What Are Those Tiny White Bugs on Plants?

What are those little white bugs on your plants? Many common garden and greenhouse pests are so small they’re difficult to tell apart, and many appear to be no more than tiny white dots. However, these bugs can cause serious damage to your plants! If you keep noticing white insects on plants around your garden and home, it’s vital that you work out what they are and how to get rid of them – ASAP!

Whiteflies

Pictures of whiteflies

Catherine Eckert/Shutterstock.com

Whitefly is tiny, winged insects that suck sap from the leaves of a wide variety of plants. They are typically found on the underside of leaves and feed on many species of vegetables, flowers, and fruits. Whitefly can be found inside greenhouses and among outdoor crops. You may even find these tiny white flies in the house, where they often attack pot plants.

There are many different species of whitefly, but they all look so similar to one another that they can be very difficult to tell apart. Whitefly is tiny in size (1/16 inch long), white in color and have a moth-like appearance. A whitefly infestation is easy to spot – simply give the stems of plants a shake to see these insects rise up in a white cloud.

What plants do they live on?

Whitefly inhabits and feeds on a wide variety of plant species. They especially like greenhouse crops, and are most commonly found on tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, hibiscus, petunia, cucumbers, eggplants, fuchsia, squash, geranium, begonia, chrysanthemum, and potatoes, among many more!

How do they damage plants?

Whiteflies cause serious damage to the plants they feed on. These sap-suckers drills into the leaves of plants causing yellowing, spotting, disfigurement, wilting and premature dropping of leaves. In the case of large infestations, a whitefly invasion can even lead to plant death. Whitefly also produces honeydew, a sticky, sugary substance that coats foliage and encourages the growth of sooty mold. This black fungus can cover leaves and, in extreme cases, inhibits photosynthesis. Worst of all, whitefly is also known to transmit several viral diseases to host plants which can stunt growth and inhibit their production of fruits and vegetables.

How can you get rid of them?

Whitefly is a persistent pest and can be tricky to get rid of; however, there are several ways you can battle these bugs.

Use reflective, plastic mulch in plant beds as a measure, and place sticky pads nearby to trap flies 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 whitefly or, if you prefer a natural approach, these pests have several natural predators that can help to keep numbers down.

Spider mites

Spider mites

Catherine Eckert/Shutterstock.com

Spider mites are a type of tiny arachnid common to gardens, houseplants, and greenhouses around the world. These bugs are so small you may miss them, measuring just 1/50 inch long as adults. However, spider mites do produce a fine, silken thread that can give leaves a cobwebbed appearance, which can make them easier to spot.

They vary in color but one ‘warm-season’ species (the Twospotted Spider Mite) is white and is visible as tiny pale dots on leaves.

What plants do they live on?

Spider mites can be found on hundreds of plant species. In particular, look out for them on your cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, peas, snap beans, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, azaleas, marigolds, and roses.

How do they damage plants?

Like whitefly, spider mites are sucking bugs. Although small numbers of mites will probably not cause noticeable damage, a large infestation can spell trouble for your foliage. Feeding can cause tiny white or yellow speckles to appear on leaves which, over time, can give the leaf a discolored, mottled appearance. This may cause the leaves to drop prematurely, and heavily infested plants can become stunted, or may even die.

How can you get rid of them?

Spider mites can be spotted by shaking leaves over a sheet of paper. If the plant has mites, you’ll 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 pressurized water, which can physically remove the arachnids. These bugs also have several natural predators, which can be purchased and released onto infested plants to control their numbers. If all else fails, consider treating the foliage of affected plants with a soap spray or a selective miticide to effectively reduce the population.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs

Songkran Wannatat/Shutterstock.com

If you own a greenhouse, those white dots you’re seeing on your plants could well be mealybugs. These tiny insects measure around 0.2 inches long and are covered in a white, waxy coating. Mealybugs tend to hang out in clusters in inaccessible parts of the plant, such as in leaf axils and sheaves, and between twining stems.

Many mealybug species also attack house plants. Be on the lookout for a white, cottony substance on the leaves, stems, and shoots of plants, which 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, cacti, succulents, orchids, grapevine, 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. However, large infestations can weaken and even kill host plants. This is because mealybugs are sucking insects that drill into foliage as they feed, causing distortion of leaves, stunting, and reduced numbers of flowers, seeds, and fruit.

Mealybugs also produce honeydew, a sticky residue that coats leaves and encourages the growth of sooty mold. This mold can quickly cover foliage, reducing the attractiveness of plants and, in extreme cases, preventing sunlight from reaching the leaves.

How can you get rid of them?

Mealybugs are notoriously tricky to get rid of, due to their waxy coating and their habit of hiding in hard-to-reach parts of the plant. The best way to remove mealybugs from your houseplants is manually, using a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol. This will dissolve their waxy coating, thereby killing the bugs. As this can be a time-consuming process, a far quicker way of removing mealybugs from your home is to simply toss the plants in the trash.

Conclusion

Many garden, greenhouse and houseplant pests may appear as little white bugs on plants. Their small stature may make them difficult to tell apart; however, their potential for damage is not to be underestimated! If left unchecked, pests such as whitefly, spider mites, and mealybugs can devastate vegetables, fruit trees, and ornamental plants, forming large infestations that are almost impossible to get rid of. Learning to correctly identify these insects and the first signs of their damage is vital for protecting your plants from infestation.

Karen

Main editor

Expert in mosquito control and the main website editor at InsectCop.net. Karen started InsectCop to help people get rid of mosquitoes. But now she gives advice an all things pest control.

6 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.

    Karen

    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!

Jackie

How do I get rid of the Miley bugs on plants

    Karen

    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.

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