Pest infestations are the undeniable foe of both indoor and outdoor gardeners. They may quickly bring devastation and destruction to our favorite plants if left untreated, often emerging seemingly out of nowhere. Whiteflies are among the most frequent houseplant pests, feeding on the abundant foliage and warm indoor atmosphere.
These small white beetles are more than just a nuisance; they can do significant damage, and their wings provide an easy escape path, making them a headache to exterminate. Fortunately, with a little persistence and a comprehensive treatment regimen, they are manageable, and whiteflies do not have to be the end of your plants. This book will teach you all you need to know about whiteflies, and most importantly, how to get rid of them for good.
What exactly are whiteflies?
Whiteflies are winged insects from the Aleyrodidae family. The Whitefly has around 1500 different species. They typically grow to no more than two millimetres in length and are covered in a protective white-coloured dusty substance that resembles flour, hence their name.
Whiteflies gather on the undersides of leaves to feed and lay eggs. They lay their eggs in a spiral pattern, and each egg is linked to a long, translucent stalk. Each female can lay up to 200 eggs during her lifetime, and in warm weather, she can reproduce and repeat the lifecycle in as little as three weeks.
Whiteflies are polyphagous, which means they eat many different plant species, and they spread swiftly when diverse plants are kept together. They feed on the sap of the host plant, progressively weakening it, and they frequently transmit secondary diseases like a mosaic virus, as well as injecting the plant with their deadly saliva.
Whitefly Infestations: What Causes Them?
Whiteflies thrive in hot environments, so your houseplants are especially vulnerable in the home’s regularly warm temperatures. Whiteflies cannot survive frigid winter temperatures and are dormant, yet they remain active indoors all year. Because whiteflies have no natural predators indoors, their populations can quickly become out of control.
How Can Whiteflies Be Prevented?
Before acquiring any new houseplants, properly inspect them to ensure they are healthy and pest-free. No matter how healthy they appear, new arrivals should be kept separate from the rest of your collection for at least four weeks. This should give any hiding insect populations enough time to make themselves known before they infest any other plants.
It is critical to inspect all of your houseplants on a regular basis for symptoms of pests or illness. Early detection can significantly improve your chances of successfully removing any undesirable visitors. Inspect the underside of the leaves, as here is where whiteflies and their eggs normally congregate. Whiteflies are prolific, speedy breeders who may easily travel across plants, so the sooner you detect them, the sooner you can act. Healthy plants are also more resistant to insect damage, so make sure your plants are happy and have all of their requirements addressed.
Remove any dead or decaying plant matter that has accumulated on top of the soil as soon as possible, since this can still supply food for hiding whiteflies.
Some gardeners feel that nitrogen-rich fertilizers can encourage whiteflies, so during the warmer months, when whiteflies are most active, you may wish to switch to a low-nitrogen food or limit the frequency or strength of any food.
Whiteflies are attracted to specific plants, particularly those with strong fragrances; you can use a companion planting scheme to keep them away. House-friendly herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, and sage might help keep flies away from your houseplants.
Symptoms of Whitefly
Whiteflies and their eggs are frequently visible to the naked eye. It helps that they aggregate in huge groups, making them easier to identify and that they frequently fly up in enormous swarms when an affected plant is disturbed.
Infested plants frequently show tiny light markings or discolouration on the leaf where the insects have punctured the tissue to gain access to the sap. The toxicity of the flies’ saliva can result in chlorosis, a lack of natural green colouration caused by chlorophyll. Plants cannot photosynthesise adequately without chlorophyll, therefore their growth is hindered. This, along with nutritional depletion as whiteflies ingest sap, causes plants to gradually weaken and the foliage to yellow, shrivel, curl, and eventually drop. Because whitefly populations grow so quickly, the host plant can quickly become overwhelmed, and an unchecked infection can be catastrophic.
Whiteflies, like most sap-sucking pests, exude a sticky, sweet substance known as honeydew while they eat. Although honeydew is largely harmless in and of itself, it can promote fungal growths known as sooty mould. This black fungus creeps throughout the leaf, preventing the plant from efficiently photosynthesising and making it weaker.
Whiteflies also cause secondary damage to host plants because they carry and transmit a wide range of viruses, the most prevalent of which are different strains of mosaic virus. Keep an eye out for shrivelled leaves with mottled yellow markings and splotchy patterns.
What Is the Best Way to Get Rid of Whiteflies?
Whiteflies, like many other houseplant pests, are known to develop resistance to many of the most commonly used chemical and synthetic insecticides. It’s best to cure them naturally and organically. Furthermore, while treating plants indoors, it is always advisable to avoid using dangerous chemicals that could affect humans and animals living in the home.
