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July 9, 2013 > Pat Kite's Garden: Whitefly woes

Pat Kite's Garden: Whitefly woes

By Pat Kite

Whiteflies have taken over my apricot tree. Not only don't I have a single apricot this year, but when I peer at the leaves, the whitefly cartel, all six billion of them, wave their little wings and sneer. This is not my imagination.

In case you haven't gotten up close and intimate with whiteflies, they are 1/16th [one-sixteenth] inches long with wings. When resting, they seem like white specks. Disturb them and they fly briefly around in small white clouds, and then resume business. They are not resting. Whitefly adults and young have teensy straw-like mouthparts voraciously sucking sap from plant leaves. This is like bloodletting for leaves, which may turn yellow and droop.

Since whiteflies do not completely digest sap, it droplets down as whitefly poop, otherwise known as honeydew. A dark mold often forms on this honeydew, adding plant insult to injury. Last year, in desperation, I bought a container of ladybugs and deposited them on the tree. At the end of the week, only one ladybug remained. It didn't look any fatter.

Looking in books and the Internet, I tried to find alternatives that are sensible for the home gardener. Basically, insecticides don't work very well. You can try insecticidal soaps, but remember the ingredients kill beneficial insects as well. Also, whiteflies multiply rather rapidly. Each female deposits about 300 eggs in its 30-day life span. Each hatching egg gives off another 300 within a month.

On any infested plant, there may be eggs, nymphs, pupae and adults. Each generation has the capacity to become increasingly insecticide resistant. I've tried using yellow sticky traps, placing them facing the whitefly infestation and out of direct sun. If nothing else, it makes me happy to see some whiteflies stuck to them. I have also tried talking to the apricot tree, explaining my distress. The only reply I get, probably from the whitefly hierarchy, is "better luck next year."

Once again, gardeners live on hope and optimism. In the meantime, Muriel has given me some delicious apricots. Yum!

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