Whiteflies in your WNY garden? Don’t worry

greenhouse whiteflies on leaf
Here’s a heavy infestation of greenhouse whiteflies on a leaf of greenhouse-grown zucchini. Photo courtesy Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Here’s a message I got from a reader:

Hi Connie,

Would you consider adding the tiny whitefly infestation and organic solutions to rid garden of them in your next newsletter? In the garden, they are everywhere, likely thirsty! Wishing for rain tonight!

Thank you,

Brigitte Wagner-Ott, Eggertsville

I didn’t even know what whiteflies were, and since Wagner-Ott lives down the street from me, I figured I should find out more. She saw something online, but wanted information that was more local.

I started with Cornell Cooperative Extension. It always has good information and has offices throughout New York State.

The greenhouse whitefly is the most common species of whitefly in New York State, according to this factsheet from Oneida County Cornell Cooperative Extension. It feeds on more than 60 kinds of plants.

Adult whiteflies are tiny–approximately 1/16 inch in length, with four powdery white wings, according to a different factsheet from Chemung County Cornell Cooperative Extension. If a heavily infested plant is disturbed, you may notice a cloud of the tiny white insects rising above it.

The greenhouse whitefly can damage garden plants, but don’t usually cause enough damage to make treatment necessary.

“I’d say it’s a minor problem for most gardeners,” said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. “I would not be concerned.”

Hot, dry weather is favorable for reproduction, he said, so you may be seeing more now with the weather we’ve had lately.

While whiteflies don’t usually cause much damage to plants, what if you are having a problem?

“Neem oil would work as a quick knockdown,” Farfaglia said. (Neem oil is organic, but it’s still a pesticide and you must still be cautious when you use it. Find out more here.)

The good news is that whiteflies don’t overwinter in our climate, Farfaglia said.

The bad news is that new infestations are brought into our area on plants each year, according to the Oneida County factsheet. Before you buy plants, inspect them for whiteflies, suggests the Chemung County factsheet.

For houseplants with whiteflies, see both factsheets.

Get more gardening tips

See more questions & answers here.

See more on pests & weeds here.

Find helpful articles on many topics including deer, shade and small spaces. Look for a short list of topics in a box to the right of this article. See all of our topics here.

How to get your questions answered

Readers often contact me with questions that I can’t answer. I’m not a gardening expert– I’m a writer by profession. I interview knowledgeable people in order to provide you with great articles on Buffalo-NiagaraGardening.com. That’s what I did in this article.

Sometimes when someone asks a question I can’t answer, I post the question and rely on my readers to share their expertise.

Sending a question to me to post can be helpful if you’re looking for a wide range of opinions and don’t mind waiting for the answer. If you want to try this route, email the question to me at connie@buffaloniagaragardening.com and I’ll pose it to my readers in an upcoming issue.

However, don’t send me questions:

  • To find out what is wrong with your plant
  • To identify a particular plant or insect
  • If you need an answer quickly

To find out specific information like that, ask the Master Gardeners with Cornell Cooperative Extension or turn to your local garden center. They can give you the information you need.

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