How To Get Rid Of Little White Bugs On Plants

Have you ever noticed little white spots all over the leaves of your plants and wondered what they were? Or when you’ve disturbed your plant, have you seen a cloud of white insects flying away? Here we help you identify what variety of white bugs you are dealing with and how to get rid of them and stop them from coming back.

What Are The Little White Bugs On My Plants?

There are several different varieties of small white bugs that could be invading your plants. The most common white plant pests are whiteflies and the closely related mealybugs and aphids.

Whiteflies

Unsurprisingly, whiteflies look like tiny white flies! They are winged insects, and although they are tiny, they cluster together on the back of leaves, which makes them easier for you to spot. They are most active during the day, and if you disturb them, they are likely to fly away.

By sucking the juices out of your plants, whiteflies can cause the foliage to turn yellow and the leaves to wilt. They also produce honeydew, which can cause fungal diseases on the leaves and attract ants. If the whiteflies are not dealt with, they can eventually kill your plant, especially if it is a smaller one. 

Whiteflies tend to be more of a problem on your indoor plants as they like the warmer temperature inside. They don’t survive in the freezing temperatures, but they can be found outside from mid-to-late summer in some places. They like vegetable plants such as tomatoes, eggplant, and sweet potatoes, and they also like being in greenhouses.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are soft, wingless scale insects that are covered with a white (or sometimes gray) mealy wax in their early stages. Their bodies are oval and segmented, and they can look like a mass of fuzzy cotton on your plants. They can often be mistaken for mildew or fungus instead of insects. They particularly like new growth and are commonly found along the leaf veins or joints.

Mealybugs like warmer climates, and you can find them in your greenhouses, houseplants, and on your fruit. They draw sap from your plants and cause your leaves to turn yellow and drop off, especially when there are many of them. And if you don’t get on top of them, they can eventually cause your plant to die.

Aphids

These tiny pear-shaped creatures have long antennae, and legs like to cluster in groups on the underside of leaves. As well as white, they can also be colors such as brown, black, green, or yellow, and some even appear colorless. 

They suck sap from the leaves, which can stunt your plant’s growth and cause the leaves to fall off. They are not harmful to humans but can spread quickly to other plants if you don’t deal with them early.

How Do I Get Rid Of Whiteflies On My Plants?

Whiteflies are very common, particularly on indoor plants. Their population can escalate very quickly, often seemingly from nowhere. The good news is, you can get rid of them without using harsh chemicals. Whiteflies can be resistant to chemical pesticides anyway, and the toxic chemicals are a risk to your pets and beneficial insects that may be in your garden.

The life cycle of a whitefly takes around five weeks. There are three main stages – eggs, nymphs, and adults – and they do the most damage in the nymph phase. The eggs are laid in a circular pattern and start a pale yellow. By the time they are about to hatch, the eggs are usually brown. You will need to use different methods to get rid of them, depending on their stage.

Trim The Leaves: An excellent first step is to trim off the worst affected leaves. Don’t go overboard, though, as you still want your plant to look good! 

Spray With a Hose: Try spraying your plants with a strong hose, but not so strong that it causes damage to your plant. An alternative method for indoor plants that you don’t want to take outside is to use a vacuum cleaner, but be careful not to suck up your entire plant. This is good for getting rid of the nymphs, but the whiteflies will try to fly away once they’ve been disturbed.

Insecticidal Soap: Made from plant oils, insecticidal soap can be used to wash off any eggs on the leaves. You can buy this from gardening supply stores or even make your own! Test on a section of the plant first, though, as some soaps can damage your plants.

Yellow Sticky Cards: These sticky cards can be useful to trap adult whiteflies that are very active. They are non-toxic and suitable for indoor use.

Neem Oil: This naturally occurring insecticide helps eliminate whiteflies, and because the bugs don’t like the smell, it also acts as a repellent and discourages them from returning. Horticultural oil is a good alternative.

How Do I Get Rid Of Mealybugs On My Plants?

The life cycle of a mealybug can be up to 10 weeks. It takes a couple of weeks for the eggs to hatch, and then around 6 weeks or so for the nymphs to become adults. As mealybugs are so tiny, by the time you notice them on your plants, there is likely a great number of them. Mealybugs can be resistant to some chemical pesticides, so natural methods will be more effective. 

Alcohol: One suggestion is to soak a cotton ball in alcohol and then rub this directly onto the mealybugs. They like to hide, so make sure you check your plant carefully, especially around the leaf joints and the stem’s base. You may need to do this daily until you have gotten rid of them all. It may take several weeks to get rid of the mealybugs completely.

Insecticidal Soaps, Horticultural Oil or Neem Oil: As with whiteflies, you can also try using insecticidal soaps, horticultural oil, or even neem oil. Again you will need to apply these solutions directly onto the bug.   

How Do I Get Rid Of Aphids On My Plants?

Aphids have a life cycle different from many other bugs as the adults give birth to live young, so skip the egg-laying stage altogether. Unlike whiteflies, aphids cling to the leaves and often won’t move, even when the leaf is disturbed. Here are some ways you can get rid of them before they cause extensive damage to your plants   

Wiping or Picking Them Off: If it is only a small infestation, wiping bugs often with a wet cloth might be enough to get rid of them or try a water or garlic spray. You could also try putting on some garden gloves and removing them by hand. If you put them into a bucket of soapy water, that should kill them. For any particularly infested leaves, you can remove the whole leaf and put them in the bucket of water too.

Insecticidal Soaps, Horticultural Oil or Neem Oil: You can also try spraying them off with a hose, using insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. These products will need to come into direct contact with the bug for the best results. And if the infestation is really bad, neem oil can be a good solution.

How To Prevent Tiny White Bugs From Coming Back

You’ve been able to get rid of the annoying tiny white bugs on your plants, now what? You want to ensure that they don’t come back. 

To do this, you need to monitor your plants continually and regularly inspect under leaves for any signs of them returning. That way, if you see any evidence of them, you can get onto it straight away.

You also need to check new potted plants or plants that have been outside if you are planning on relocating them indoors. The white bugs often originate from infested greenhouses or contaminated potting soil. It’s a good idea to keep any new plants separated from your other plants for a week or so to make sure they aren’t infested.

As well as being effective when you have the white bugs, neem oil on the leaves can also be a good preventative measure as the scent puts them off coming any closer. If you are keeping your plants outside, beneficial insects such as ladybugs, dragonflies, spiders, and other natural predators can get rid of them for you before they become a problem.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with tiny white bugs is not enjoyable, but the sooner you get them under control, the better chance your plants will have of surviving. It will take some effort to get rid of them and then taking preventative measures to stop them coming back, but it is definitely worth the effort if you want happy healthy plants.