Seemingly clouds of white flying insects have invaded many landscapes. They are found on caladiums, ficus, schefflera, begonias, poinsettias and many vegetable crops. It seems there is no plant they really do not like. Gardeners have written numerous notes of concern. And yes, these insects are up to no good.
Many types of whiteflies have now invaded Florida and are found in local landscapes. Most produce small, flat, immature yellow to green stages, on the under side of leaves. The white, about pinhead size, adults are usually noted first as they take flight from disturbed foliage where they lay eggs and often move diseases between plants. Whiteflies are piercing sucking insects that can quickly build large populations and reduce plant vigor. They are also associated with the sooty mold fungus.
Early control of whiteflies is needed especially in the vegetable garden where the pests spread viral diseases. Often plant production of tomatoes, squash and similar crops are seriously reduced and the plants take on an atypical look. Where the pests are known to be a frequent problem preventative treatments may be needed.
While there are a number of insects and fungal organisms that affect whiteflies to help with control, the pests can still build large damaging populations. If you notice the whiteflies early, a natural insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray may be an effective control. The trick is to hit the underside of the leaves where the immature stages are developing.
Systemic insecticides found at garden centers are a very effective control as they are taken into the plants to control the whiteflies as they feed. Products are available to either apply to the soil or spray on the foliage following label instructions. Makes sure the plants you want to spray are listed on the label. Most need several days to move throughout the plants so don't expect the population to decline over night. Give the systemic insecticides a few days to work.
Do note not all insecticides are labeled for use with vegetables and fruits. Select your products carefully and follow label instructions.