You will most likely need to use two distinct treatment procedures, one to kill the immobile nymphs and another to kill the flying adults. It’s also a good idea to repeat any therapy numerous times over a few days or weeks to ensure that the life cycle has been disturbed adequately.
Perform a test application on a small area of the plant first, as with other topical treatments. Allow it to sit for a few days to observe if it does any damage before applying it to the entire plant. Additionally, avoid applying liquid treatments in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest, as they might scorch the leaves.
Related: What Kills Houseplants?
Prune and isolate.
The first and most crucial step, as with any pest or disease, is to isolate your plant so that the problem does not spread to other plants. This is especially true for winged pests like whiteflies, which may easily migrate from plant to plant.
Whiteflies typically feed on one leaf at a time, moving on to the next once the previous has been depleted of its nutrients. This makes it easy to locate and remove the plant’s most severely afflicted leaves. Once removed, gently dispose of the cuttings so that the adults cannot fly back to your plants.
Vacuuming or rinsing
Whiteflies, their eggs, and nymphs can be dislodged by rinsing an infected plant with a constant, moderately forceful stream of clean water. Pay close attention to the undersides of the leaves. This procedure should not be used on extremely delicate plants since the water pressure may harm them. Rinsing the plant will also aid in the removal of any sooty mold that may have developed as a result of the honeydew secretions.
You might also use a vacuum to remove the whiteflies, but be careful not to damage the plant while you work. You must dispose of the vacuum bag promptly afterwards to ensure that they do not fly out again.
Sticky yellow traps
Because whiteflies are drawn to the color yellow, sticky traps are an excellent approach to eliminating adults. You can use either strip suspended above the plants or cards inserted directly into the soil in the plants’ pot. The traps will gradually fill up with whiteflies that have become attached to the adhesive. This approach, however, is only successful with flying adults and must be used in conjunction with another method that targets nymphs and eggs.
Soap for insect control.
On contact, insecticidal soap will kill whitefly eggs and nymphs by permeating their exoskeleton, suffocating them, and causing them to dehydrate. Adults, on the other hand, will usually flee as you start applying the soap, so it won’t be as effective on them.
You can buy insecticidal soap or make your own at home by combining one tablespoon of gentle, fragrance-free dish soap, one tablespoon of vegetable oil, and one litre of water. Apply the solution to the entire plant with a spray bottle or a cloth, paying specific attention to the undersides of the leaves. Allow the solution to settle for several hours before thoroughly cleaning the entire plant with clean water.
Neem oil is an organic and non-toxic pesticide derived from the Azadirachta indica tree. It smothers and suffocates whitefly eggs and nymphs upon contact. Neem oil is typically marketed as a concentrate; therefore, before applying it to your plant, follow the dilution recommendations on the container. Coat each leaf and stem in a generous amount of the solution with a spray bottle or cloth. Unlike insecticidal soap, neem oil does not require rinsing.
Neem oil will operate fast on immobile nymphs and eggs because they cannot leave the solution, but it will be less effective on active adults who can easily escape. The extra benefit of using neem oil is that it has a residual impact, which means it will continue to protect your plant from new invasions even after the treatment is finished. Even if no pests are present, you can apply them to plants on a regular basis as a prophylactic step.
Related: Will Succulents Leaves Grow Back?
Beware, arachnophobes: this procedure is not for everyone, but it is both effective and preventative. Friendly house spiders can be carefully moved near the host plants and will soon begin to snare adult whiteflies in their webs. While this is not the quickest approach, the spiders will consume the flies, keeping the adult population at bay and disturbing their rapid lifecycle. They will also give future protection by preventing potential colonies of whiteflies from establishing themselves.
You might also place houseplants outside throughout the day during the summer when temperatures are higher. Natural predators of whiteflies, such as ladybugs and lacewings, will soon swoop in to feed on them, keeping their population in check. Just remember to bring your plant inside when the temperature lowers in the evening.
Questions and Answers
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions concerning whiteflies:
Are whiteflies dangerous to humans and animals?
While whiteflies may be destructive to our plants, the good news is that they are not hazardous or toxic to any humans or animals who live in your home.
Whiteflies live for how long?
The whitefly has a three-week life cycle on average. Eggs mature into adults faster during the summer, allowing them to reproduce more quickly. Eggs mature more slowly in the winter, and the life cycle can take several months to complete. Because they multiply so quickly, without intervention, an infestation will be continuous and can spread exponentially, with all phases of egg, nymph, and adult present at the same time.