What causes a whitefly infestation?

Whiteflies are a common pest that affects garden, agricultural, and greenhouse plants in West Florida. Small, winged insects, resembling moths, whiteflies are covered with a waxy white powder, and despite their name, they are neither moths or flies. Whiteflies belong to the order of insects known as “true bugs,” and are most closely related to scale insects, mealybugs, and aphids. Whiteflies cause damage to ornamental plants in West Florida such as Ficus trees and flowering plants by extracting the nutrients in plant tissue with their hair-like, piercing-sucking mouthparts. Because whiteflies lay their eggs on the underside of plant leaves where those maturing whiteflies may spend their entire lives, these elusive pests can go unnoticed until leaves start to turn yellow or take on a transparent look. Because they are difficult to detect and control, recurring whitefly infestations can do significant damage to landscape plants, flowers, fruits, and vegetables.

Whiteflies can be difficult to control and recurring infestations can significantly damage plants. In West Florida, several factors can cause whitefly infestations, but the first line of defense should be to prevent whiteflies by:

  • Inspecting the underside of leaves when you are choosing ornamental plants to add to your landscape.
  • Keeping new plants away from your other plants for some time until you can be sure whiteflies aren’t present.
  • Spraying your plants early in the morning or in the evening with a garden hose to dislodge any whiteflies that may be on your plants.

In the last few years, we have seen an increase in whitefly resistance to many pesticides making control much more challenging. An increase rotation of different types of pesticides and more frequent applications is now recommended to gain control of whiteflies in West Florida.

Factors that can cause whitefly infestations in West Florida landscapes include:

  • Drought
    Long periods of dry, hot weather may require that you water your plants more often in the evening or early in the morning to avoid dehydration in the hot summer months. Water stress makes plants more susceptible to attack by whiteflies. Additionally, hot weather makes conditions favorable for whitefly reproduction, leading to an increase in the number of insects. Along with drought conditions causing favorable conditions for whitefly populations to reproduce, plant leaves and stems provide a water source for insects with piercing, sucking mouthparts.
  • Lack of predators
    While drought conditions increase whitefly populations, these conditions do not favor the development of natural whitefly predators, such as ladybugs, lacewings, spiders, dragonflies, beetles, mites, and parasitized wasps. With fewer whitefly predators, more whiteflies are produced to attack your plants.
  • Insecticide Use
    Broad-spectrum insecticides do more harm than good. Instead of only eliminating whiteflies, many of these commercial insecticides can’t target particular types of bugs, wiping out all insects, including beneficial whitefly predators. Eliminating whitefly predators compounds whitefly infestations further, allowing infestations to flourish. More importantly, pesticides can kill crucial pollinators, such as bees, which is not only bad for your garden’s ecosystem, the lack of pollinators affects the global food supply at large. According to the National Gardening Association, a simple solution of water and dish soap can help control and deter whiteflies.
  • Nitrogen Fertilizer
    As much as your plants like nitrogen-rich fertilizers, whiteflies like your nitrogen-rich plants, as well. Excessive nitrogen fertilization can cause frequent infestations. While nitrogen can boost the vitality of your plants, over-fertilizing your garden can attract whiteflies, leading to more frequent infestations.

Is your West Florida garden suffering from a whitefly infestation? Do not wait to address any suspected whitefly activity because they will quickly spread throughout your yard and into those of your neighbors. Our whitefly experts at Pestwise are standing by to address your whitefly treatment concerns in Pinellas County and Palm Beach County.

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