How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!

Eight natural and other ways of dealing with whiteflies with prevention measures.
By
Phyllis McMahon
Phyllis McMahon
Research Writer
Phyllis teaches English Literature at a local college and loves writing in her free time. She’s also a great cook – her British beef Wellington is something the best res read more
reviewed
Reviewed By
Chas Kempf
Chas Kempf
Expert Consultant
Chas works in a professional pest control company and knows all the nuances of this job. Also, he’s a fantastic tennis player and loves to organize BBQ parties for his fam read more
Last updated: December 28, 2022
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The weather is nice, and you are sitting outside. Suddenly you see a tiny little white winged creature that looks similar to a moth or a butterfly. You smile, because you think that you have seen a pretty sign of spring or summer and you go about your day. But what you may have seen is not a moth or a butterfly. It may just be something called a whitefly, and they can be very destructive to your plants.

In this article, we are going to look at some information about whiteflies and we are going to answer your questions and tell you how to get rid of them. Two of the questions that we will cover are how to get rid of whiteflies in your house and how to get rid of whiteflies on your hibiscus and other plants.

What Are They?

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!
Giant, greenhouse, silverleaf, and bandedwinged whiteflies are particularly dangerous types as they affect a wide plant range.

They are winged insects with soft bodies, and they are closely related to mealybugs and aphids. In spite of their name, they’re not a kind of fly, even though they are winged and can fly.

They can be as tiny as 1/12” and they look somewhat like a triangle. They’re often found clustered together on leaves’ undersides. They’re active in the daytime and they scatter when they’re disturbed. Therefore, they’re often easier to see when compared with some of the nocturnal insects.

There are many whitefly species. But the majority of them only affect a small portion of the host plants. That being said, there are some species of whiteflies that affect a much wider plant range, and this makes them very problematic when it comes to horticulture. These types of whiteflies include:

  • giant whitefly
  • greenhouse whitefly
  • silverleaf whitefly
  • bandedwinged whitefly

The silverleaf whitefly, which is a bit smaller and has a more yellow color than the other types of whitefly, is particularly common in southern parts of the United States.

Whitefly Lifecycle

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!Whiteflies have complex life histories, since they undergo five development stages. First the eggs are laid on leaves’ undersides. They are first a pale yellow. They then turn gray before they hatch in 5-7 days. What hatches out of the eggs is called a crawler, and this stage is a translucent, small stage which will actively search for a site to feed. After a few days, the crawler will settle down and start to feed, then transform into the scale stage. This sucking insect is highly modified, and the outer covering will thicken once it feeds. This gives it additional protection. Pupation will occur in this scale cover. After another four days, the adult emerges. This life cycle will take around 40 days, based on the temperature.

Preventing Whiteflies

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!
Spraying insecticidal soap and planting repellent plants are some of the best ways to prevent whiteflies.

Before we jump into answering the question, how do I get rid of white flies in my house, we are going to talk about prevention. One of the best ways that you can avoid having problems with whiteflies is to prevent the problem in the first place. Below are some techniques that you can use to prevent having a problem with whiteflies:

  • Insecticidal soap – These soft-bodied insects are able to be prevented as well as controlled using an insect control spray. These can be found at garden centers and nurseries.
  • Nutrients – Seeing whiteflies, particularly on pepper and tomato plants, often indicates that there’s a magnesium and phosphorous deficiency. You can use Epsom salts for correctly deficiencies in magnesium. Simply mix 4 oz Epsom salts and a gallon of water. Then soak your soil using this mixture. You also can put 1-2 tablespoons of Epsom salts under your plants’ roots.
  • Repellent Plants – You can plant a few plants such as Calendula, French & African marigolds, Peruvian cherry, and Nasturtiums to repel whiteflies.
  • Seaweed Spray – Using seaweed spray to mist your plants’ leaves will make the whiteflies stay away and not reproduce on your plants. The bonus to this is that the plants also are going to get the benefits that this spray offers. You can use this in your garden and greenhouse. You also can spray it on the houseplants a week prior to them being brought indoors.
  • Shoofly Plant – Want to trap the whiteflies? Get one of these plants. It will help protect the other plants that are in your greenhouse or home.

How to Recognize Their Presence

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!
Whiteflies are commonly seen in huge groups on the undersides of leaves.

Adult whiteflies measure around 1/16” in length and look like tiny moths (if you’re also having problem with those, check our article on how to get rid of moths). Their wings are delicate and covered with a wax that’s powdery white. The numbers of whiteflies will increase quickly when the weather turns warm and there aren’t a lot of natural enemies. If you’ve disturbed a plant that’s been infested heavily with whiteflies, you are going to see a cloud of them flying off of your plant. The females will lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves. The nymphs don’t usually move, and they look like bumps on the leaf’s underside. Older nymphs and adults will many times have distinct markings that can be used for identifying what species you are dealing with. Below are some identifying characteristics of two species:

  • Wooly whitefly – Covered in fluffy and waxy filaments
  • Iris whitefly – Adults have one dot on each of their wings.

Getting Rid of the Whiteflies

Now that you know how to recognize that you have whiteflies, let’s look at how to get rid of them. Whether you want to know how to get rid of white flies on my houseplants or you are looking for some general information about how to get rid of them, we have some helpful information below to get you started.

