What Are Those Tiny White Bugs on My Plants?

Many common garden and greenhouse pests are so small that they appear to be nothing more than tiny white dots. But these bugs can cause serious damage to your plants. If you have noticed white insects on any plants in your garden or home, it is vital that you work out what they are and how to get rid of them!

So, what are those little white bugs on your plants?

Most likely, these tiny white bugs are one of three things: whiteflies, spider mites or mealybugs. And because of their size, it’s extremely difficult to tell them apart and tell which small white bug is which.

Luckily, we’re here to help! Continue reading this article to find out more about three of the most common white bugs that are found on plants, how to tell them apart and what to do about each of them.

Whiteflies

whiteflies on a plant

Catherine Eckert/Shutterstock.com

The whitefly is a tiny, winged insect that sucks sap from the leaves of a wide variety of plants. They are typically found on the underside of the leaves of many species of vegetables, flowers, and fruits. Whiteflies can be found in greenhouses and among outdoor crops. You may even find these tiny white flies in your house, where they often attack potted plants.

There are many different species of whiteflies. The problem is that they look so similar to one another that it can be very difficult to tell them apart. Measuring about 1/16 in. (1.5 mm) in length, whiteflies are tiny, white, and have a moth-like appearance. A whitefly infestation is easy to spot, though. You simply have to give the stems of your plants a shake to see these insects rise up in a white cloud.

What plants do they live on?

Whiteflies inhabit and feed on a wide variety of plant species. They especially like greenhouse crops. For that reason, they are most commonly found on tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, hibiscus, petunias, cucumbers, eggplants, fuchsia, squash, geraniums, begonias, chrysanthemums, potatoes, and many more!

How do they damage plants?

Whiteflies cause serious damage to the plants they feed on. These sap-suckers pierce the leaves of plants, causing yellowing, spotting, disfigurement, wilting, and the premature dropping of leaves. In the case of large infestations, a whitefly invasion can even lead to plant death.

As if that were not enough, whiteflies also produce honeydew. This is a sticky, sugary substance that coats foliage and encourages the growth of a sooty mold. This black fungus can cover leaves and, in extreme cases, inhibit photosynthesis. Worst of all, whiteflies can also transmit several viral diseases to their host plants. These diseases can stunt growth and inhibit the production of fruits and vegetables.

How can you get rid of them?

Whiteflies are a persistent pest that can be tricky to get rid of. There are, however, several ways you can battle these bugs.

Use reflective paper or plastic mulch in plant beds as a protective measure. Place sticky pads near plants to trap whiteflies before they can land. If you already have a whitefly infestation, try spraying the leaves of plants with a high-pressure hose to physically remove the insects and their eggs. Insecticidal sprays may also help to eradicate whiteflies. Or, if you prefer a natural approach, these pests have several natural predators that can help to keep their numbers under control.

Spider Mites

Spider mites on a plant

Catherine Eckert/Shutterstock.com

Spider mites are a tiny arachnid that is commonly found in gardens, houseplants, and greenhouses around the world. Measuring just 1/50 in. (0.5 mm) in length as adults, these bugs are so small that you may miss them. Spider mites do produce a fine, silken thread, though, that can give leaves a cobwebbed appearance. This can make a spider mite infestation easier to spot.

These pests vary in color. For example, the two-spotted spider mite can be white, orange, red, light green, or dark green and sports a pair of black spots on its abdomen.

What plants do they live on?

Spider mites can live on hundreds of species of plants. In particular, keep an eye out for them on your cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, beans, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, azaleas, marigolds, roses, and even trees like maple and elm.

How do they damage plants?

Like whiteflies, spider mites are sap-sucking bugs. While small numbers of mites will probably not cause any noticeable damage, a large infestation can spell trouble for your foliage. Feeding can cause tiny white or yellow speckles to appear on leaves. Over time, this can give the leaf a discolored, mottled appearance. In the end, the leaves may drop prematurely while heavily infested plants can become stunted or even die.

How can you get rid of them?

You can identify spider mites by shaking the leaves over a sheet of paper. If the plant has mites, you will be able to see them walking slowly across the paper.

One of the best ways to remove spider mites from plants is by blasting the leaves with a jet of water, physically removing them. These bugs also have several natural predators. You can purchase and release these predators on infested plants to naturally control the spider mite numbers.

