Glasshouse whitefly is a common sap-feeding insect, mainly of house-plants and greenhouse plants. They excrete a sticky substance (honeydew), which allows the growth of sooty moulds.
Scientific name: Trialeurodes vaporariorum
Plants affected: Many house-plants and greenhouse plants
Main symptoms: Sticky honeydew on foliage, black sooty moulds, small white-winged insects
Most active: All year round
What is glasshouse whitefly?
Whiteflies are sap sucking true bugs (Hemiptera) in the family Aleyrodidae. The adults are typically white and fly up from host plants. There are around eight species found in Britain, some are restricted to a limited host range others are found indoors on a wide range of plants indoors.
Glasshouse whitefly can feed on many vegetables and ornamental plants grown in greenhouses as well as house-plants. These include: cucumber, melon, tomato, peppers, Chrysanthemum, Gerbera, Pelargonium, Fuchsia, Lantana, poinsettia and Verbena.
Outdoor plants can also host this whitefly especially in warm summers, however, note that whiteflies seen on brassicas, Viburnum tinus, honeysuckle, evergreen azalea and rhododendron are other species of whitefly specific to those plants.
- It is relatively easy to see whiteflies on affected plants. When a plant is disturbed clouds of small white-winged insects, 1.5mm (about 1/16in) long, will fly up. This distinguishes whitefly from other insect such as aphids. White objects on the top surface of leaves are more likely to be aphid skins
- You may also see flat, oval, creamy white scale-like nymphs (somtimes called larva and pupa) on the underside of leaves. If these nymphs are black they have probably been parsitised by an Encarsia wasp and are dead
- Adult whitefly and nymphs excrete sticky honeydew which falls onto foliage, stems and fruits and allows the growth of black sooty moulds
Check susceptible plants frequently from spring onwards so action can be taken before a damaging population has developed. When choosing management options you can minimise harm to non-target animals by starting with the methods in the non-pesticide control section and avoiding pesticides. Within pesticides the shorter persistence products (that are usually certified for organic growing) are likely to be less damaging to non-target wildlife than those with longer persistence and/or systemic action. Pesticide treatments are likely to kill natural enemies and are only likely to be successful if the entire plant can be reached.
Due to this insects rapid reproductive rate and the widespread occurrence of pesticide-resistant strains, biological control often gives better results than insecticides on greenhouse plants.
An established method of control for glasshouse whitefly is to introduce tiny parasitoid wasps, Encarsia formosa, which prey on the whitefly scale nymphs. The parasitoid is available by mail order from the Biological control suppliers. It is important to introduce the parasitoid before plants are heavily affected as it cannot give instant control. Parasitised whitefly nymphs turn black so it is easy to monitor the progress of the control. As Encarsia is killed by insecticides, avoid spraying with products other than fatty acids, plant invigorators, plant extracts or plant oils (see below) prior to its introduction.
Other predators such as the mite Amblyseius andersonii (egg predator) are sometimes available in addition to Encarsia. See Biological control suppliers
Other non-pesticide controls
- Removing unwanted plants from the glasshouse can reduce the number of host plants for glasshouse whitefly
- Watch for signs of whitefly on new purchases as the insect is often first brought into a glasshouse on new plants. If possible quarantine new plants in order to give eggs and nymphs a chance to develop and be recognised.
- Good ventilation will help to check the growth of sooty moulds
- Cleaning glasshouses in winter can help reduce overwintering populations
- Hang sticky yellow sheets (widely available from garden suppliers) above or among the plants to trap adult whitefly, this can help monitor whitefly activity rather than give control. Sticky traps often catch non-target organisms including parasitoid wasp predators so there use should be considered carefully
Pesticide controlThe RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.
- Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra 2, Neudorff Bug Free Bug and Larvae Killer) or plant oils (e.g. Vitax Plant Guard Pest & Disease Control, Bug Clear Fruit & Veg, Vitax Rose Guard) can give good control of whitefly. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep whitefly numbers in check. Plant oil and fatty acid products are less likely to affect larger insects such as ladybird adults
- Plant invigorators combine nutrients to stimulate plant growth with surfactants or fatty acids that have a physical mode of action against aphids (e.g. Ecofective Bug Control, Growing Success Bug Stop, Rose Clear 3 in 1 Action SB Plant Invigorator and Westland Resolva Natural Power Bug & Mildew). These products contain some synthetic ingredients and so are not considered organic
- More persistent contact-action insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Bug Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer, Provanto Sprayday Greenfly Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
- A systemic containing the active ingredient Flupyradifurone (Provanto Smart Bug Killer) is available for use on ornamentals and selected edibles
- The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available
- In glasshouses it is possible to use glasshouse fumigants. Glasshouse should be sealed and instructions on the product label must be followed. An organic fumigant based on garlic is available as Pelsis Pest-Stop Biofume Greenhouse Fumigator and can be used when crop plants are present. Products based on the synthetic pyrethroid permethrin are available as DeadFast Greenhouse Smoke Generator, DeadFast Greenhouse Smoke Fumigator and Vitax Greenhouse Fumigator
Follow label instructions when using pesticides. On edible plants make sure the food plant is listed on the label and follow instructions on maximum number of applications, spray interval and harvest interval. Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to bees and other pollinating insects.
Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by RHS Gardening Advice. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.
DownloadsPesticides for gardeners (pdf document)
Biological control suppliers (pdf document)
Glasshouse whitefly is a sap-sucking insect that breeds rapidly and produces many generations in warm greenhouse conditions. The adults and their whitish scale-like nymphs (also known as larva and pupa) live on the underside of leaves where they feed on sap, weakening the plants. They lay greyish white cylindrical eggs either singly or in circles on the underside of the leaves.
Each female can lay more than 200 eggs. Males are rare and reproduction takes place without the need for fertilization. The eggs hatch into small crawler scale-like nymphs which crawl around for a while before they begin feeding and become immobile. The nymphs are a flat, oval shape, whitish-green in colour, and just over 1mm in length when fully developed. The final nymphal stage is called a pupa and the adult whitefly eventually emerges through a slit in the dorsal surface. The length of the life cycle varies according to the temperature. At 10ºC (50ºF) the life cycle takes several months, but can be completed in about three weeks at 21ºC (70ºF). The insect can remain active during the winter in an unheated greenhouse, provided suitable host plants are present. Glasshouse whitefly does not usually survive winter out of doors.
Image: © GWI/John Swithinbank. Available in high resolution at www.gardenworldimages.com
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