The Natural Way

If you want to know how to get rid of white flies in your garden, it’s best to use natural methods so that you don’t have to worry about affecting the environment.

Vacuum

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!If you are lucky enough to catch whiteflies early, before there is a big infestation, it’s possible to simply use your vacuum cleaner and suck them off the plants. It’s best to use a handheld, since it’s a lot more convenient. This is especially true if you are looking for advice on how to get rid of white flies in your yard or on your tomato plants.

Remove affected leaves

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!This is an important step in the guide on how to get rid of white flies on plants. A whitefly will start feeding on a leaf and then move to another. It sucks out the juices of the leaf before it goes to another. When this occurs, the plant will continue sending energy to damaged leaves even though they are not salvageable. That’s why you want to remove it.

Take pruning shears or a sharp nipper. Then cut off the wilted leaves along with those that are covered in a waxy, sticky fluid. This fluid, known as honeydew, gets secreted by a whitefly after it’s ingested the vital juices of the plant. Seal the leaves that you have clipped off inside a ziplock bag before you toss them in your trashcan.

Encourage natural predators

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!A lot of birds and insects eat whiteflies. Although they do exist naturally in your garden and landscape, it’s a good idea to attract them to encourage them to come and feed at the buffet. Insects that prey on whiteflies include:

  • ladybugs – you can also purchase these
  • green lacewings
  • predatory mites
  • Encaria formosa wasps

Birds that prey on whiteflies include:

  • swallows
  • phoebes
  • kinglets
  • hummingbirds

Use repellents

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!There are also commercial sprays on the market that you can purchase that will help with repelling a variety of pests, including whiteflies. Make sure that you read the instructions and follow them as directed.

Neem oil

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!This is a natural oil and it’s a lot safer than the harsh chemicals for effectively controlling whiteflies. Just mix it in a spray bottle as the bottle directs and spray both the undersides and tops of the leaves. Make sure that you are spraying again after 72 hours so that you kill the hatchlings. You should adjust the nozzle of your spray so that it will shoot in a stream. You want to spray during the early part of the morning or the late part of the evening so that you don’t harm the bees, butterflies, and other kinds of pollinators that aren’t active during those hours. When the oil is dry it won’t harm the pollinators.

Yellow sticky traps

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!Even though it’s not very effective when you want to control whiteflies, this type of trap can be useful outside or inside to help you know if there are whiteflies around. Hang it at outdoor plants’ tops or close to openings such as vents and doors where the whiteflies can get inside.

Other Options

Alcohol spray

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!Mix 4 oz isopropyl alcohol (70%) with 12 oz of water. Then spray this solution on your plants’ foliage. Some of the plants have alcohol sensitivity and this can burn the foliage. Test your plant’s sensitivity by spraying one or two leaves and waiting 1-2 days to see if it can tolerate it. Plants that have hairy or waxy leaves are usually sensitive and therefore you should not use this method.

Chemical insecticides

How to Get Rid of Whiteflies for Good!Unless you have a really bad infestation, a chemical insecticide should not be used. Pyrethrin or malathion are ideal to use for killing whiteflies. Follow the mixing instructions that the manufacturer has put on the label and then spray it on your leaves’ tops and undersides, since this is where the whiteflies will be found. Spray again every three days until you stop seeing whiteflies. Some of the great insecticides that are suitable for whitefly infestation can be found in our guide on the best earwig killers. When you are using these kinds of products, don’t spray your plants’ flowers and only spray during early in the morning or in the late evening hours. Otherwise you may accidentally harm a pollinator.

FAQ

Which plants are susceptible to whiteflies?

There are a lot of plants that are susceptible to damage from whiteflies. The food crops that are affected the most are:

  • brassica
  • eggplant
  • peppers
  • okra
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • grapes
  • citrus
  • cucumber

The ornamental and greenhouse-grown plants that are most susceptible are:

  • begonia
  • salvia
  • hibiscus
  • roses

Can trees be trimmed to get rid of whiteflies?

Although trimming trees that are hanging over porches, roofs, pools and other spots is a good approach since it will reduce how much honeydew is falling right on the targets, it’s not usually a good idea. Remember that your trees are already stressed due to the whiteflies and if you put more stress on them by trimming them, it can be hazardous.

Do whiteflies inject viruses into plants?

Some whitefly species do inject some types of viruses into the plants. But it’s not all of the species. It all depends on where you live.

What’s the sticky stuff on the plants and does it hurt the plants?

This is one reason that a lot of people search the internet on how to get rid of white flies on plants, because they see the white flies and they are worried that the stuff left behind will hurt their plants.  That sticky stuff is called honeydew. Although it won’t harm your plant, there will be black mold that will grow where honeydew is. It also can be very messy and could damage the finish on painted objects such as cars if you don’t wash it off. There’s also a possibility of an ant infestation, because some of them feed on the honeydew. If you happen to encounter lots of ants on your property, you should probably read our article about how to get rid of ants.

Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read our article. Now that you know what whiteflies look like and what to look for, as well as how to get rid of whiteflies, you are better prepared to take care of them.

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