If all else fails, consider treating the foliage of any affected plants with a soap spray or a selective miticide to effectively reduce the population.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs on a plant

Songkran Wannatat/Shutterstock.com

If you own a greenhouse, those white dots on your plants could well be mealybugs. These tiny, segmented insects measure between 1/20- to 1/5-in. (1-5 mm) in length and are covered in a waxy, white coating. Mealybugs tend to hang out in clusters around inaccessible parts of the plant, such as leaf axils, sheaves, between fruits, between twining stems, and some even colonize roots.

Many mealybug species also attack house plants. Be on the lookout for a white, cottony substance on the leaves, stems, and shoots of plants. This is often the first sign of mealybugs.

What plants do they live on?

Mealybugs invade many different species of greenhouse and indoor plants. They are often found on tomatoes, peaches, bamboo palms, cacti, succulents, orchids, grapevines, citrus trees, jade plants, hoya, ficus, fuchsia, palms, poinsettias, begonias, and strawberries, among others.

How do they damage plants?

Small numbers of mealybugs may not cause any noticeable damage to plants. Large infestations, however, can weaken and even kill host plants.

This is because mealybugs are sap-sucking insects that drill into the foliage as they feed. This causes distortion of leaves, stunted growth, and reduced numbers of flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Like whiteflies, mealybugs also produce honeydew, which can lead to sooty mold that can quickly cover foliage. It reduces the attractiveness of plants and, in extreme cases, prevents sunlight from reaching the leaves.

How can you get rid of them?

Mealybugs are notoriously tricky to get rid of. This is due to their waxy coating and their annoying habit of hiding in the hard-to-reach parts of the plant.

The best way to remove mealybugs from your houseplants is to do so manually, using a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. This will dissolve their waxy coating, thereby killing the bugs. It, however, can be time-consuming.

Natural predators and parasites can provide good control. Insecticides aren’t very effective, but insecticidal soaps or oil sprays are good options. Like other small pests, a jet of water can dislodge them.

Conclusion

Many garden, greenhouse, and house plant pests may simply appear to be little white bugs on the leaves. While their small stature may make them difficult to tell apart, their potential to cause damage is not to be underestimated!

If left unchecked, pests such as whiteflies, spider mites, and mealybugs can devastate plants. They can form large infestations in vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants that are almost impossible to get rid of. Learning to correctly identify these insects and the first signs of the damage they cause is vital to protect your plants from these pests.

46 Comments

Velda Sobers

Tiny white insects on my young plum tree making the leaves sticky

    Karen

    Sounds like you might be dealing with an aphid infestation. Because, although whitefly, aphid, and mealybug all leave a sticky residue, plum trees are most often attacked by aphids.

    Michael Fiorini

    Hi have small white waxy coated mealy bugs on my tomatoes there numbers seem low atm so I used a pray bottle with rubbing alcohol seem to have done the trick.

    Do you have any information as to what conditions they do best in so I could look for a cause and eliminate them?

    Many thanks,

    Mike.

    Insectcop

    Hello, Mike! Mealybugs usually come from other infested plants. For example, you might have recently planted something infested near your tomatoes? Sometimes they can be transported to a plant by ants. You should also keep in mind that they tend to ”hide” in the soil, so removing a top inch or so might be a great idea. Hope this helps!

    Steven Lowrey

    I’ve noticed this morning that I have some little white looking flies on top of my leaves on my pepper plant I turned lease over and it looks like white powder with little black thoughts on the bottom what is this and how do I get rid of them I’ve looked it up as best as I can and I’m thinking it might be white flies I think it’s called and is there any way to send pictures with our questions

    InsectCop

    Sounds like it’s possible you might be right about the whiteflies. Unfortunately, there is no option of adding pictures, but we do have an article about getting rid of whiteflies has methods you could try to deal with the problem.

    Jessi

    Hi,

    I have tiiiiiiny white bugs that are in webs in the under growth in my herbs, can you tell me what they are and how to get rid of them? I thought they were spider mites at first but those are red and orange and a bit bigger than these.

