Whiteflies: How To Wipe Out These Tiny White Insects For Good


Much like aphids, whiteflies are a scourge in the garden. These tiny pale pests suck the sap from plants and spread diseases. Worse yet, they’re so miniscule that they can fit through a lot of mesh screening. Because of this, the whitefly is also a major problem in greenhouses and indoor growing spaces.

But don’t panic, you can eliminate these white insects from your greenhouse or garden. Let’s talk about whiteflies, how they multiply, and how to get rid of them!

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Organic Products to Kill Whiteflies

Environmental Products to Eliminate Whiteflies

Prevention Options for Whiteflies

Whiteflies Overview

Common Name(s) Whiteflies, citrus whitefly, ash whitefly, greenhouse whitefly, and many other related names
Scientific Name(s) Multiple, all in the Aleyrodidae family of insects
Family Aleyrodidae
Origin Worldwide
Plants Affected Most agricultural crops (especially brassicas, tomatoes, capsicum and citrus), some ornamentals, some medicinal crops
Common Remedies Removal of pests (with water or vacuum), garlic sprays, insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, pyrethrin-based sprays, yellow sticky traps, whitefly predators (such as ladybugs, lacewings, whitefly parasite, hummingbirds, and dragonflies), neem oil, reflective mulches, and sticky ant traps around fruit trees

Life Cycle Of Whiteflies

Whitefly Eggs
Rings of whitefly eggs on a leaf. Source: Scot Nelson

In the latter part of spring, whitefly adults place their eggs on the undersides of leaves. Typically, these are done in concentric patterns, towards the upper portion of the plant. An adult whitefly can produce 200-400 eggs.

Five to ten days later, the whitefly eggs will hatch into nymphs. The first instar, or larval phase, the nymphs are referred to as crawlers. They move a short distance away from their egg and then flatten against the leaf to feed. There are a total of four instars, but once the crawler has picked its location, it remains there throughout further instars.

These nymphal stages can be hard to identify. Once they’ve stopped crawling and latched onto the leaf, they look very similar to scale insects. Often their coloration blends in with the leaf they’re on, or is slightly paler in hue.

After the nymphal stages have concluded, the whitefly larva will pupate. Within a week, the whitefly emerges from its old skin as a new adult to begin its own egg-laying process. These tiny white flying bugs can live for a couple months as adults before dying off.

Common Habitats For Whiteflies

Some whiteflies on a leaf.
Some whiteflies on a leaf. Source: Fluffymuppet

Whiteflies live the majority of their lives on or near their host plants. While adults can fly and thus can find new plants to lay eggs on, the nymphs don’t leave their food source.

Nymphs overwinter on their host plants on the underside of leaves, where they’ve latched on to feed. However, they don’t tolerate extremely cold climates well and will die off if they are exposed to freezing conditions.

This makes them a common greenhouse pest, as the climate inside a greenhouse is usually warm enough for them to survive. In fact, there is a particular species of whitefly, the greenhouse whitefly (Trialeurodes vaporariorum) which tends to live most of its lifespan indoors!

Adult whiteflies cannot survive for more than a few days without feeding on plant sap. If you’ve found tiny white bugs on plants, you may have found whiteflies. They may be eating, laying eggs, or sheltering from inclement weather.

What Do Whiteflies Eat?

Citrus Whiteflies
Citrus whiteflies. Source: Scot Nelson

Both adults and nymphs feed on plant sap. However, different species of whiteflies feed on different kinds of plants. For instance, the cabbage whitefly (Aleyrodes proletella) feeds on brassica species.

There are whiteflies that feed on a wide range of different agricultural crops, including citrus, most vegetables and fruits, and some ornamental plants. Worse yet, whiteflies are a vector for nearly a hundred different plant diseases, and can spread those diseases during feeding.

They also leave behind honeydew, a sticky substance that can develop black mold or other fungal issues.

How To Get Rid Of Whiteflies

Bad whitefly Infestation
A bad whitefly infestation. Source: DocJ96

So now you’re asking how to get rid of whiteflies, I’m sure. While these pests can be tricky to eliminate, especially if they take up residence inside your greenhouse, there are ways to combat them. Let’s go over some of the best white fly treatments and find the right option for you!

Organic Whitefly Control

Before trying more serious white fly treatments, you should begin with something very simple: blast your plants with water. Sometimes, a good hard spray with a hose will knock off the whitefly nymphs. As they don’t move after the creeping phase, they will starve and die. This also works surprisingly well for aphid infestations.

