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Sandy's Garden

Try using insecticidal soap or oil to control whiteflies

By: Sandy Feather 2006
Penn State Extension


Q. I brought my tropical hibiscus into my house for the winter. I recently realized that it has some kind of insect problem. Whenever I disturb the plant, a cloud of white insects fly off it. What are they, and how can I control them?
  
  A. Tropical hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) plants are susceptible to whiteflies. These small flying insects are common pests on many houseplants as well as on plants in the landscape and garden. They can quickly build up large populations under greenhouse growing conditions. There are several common types, including greenhouse whitefly and sweet potato whitefly. They probably hitched a ride into your house when you brought the hibiscus in for the winter.
  

Why whiteflies are difficult to control

Whiteflies are difficult to control because they can reproduce so quickly, and their populations can skyrocket before you even realize there is a problem. Pesticide applications will be the most efficient way to control the problem. One way to help reduce the amount of spraying you have to do is to cut the plant back by about half. Dispose of the clippings, and then start making insecticide applications to control the whiteflies on the remaining plant.

How to treat

Ultrafine horticultural oil and insecticidal soap are labeled to control whiteflies on hibiscus indoors. It is best to move the plant outdoors or into a garage before spraying it. You will need to make repeated applications of insecticidal soap or ultrafine horticultural oil to catch those whiteflies hatching from eggs. These products have no residual effect once the spray has dried.

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