Whiteflies Are Back in the Coachella Valley!

In Local Industry Specialists

Approximately five years ago we experienced a valley-wide invasion of whiteflies here in the Coachella Valley. Guess what? They’re back!

The University of California Integrated Pest Management Program (UCIPM) tells us that whiteflies develop rapidly in our warm climate, and populations can grow quickly when natural predators are minimized from environmental conditions. Despite their name, whiteflies are not flies, they are more closely related to aphids, mealybugs and scale.

Why should I be concerned? Whiteflies seem to target the host plant Ficus nitida, the dominant plant used for privacy hedges in the Coachella Valley. If you have a Ficus hedge, chances are you’ve seen this pest and experienced the detrimental effects it had on your Ficus plants. Whiteflies breed all year long in our warm climate here in the low desert areas of California. Natural enemies seem to be ineffective when weather and host plants favor outbreaks. Whiteflies are piercing, sucking insect pests that use their needle-like mouth parts to suck sap from the phloem, the vascular tissue in the plant stems and leaves. Excessive populations can cause leaves to turn yellow, dry out, and fall off the plant.

Similar to aphids, whiteflies excrete a sweet sugary substance called honeydew, leavingplant leaves sticky. This honeydew can turn into a black sooty mold that attracts antsand minimizes natural enemies that could control whiteflies. Heavy infestations are extremely hard to manage, and due to warmer winter conditions caused by global warming, populations are not being naturally minimized by colder temperatures and/or frost conditions. These increased populations of constantly breeding whiteflies are too vast for natural predators to have an impact.

Use of insecticides are the best option here. Although they can have a negative impact on beneficial insects and pollinators, the control benefit outweighs this negative impact. Pollinators are not usually affected due to the fact that Ficus don’t have a prolific bloom period and don’t attract a lot of pollinators. The use of insecticidal soaps and/or Neem oil can also have negative impact on beneficials as well, and those do not provide adequate control of whiteflies.

Insecticide management of whiteflies may need more than one treatment for optimal control. We utilize two insecticides for our management program. We combine a topical insecticide with a systemic insecticide along with a surfactant. While we have had tremendous success with one application, two applications should be considered.

Go out and check your Ficus for whiteflies by simply shaking the plant. If you see little white things flying around, your plants are most likely infested. You can also look at the leaf’s underside. If you see whitish brown circles, that is another indication that you have a whitefly infestation.

If you have any doubts, you can call us at (760) 8-PLANTS, and we’ll be happy to perform a landscape/plant health inspection for you. After all, your landscape is an important factor in your property’s value. Learn more about our plant health inspections at www.RudysPlants.com.

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