As the first stems of my tomato plants broke through the surface of the soil, I commended myself for being a natural ‘green thumb'—this was, after all, my first year starting my own plants from seed. I had harvested these seeds the previous fall from a delicious heirloom plant and every single one of them was growing!
I had also started some of my own herbs from seed, but now I hungered for more. I rushed out to my favourite nursery and purchased a whole variety to use in my culinary endeavors. I nestled these store-bought seedlings amongst the homegrown ones, in anticipation of spring, when I could finally plant them outdoors on my balcony.
Within a few weeks, it was evident that something was terribly wrong with my veggies and herbs. The leaves of my tomato plants were starting to brown and some were dusted with a horrible white film. A bit of Internet research suggested that I may have whitefly and warned that I should check the underside of my leaves. Lo and behold, there they were, sapping the life out of my plants in all their white-winged glory—the dreaded whitefly.
What is whitefly?
Just as their name suggests, whiteflies are tiny, white or silvery-white, and moth-like in appearance. Equally as damaging are their minute, wingless, oval-shaped spawn.
When left to proliferate, both nymphs and adults will suck the sap and vigour from plants, causing leaves to discolour and wilt, and leaving them vulnerable to disease. This hedonistic habit also causes the whitefly to secrete honeydew, a sticky substance that coats the underside of the leaves, attracting fungus and leading to the growth of a sooty mould. Indoor plants are especially susceptible to whitefly infestation due to the absence of natural biological controls, such as ladybugs and lacewings.