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

Pictures of whiteflies

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

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

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.

22 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.

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.

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