    InsectCop

    Spider mites can also be white and they are actually very small in size. As far as your description goes, spider mites do sound like the most likely guess.

    betty ellen weinhold

    Hi , I ‘m wondering if you can help. I haven’t seen any of the white moths but on a couple of my plants of a particular variety there are hundreds of tiny white specks that look sort of like miniature maggots. The leaves of the plant are very small and are looking spotted or drained of the chlorophyll is being sucked out of them and the branches on the inside are dying. Are these some kind of weird fly eggs?

    InsectCop

    Where are the maggot-looking bugs located? Also, what kind of plants are you talking about? Those could, for example, be some root maggots.

Jackie

How do I get rid of the Miley bugs on plants

    Insectcop

    As mentioned in the article, you can try removing them manually, using a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. Alternatively, you can also just get rid of the plant.

    Carole Brown

    Years ago I had several Otto Luykens that got the little white insects that were mainly attacking the branches and then the leaves and yes, they left that sticky substance. I spent hundreds of dollars on annual soil drenching and sprays. To no avail, I had to remove the shrubs. My neighbor has the same problem on several of his Otto’s. Can you tell me the spray to use if the temps are under like 85. We live in Md and right now the temps seem to fluctuate every few days. A lot of sections of leaves are brown now so I don’t want to burn the shrubs. Thanks

    InsectCop

    To play it safe, I’d suggest not using any insecticide during the heat, unless you can find one that’s supposed to be used during high temperatures. However, I can’t really think of one at the moment. Alternatively, you can try spraying during the evening, once the temperatures go down.

Mary

I have just noticed an insect that is white mothlike and creates a powdery white substance which camouflages the insect. I discovered it on a small rose bush I had just purchased at a supermarket. When I went to clean the spot. The insect jumped away. Since I have found a few of them on other plants for instance a perennial hibiscus. What is this?

    InsectCop

    I can’t say for sure, but is it possible you might be dealing with mildew and a whitefly infestation? At least it seems to me that might be the case. Even though we can’t help you with advice on mildew, here’s an article on getting rid of whiteflies that you should check out.

Constance De Francesco

The white flys are on my flower plants they will kill my plants. I sprayed them with insecticide but no use. Last year when I threw them out, there were also ants in the soil. Help. The plants are in hanging planters

    InsectCop

    Check out this article, you’ll find many ideas to help you deal with the problem.

Pauline

I have white pests that look like lice in my soil of an indoor ivy. I only noticed them when I watered the plant and they started moving in water. What could it be? There’s nothing on the leaves, only 2 yellow leaves

    InsectCop

    Those might be root mealybugs. Many people are not aware of those existing, especially, since they’re not as easy to spot as the mealybugs that live on the plant itself. It’s also possible you’re not seeing any effect on your plant because it is highly likely that the plant will show no symptoms until the infestation has gotten severe.

Becky

Hello, do you think ,putting alcohol in a spray bottle and spraying the plant will be too much and kill it?

    InsectCop

    Hi! Depends on a plant you’re about to spray. Many plants will do just fine, while some more sensitive plants might get damaged. I suggest trying to spray it on a smaller area of the plant first, then wait a couple of days to see if the plant has reacted to the spray.

Avalon

Hello,
I’m having a small problem with my potted strawberry plants. There seems to be an infestation of tiny bugs that look like whiteflies – however they are not on the leaves of the plants, only in the soil. Any ideas of how how I could get rid of these would be greatly appreciated! Thankyou

    InsectCop

    Are you sure they looked like whiteflies? Is it possible those were root aphids or root mealybugs? These pests live in the soil so not seeing them on the leaves would make sense.

    Sherry Bittinger

    I found white lice like bugs on my succulent plant. What should I do. Will putting soap and rinsing it well help?

    InsectCop

    I believe aphids are the creatures you’re seeing. Aphids can be manually removed, however, you have to make sure not to spread them to other plants during this process. You should give this article a read as it will give you some DIY options as well as product types you might use.

Gordon Innes

I have just noticed what I think is an infestation on my strawberry plants by way of small mite like creatures. I sprayed with a bug aerosol and as I was doing this a beetle like creature jumped off one of the leaves and lay on it’s back on the ground pretending to be dead. Is this beetle responsible for infestation?

    InsectCop

    Most likely it’s another bug that just happened to also be on your plant while you were spraying it.

