Gardening: Controlling Whitefly in Your Garden

Continuing Lessons in Container Gardening

One year ago I started an experiment in container gardening. I call it an experiment in that I have always had, in the past, extremely large in-ground gardens…in the Midwest. So I not only was dealing with a new mode of gardening, I was dealing with a completely new environment here in southern California. During the past season I had many lessons which you can read about in these blogs:
Container Gardens: Part I – The Basics
Container Gardens: Part II – Lessons Learned

Whitefly infestations

Whitefly on Tomato LeavesOne of the biggest mistakes I made last spring was in how I dealt with whitefly in my garden. I didn’t. Having lived (and gardened) most of my life in the Midwest, I had never encountered  this particular pest. They looked so small…and they were…well, flies. How much harm could they possibly do?

Well, it turns out they can do a great deal of harm. What I didn’t realize at the time was that they were feeding on the underside of the leaves and laying eggs. And they excrete a substance called honeydew (which ants love) which is toxic to the leaves and can cause mold to develop. By the time I saw the damage, some plants were too far gone. And I still didn’t understand what was wrecking havoc on my plants until this year when the first pest I noticed, once again, was the whitefly. This time I took them seriously and did the research.

You can read more about Whitefly here if you wish. And you can find lots of websites siting which chemicals to use to control whitefly – even as they mention that whitefly tend to quickly gain immunity to chemicals. Since I only organic garden – after all this is food for our table — I had to find a different solution.

The following remedy is working for me so far this year, so I want to share it with my readers. I can’t guarantee it will work for you, or keep working for you for years, but hey – it’s a place to start.

Controlling Whitefly Naturally

Container Gardening Spring 2017I found a few sites that mentioned a use of a solution of dishwashing liquid and water to spray on the leaves. One site also added rubbing alcohol, but cautioned it can damage some leaves, so I opted to leave out that ingredient. I mixed a teaspoon of dishwashing soap (I used the Bright Green brand) and water in a spray bottle that holds 32-oz. of liquid. Gently shake to mix the ingredients. Then I sprayed the solution on the tops and bottoms of the leaves with a very fine mist, making sure to cover all surfaces. I sprayed all my plants that were being affected by the pest.

It was obvious from the beginning that the whitefly didn’t like the spray. And although a few found their way back to the plants, it was easy at that point to destroy them by hand. The next day I didn’t find any on the plants. Nor the next day or the next. But now we’ve had four days of on-and-off rain, So once we have full sunshine again I may need to spray again. The articles I researched said to spray every five days to control the insects.

This year I’ll be inspecting my plants as a daily routine and watching for the pests. I also learned last year to watch for caterpillars on my pepper plants—something I never encountered in the Midwest! Those I just simply hand-pick off the leaves. But I know to watch for the eggs now.

I will say that my garden is off to a much better start this year, compared to last year. I planted a month earlier, so the cool weather plants are happier. And I made sure the pots all had better drainage than last year. And I’m closely inspecting for pests (found a baby slug on one of my ripened strawberries!). So, I have high hopes for a good production of food this year.

Did you find this helpful? Do you have a different solution to whitefly?





  1. Jill G. Hall

    White Fly! Ugh! Pesky on my hibiscus and begonia. Here’s my tried and true method for eradication:

    1. trim off all the thickly inhabited leaves and throw them directly into a concealed bag so that the flies won’t spread
    2. drench with soapy water
    3. spread my worm castings around the base of the plant.
    4. after eating bananas I toss the peels there too

    • indy

      Great advice, Jill. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us!


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