Use a handheld vacuum to suck white flies up! While you have to exercise caution while doing this, a small handheld vacuum can be a very easy way to get rid of larvae, eggs, and the tiny white bugs themselves. Just be careful not to let it suck the leaves off your plants.

A good home remedy for whiteflies on plants is a homemade garlic spray. Garlic can be a particularly pungent aroma, so I don’t recommend this for use inside the house! Even in a greenhouse, the scent builds up. I recommend this only for outdoor use.

An insecticidal soap like Safer Soap can be used to knock down heavy infestations. Insecticidal soaps coat the eggs and larvae with a coating that makes it difficult for them to breathe. It’ll also kill off adult whiteflies.

Horticultural oils are also quite useful on this type of pest. I recommend neem oil or something like Bonide All-Seasons Horticultural and Dormant Spray Oil. Both will smother all life stages of this pest and cause them to die off.

If none of the above work, opt for a pyrethrin-based spray. My preferences are Safer Brand Yard & Garden Spray or Take-Down Garden Spray, both of which contain pyrethrin plus an oily or fatty agent. The fats or oils coat eggs and nymphs and smother them while the pyrethrin poisons all life stages. These are both easy on the plants, too!

Environmental Whitefly Control

Whitefly, sp. Aleyrodidae
Whitefly, sp. Aleyrodidae. Source: gailhampshire

If you have tiny white flying bugs in house or greenhouse, or even outdoors in the garden, you can use traps to catch them. My preferred choice is yellow sticky traps. White flies are drawn to the yellow color, assuming it’s a flower. They can’t escape to go and lay eggs.

Natural predators for this white bug include ladybugs, lacewings, and the whitefly parasite (which is a form of beneficial parasitic wasp). By ensuring that you have lots of beneficial insects in your yard and garden, you can quickly deal with infestations. Hummingbirds and dragonflies are also natural predators!

Preventing Whiteflies

Tiny whitefly on fingertip
Tiny whitefly on fingertip. Source: davidshort

Place new plants in quarantine for a couple weeks. I know, it’s difficult to do, but before adding new plants to your garden or your greenhouse, keep them separate and observe them for a little bit. That way, if you develop problems with hidden pests, you’ll be able to deal with them fast. And you won’t introduce the whitefly infestation to your other plants!

Using neem oil on your plants will deter whiteflies from laying eggs on them. In addition, the oil will coat the eggs and larvae and smother them. Be sure to thoroughly coat both the bottoms and tops of the leaves as well as their stems for complete coverage.

Try mulching with a reflective mulch fabric. Reflective fabrics are confusing to whiteflies, and they tend to leave those plants alone.

To gauge if you’ve got a whitefly problem, use yellow index cards coated with petroleum jelly. Set them around your plants. While these aren’t as effective as yellow sticky traps, they also can catch white flies and alert you to their presence.

Use Tanglefoot Tangle-Trap around the base of citrus trees that develop whitefly infestations. While this sticky gel will not catch many of the white bugs themselves, it will stop ants from getting into the tree.

Ants can farm aphids and whiteflies for the honeydew secretion that they produce. They’re known to protect their honeydew providers from natural enemies. If you reduce the ants in your plants, you can reduce the spread of your whiteflies!

Plumeria Whiteflies
Whiteflies on plumeria. Source: Scot Nelson

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do whiteflies bite people?

A: Unlike the irritating black flies (sometimes called horseflies) that bite, whiteflies are harmless to people. They’re just not attracted to humans or our pets or livestock. Whitefly damage is found on plants only!

Q: How can I deal with whitefly honeydew on my plants?

A: Great question! The white fly releases a sticky secretion called honeydew. Left in place, this honeydew can develop black mold that can inhibit plant growth. A good spray of water should wash it away.

If black mold has formed, you may need to wipe off the mold with damp towels. Once you’ve removed the majority of the mold, spray the plant down thoroughly with neem oil, which should prevent further mold growth.

Are you ready to be rid of this white and annoying menace to your plants? I know I am. Whiteflies are horrible to deal with! Have you used any other techniques in the war against these tiny white flies? Let us know in the comments below!

The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

Kevin Espiritu

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17 thoughts on “Whiteflies: How To Wipe Out These Tiny White Insects For Good”

    • The short answer: if it gets cold, they won’t.

