Whitefilies (Aleurothrix) are sucking insects, related to aphids and scales, that feed on plant sap. The adults are small (approximately 1/16 inch ([1.5 mm] long), with a fine white powdery wax over their four white wings and body. Both the adults and immature whiteflies are found on the undersides of leaves. In sufficient numbers, whiteflies will weaken and eventually kill this host plant.
Whiteflies tend to prefer to feed on new growth, so check around any newly unfurled leaves first.
Check the undersides of leaves—especially around the veins—for white insects, even if they aren’t immediately visible, and feel leaf surfaces for sticky honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly all fly off the leaves in a swarm, so it’s very obvious.
You may also find eggs laid on the undersides of leaves. This is the beginning of a new generation! When the eggs hatch, the larvae will look like teeny white ovals without legs; they don’t move but they immediately start sucking the plant juice. This is why gardeners often miss whiteflies until it’s too late. Adult females can produce up to 400 eggs, which hatch in about one week to a month after laying. They are usually laid in a circular pattern. Eggs are pale yellow when newly laid and brown when about to hatch.
How to prevent:
1 Your first line of defense should be inspecting all plants for pests before you bring them home, as well as keeping any new additions away from the rest of your plants for a period of time. This will allow you to identify and curtail any pest or disease issues that appear.
2 Keeping natural predators around will prevent whiteflies from ever exploding in population. For this reason, avoid using insecticides. Ladybugs, spiders, green lacewing larvae, and dragonflies are a few of many beneficial insects that can control a whitefly population. Hummingbirds are another natural predator. Try creating a habitat that will attract dragonflies and damselflies (which also helpfully eat mosquitoes) or beautiful hummingbirds.
3 When it comes to whiteflies, avoid chemical insecticides; they’re usually resistant and all you end up doing is killing the beneficial insects—their natural predators—and the insects that pollinate the garden for a better harvest!
4 Mulch early in the season with aluminum reflective mulch, especially around tomatoes and peppers. The reflective mulch makes it challenging for whiteflies to find their preferred host plants.
5 Set out yellow index cards coated with petroleum jelly to monitor whiteflies, especially when it comes to tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, or cabbage crops. A half-and-half mixture of petroleum jelly and dish soap, spread over small boards painted bright yellow, is sticky enough to catch little whiteflies, too. To whiteflies, the color yellow looks like a mass of new foliage. The bugs are attracted to the cards, get stuck in the jelly, and die.
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