In order to discover whether you have a full blown infestation, all you have to do is give your plant a gentle shake; a cloud of mature whiteflies will fly up from the plants, and quickly resettle on the under part of the leaves, their favourite hiding spot. If this is the case, you have a long and exasperating road ahead of you, as these suckers reproduce rapidly: A single female may lay as many as 300 eggs in her lifetime, and given the right conditions, eggs may hatch within five to 10 days. You do the math.
In order to save yourself a lot of time and frustration, the following tips are key to keeping your plants pest-free:
Isolate new plants
When purchasing new seedlings, do not make my rookie mistake. Instead, quarantine and monitor them for at least ten days. Microscopic eggs may have been laid in the foliage or soil awaiting a warm environment in which to hatch.
Catch them early
"When infestations are heavy (hence the clouds of flies) it is difficult to bring whiteflies under control, especially when using organic methods," says Conrad Richter, president of Richters Herbs in Goodwood, Ont. For good control, early detection is key, which is why it is good to check plants for whitefly regularly. Richter recommends turning over a few leaves to examine the undersides every time you water. "This will also help to detect other common indoor pest problems such as spider mites, scale and mealy bugs," he says.