      The longer version: It really depends on your climate and your habitat. If you have freezing conditions every winter, whitefly larvae will not survive frosts and freezes well. Warm places like the edges of compost piles can harbor whitefly larvae, but if they’re exposed to the cold they’ll die off. If you’re in southern California where it seldom drops below the freezing mark, you can have whitefly issues all year long.

      In greenhouse conditions or indoors, whiteflies can also survive throughout the year if you’re not careful. Again, that’s mostly temperature-related. Any location which doesn’t freeze can have whiteflies overwintering there.

  1. I live in Michigan, and my infested Eastern redbud trees will be dropping their leaves shortly. Frost and snow will kill the infestation if I understand correctly. Redbuds do not take to insect spraying well, especially any oils like Neem, once they leaf out. I tried soap and water and directed hose spraying, and it didn’t help. Is there anything I can use on the redbuds that will prevent this from developing next year?

    • Eastern redbuds are hard to treat when whiteflies invade. Your best bet is to prune severe infestations, dropping the pruned foliage into a bucket of soapy water to drown the insects. Insecticidal soap or horticultural oils are really the only treatment methods that’ve proved to be effective, although there’s some limited success with sticky traps too.

  2. Twice a day I spray the whiteflies. I have done everything and can’t get rid of them. My beautiful hibiscus is suffering the most. I have used soap and water with lemon plus safers soap. I spray them down and rub each leaf. There is no way of getting rid of them. I won’t be able to bring my plants in this winter. Unless you have another suggestion

  3. white flies have invaded and nearly killed 2 of my trees. there are a few live branches left and some are still growing new leaves. Are these trees still savable?

    • Hard for me to say for sure without a picture! The best you can do is make sure you remove all of the whiteflies and then give it the best conditions possible to recover! Good luck Jen!

  4. Thanks for the help. I’m a bout to clear my greenhouse of my tomatoes plants and my basil so hopefully I’ll get rid of many of the whitefly then. How do I then clean and disinfect my greenhouse to give it the best start for next tomato season? Your help would be appreciated. Many Thanks

    • Hi Joan,

      We’ll do a greenhouse cleaning piece closer towards the end of the growing season I think. Perhaps later this month as well, should cover much of this question for you! So stay tuned 🙂

  5. Please do not recommend the use of sticky traps outdoors. While they do not “lure” birds, the stuck insects are a lure and the bird will get stuck to the trap when trying to eat the insects.

    • Commercial farmers get degradation permits to kill nuisance animals that destroy crops mostly by feeding on them…I have a friend who’s a third generation multi crop large scale farmer and thanks to his legal taking of deer during the growing season, (which is not hunting season)my freezer stays stocked with venison year round so while the unintended death or injury of a non targeted creature is unfortunate and while most gardeners aren’t large scale,but instead ate hobbyist some of us have spent huge sums of hard earned money and a measurable portion of our very lives tending and maintaining our gardens and groves…so I don’t think the off chance that a random bird(most of which have secure populations)would be or should be a deterrent to using a trap not meant for birds at all to keep a huge investment of time and money and love from being destroyed by garden pests that have infested to a critical point…cars inadvertently kill wildlife…should we stop driving as well???mowing your lawn can dice the occasional snake or rodent..stop mowing our lawns??feel free to exercise and practice your own values and philosophies in peace and good faith but don’t presume to suggest your thoughts are the only relevant ones by asking an author of free mind and body adopt your mindset because of an issue that you feel is important… you save the birds …and it is worthy work to be sure..I’ll save my garden using whatever methods I deem worthy and necessary and hopefully no birds will be harmed but if it happens one bird a season or in two seasons falls victim …well it’s too bad …but It’s not “too bad”

      • In regards to sticky traps:

        These are common in agricultural settings. Those who are concerned about bird safety are of course welcome to utilize one of the caged sticky traps (as an example, there’s a line of Rescue! Trapstik insect catchers for a variety of different insects – you can find one example at this link).

        Alternately, if you’re caring for a fruit tree, you can opt to place bird netting over the tree’s canopy. This will prevent birds from reaching the sticky traps and protect your future harvest from bird attack at the same time.

        There are many different methods of taking care of insects, and every situation is slightly different. One should always use the methods which they prefer to utilize in their garden. If there’s additional precautions which you wish to take above and beyond the standard, that’s entirely up to you!

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