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Tiny whiteflies seem to be bugging people across the Central Coast, but why are there so many this year?

Posted: 11:26 PM, Apr 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-02 02:26:24-04

Tiny white bugs are flying around local streets in mass numbers and it has many people confused.

People are mistaking them for clouds of pollen or ash, but they are small bugs that could be harmful to your plants.

Some local garden masters say this year is bringing the most they have ever seen.
“I am seeing them all over,” said Michael McCombs. “It’s like a snowstorm coming at you.”

These little bugs called whitefly seem to be taking over central coast towns.

McCombs has lived in the area since 1946 and usually sees whitefly this time of year, but never this many.

“They will be so dense that you’ll get that feeling of maybe I should close my mouth,” said McCombs. “I know I’m going to suck down two or three of these.”

Whiteflies are tiny, sap-eating winged insects that damage the leaves of plants but don’t kill them.

A master gardener from the SLO University of California Cooperative Extension says dozens of people from south SLO County called asking why there are so many.

“It’s probably a reflection of the increasing temperatures coming on top of all that nice water we have had, so we have had a flush of vegetation and the flies that came from eggs originally have just all hopped out,” said Cathryn Howarth, a master gardener a the SLO County UC Cooperative Extension.

According to the UC Agricultural and Natural Resources Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, signs of whitefly manifestation include:

  • Tiny nymphs on the underside of leaves
  • Sticky honeydew (white, sticky substance) on leaves or a covering of black sooty mold
  • Yellowing or silvering or drying of leaves that have whitefly nymphs on them

She says each fly can lay up to 400 eggs.

Whiteflies seem to be hatching recently due to warmer temperatures and lots of rainfall.
Whiteflies seem to be hatching recently due to warmer temperatures and lots of rainfall.

You can usually find them on the back sides of leaves or flying in the air.

“They weaken the plants especially young seedlings, young plants that aren’t fully established, but on the whole they are usually more of a nuisance.”

Some species are attracted to plants like hibiscus flowers, oak trea leaves, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, bell peppers and sweet potatoes, but there are ways to keep them from harming your garden.

“I take a sprayer that’s got a mix of vinegar and household detergent in it and water of course and i try to spray it, the back sides of all the leaves,” said McCombs.

Experts say spraying with water will help the bugs disperse.

“Use a hose and hose them off and then use a spray of insecticidal soap if you want to cut down because they will return to their roost once you spray them away,” said Howarth.

You can also prevent them by using reflective mulches, avoiding dust, choosing less susceptible plants and eliminated pesticides that kill whitefly’s natural enemies.

Those natural enemies include ladybugs, spiders, lacewigs and hummingbirds.

Garden masters say you can generally see them during spring and throughout summer, but they will eventually die down.

They say if you have young plants, make sure you are watching out for them especially in the mornings and evenings.