Rosemary Wilson

I have a huge infestation of mealy bugs on the holly tree rhodendrum and other ornamental bushs in my garden. The leaves are black and horrible I have used different sprays and also power hosed to no avail. I am in dispair and do not know what to do

    InsectCop

    Insecticide sprays are likely to not be very effective in this case. You could, however, try insecticidal soap on them.

Rayma

I’m in Memphis and have been planting in raised beds for 3 years now. This year I noticed tiny white bugs on the stems of forest plants surrounding our back yard. They jump off when they see my fingers coming to pinch them, or when I spray with neem oil spray. Unfortunately they found a young fig tree seedling as well as a few on my tomatoes and cucumber plants. I’ve seen them before when I lived in Indonesia, where they were devastating to chayote squash vines and leuceana which was for animal feed. I don’t want them to spread – help! They look a little wooly while feasting on the stalks of the forest plants. I’ve seen a few black ants climbing up and down the stalks – companions? thanks

    InsectCop

    It’s hard to tell for sure, what you’re dealing with. Any chance those might be woolly aphids? Generally, you should be able to spray them. You can also try applying rubbing alcohol.

Julie

If my mint has white flies is it safe to eat. They seem to fly away

    InsectCop

    Yes, if you haven’t used any insecticides, it’s safe to eat. Just wash the bugs away. If you have used any products to fight the infestation, make sure to check the label for directions.

Amy

I have a houseplant rabbits foot, it’s just starting out but after watering it I noticed these tiny white bugs coming to the surface…any suggestions as to what they are and how to eliminate them? It’s just a beginner I got from my sister, so I’d like to keep it but it’s an indoor plant right now. Where would they have come from?!?

    InsectCop

    Those could be soil mites. To deal with your problem, you first should determine what exactly these bugs are.

Tam

There are small white flying insects on my plant and usually appears on the underside of the leaves. So far, they have killed 1 plant already. What should I do?

    InsectCop

    You might be dealing with whiteflies. You should check out this article to see how to get rid of them.

Cay

Hi There,
I’m hoping you might be able to help me. I’ve been noticing what look like tiny (appx 1mm) little grasshoppers on most of my deck container plants, and just this week I’m starting to notice them on my indoor plants as well. They don’t seem to be damaging any of the plants, but anytime I brush against a plant or water, they fly off all around me and it’s not exactly a pleasant experience. I am gardening in Southern California, but at an elevation of around 6,000′. This time of the year, daytime highs are mid 80s*F, and overnights around 60*F. Thanks for taking the time to read this!

    InsectCop

    You might be dealing with aphids. You should look them up to determine whether or not that’s the case. If so, you can give this article a shot, as it contains all the most important info you might need about them.

Amanda

Hi there. I am dealing with some kind of tiny tiny little white bugs on the undersides of my monstera leaves. They are smaller than a grain of sugar. You have to watch for a bit to actually see that they are moving. I thought thripes but I have never seen anything that actually looks like a thripe or even a whitefly. There is no webbing or anything. Whatever it is it is turning the leaves a pale brown and they mainly stick to the part of the leaf that connects to the stem. I am stumped

    InsectCop

    It’s hard to say without seeing them, though, even if those are neither adult thrips nor whitefly, you might be dealing with some nymphs.

Nora

Hello there, I just discovered white flies on my Basil plant which hadn’t been doing very well and I didn’t know why. So I decided to cut the stems about half way down to use up the leaves that still seemed ok. When I went to wash the cut stems under running water – a ton of white something clouded the air all around. At first I thought it was dust but then I watched one that landed on me and it hopped. This has totally freaked me out – and I feel like they’re crawling all over me. I’m wondering if this is possible? If so will they live on my sofa or bed and how long will they survive there or on me? Also what if one of them got into my food and I ate it? Sorry for the strange question but I can’t find answers anywhere. Thank you

Jennifer

I have some tiny white bugs JUST in the soil of my plant. They don’t fly or anything just crawl around. They’re a minuscule though, I’m just curious if anyone has any idea what they could be or what I should do.

Michelle

Small white bugs on my cotoneaster hedge. Sucking the life out of my leaves and killing branches. How do I get rid of and revive my hedge?

    InsectCop

    Those could be spider mites. If so, a very easy solution to make would be a mix of 1 teaspoon liquid dish soap and one liter of water. Spray it on the affected areas.

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