Whiteflies are tiny, sap-sucking insects that may become abundant in vegetable and ornamental plantings, especially during warm weather. They excrete sticky honeydew and cause yellowing or death of leaves. Outbreaks often occur when the natural biological control is disrupted. Management is difficult once populations are high.
Whiteflies use their piercing, needlelike mouthparts to suck sap from phloem, the food-conducting tissues in plant stems and leaves. Large populations can cause leaves to turn yellow, appear dry, or fall off plants. Like aphids, whiteflies excrete a sugary liquid called honeydew, so leaves may be sticky or covered with black sooty mold that grows on honeydew (See UC Pest Note on Sooty Mold). The honeydew attracts ants, which interfere with the activities of natural enemies that may control whiteflies and other pests.
Management of heavy whitefly infestations is difficult. The best strategy is to prevent problems from developing in your garden or landscape. In many situations, natural enemies will provide adequate control of whiteflies; outbreaks often occur when natural enemies are disrupted by insecticide applications, dusty conditions, or interference by ants. Avoid or remove plants that repeatedly host high populations of whiteflies.
In gardens, whitefly populations in the early stages of population development can be held down by a vigilant program of removing infested leaves or hosing down with water sprays. Reflective mulches can repel whiteflies from vegetable gardens, and yellow sticky traps can be used to monitor or, at high levels, reduce whitefly numbers. If you choose to use insecticides, insecticidal soaps or oils such as neem oil may reduce but not eliminate populations. Systemic insecticides may be more effective but can have negative impacts on beneficial insects and pollinators.
For more information see UC Pest Note on Whiteflies.