Whitefly insect

Adult whitefly and juvenile form. Sketch by Jane Gates

Whitefly insects are tiny flying bugs that infest indoor plants and feed off of those growing outdoors in warm climates. These insects do not survive frosts, but then many of the plants they like best don’t tolerate cold either. Like aphids and mealybugs, whiteflies are sucking insects that can carry infections and will weaken the plant over time, potentially killing it.

If you spot tiny, flying, white moth-like creatures – the size of a pinhead — chances are you have an infestation of whiteflies. The eggs are even smaller than the adults and the immature forms are so tiny you won’t see them easily with the naked eye. Whiteflies will coat the underside of leaves where they quickly breed as they suck the life juices from your plant. Those tiny white moths are easy to identify as the adults fly off in clouds when disturbed.

Organic control can be done by hosing off all parts of the plant with a strong stream of water with particular attention to the underside the leaves, and/or spraying with an insecticidal soap or Neem solution. It is difficult to rid an infestation of whitefly with organic means only and you’ll have to treat frequently and regularly.

The most efficient way to kill off an attack of whitefly is to use a systemic insecticide that will be drawn up through the roots and into the sap. Insects drink the poison and die. Systemic poisons usually have a strong, unpleasant odor. They also make foliage and stems toxic so keep children and pets away from treated plants. Never use systemic insecticides on edible plants. Unfortunately, whiteflies have a tendency to quickly develop a resistance to pesticides, so it is best to continue with organic insect controls even after a chemical treatment.