies. They are soft-bodied, winged insects that are closely related to aphids and mealybugs. Whiteflies can be as tiny as 1/12 of an inch in length and they look like minuscule white triangles.

In South Florida, Fig Whiteflies and Spiral Whiteflies do major damage to ficus hedges, ficus trees and coconut palm trees. Ficus hedges are often used in our area for privacy, and unfortunately whiteflies have decimated many of these hedges, leaving them with no leaves and eliminating the very privacy homeowners enjoy.

Often these whiteflies can be found in clusters on the undersides of leaves and are active during the daytime. These garden pests are most active in mid to late summer when temperatures are warmest.

In addition to affecting ficus hedges and palm trees, whiteflies are fond of warm-weather vegetable plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, and cabbage. They are commonly found in greenhouses. 

How Much Of A Problem Are Whiteflies?

If you notice these flies and do nothing, figuring that they will go away on their own, you are in for a surprise. Adult female whiteflies can produce up to 400 eggs, which can hatch in about a week—which means these flies multiply like crazy and can completely ruin a garden.

They suck plant juices and produce honeydew, a sticky substance left on the leaves. Honeydew can cause fungal diseases to form on leaves, creating even more of a problem. If whiteflies are allowed to continue feeding, plants will become weak and may become unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt and turn pale or yellow and growth will be stunted.

Whitefly Prevention Tips

Since these insects are extremely difficult to get rid of once they have infested and begun to multiply (and because they can be resistant to pesticides) it is important to be proactive and put into place some prevention strategies. Here are a few white fly-prevention tips you can try:

  • Encourage natural predators of white flies: There are several creatures that eat whiteflies, including ladybugs, spiders, lacewing larvae, and dragonflies. Parasitic wasps (which are not harmful to people) and hummingbirds are also helpful. Creating a habitat that is attractive to dragonflies and damselflies will help in keeping white flies down and will also help reduce mosquito populations. Some of these white fly-eating creatures can be purchased online.

  • Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch: This is especially helpful with tomato and pepper plants. Reflective mulch makes it difficult for whiteflies to find their host plants.

  • Use yellow paper or poster board coated with petroleum jelly: Whiteflies are attracted to the color yellow and will get stuck in petroleum jelly. Setting several of these sticky yellow papers around your garden will help in catching white flies early, so they can't reproduce.

How Native Pest Management Can Help

Once whiteflies have invaded, it can be very difficult to exterminate them on your own without professional help. Chemicals advertised to kill whiteflies may do nothing to kill these flies but only kill the beneficial insects (whiteflies' natural predators) and insects needed to pollinate your garden.

If these flies are multiplying in your garden and you need help getting rid of them, reach out to the pest control experts here at Native Pest Management. Our technicians have the tools, the products, and the experience to take care of whiteflies for you, so you can go back to watching your vegetables grow, and enjoy them when harvest time comes! Don't let white flies ruin all your efforts, call or chat with one of our helpful experts today to schedule a free inspection.


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