White flies, aphids and mealy bugs are the Florida gardener’s worst enemy. These invasive pests can quickly infiltrate and colonize a garden. Although they first attack tender, new growth, they rapidly spread to older leaves, twigs and stems, wreaking havoc on established plants within as little as 72 hours.
How to Tell if You Have a Problem
Fortunately, these pests send out easily recognized signals that indicate an infestation. Examine your garden and ornamental plants regularly for these signs:
These persistent pests will happily attack anything from pumpkin vines and sunflowers to jasmine or hibiscus. Heavily infected plants are easy to identify by the white, spider-like webbing that engulfs the leaves or the smoky clouds that appear when affected limbs are touched. Luckily, the early signs are easy to spot. White flies typically lay eggs that are visible as white, beige or reddish bumps, sometimes seen in a circular pattern, and always on the underside of leaves.
Tiny white, reddish-brown or bright green aphids may seem harmless, but they can happily chew their way through a prize-winning rose garden in the course of a single summer. Like white flies, they feed on the succulent sap of new leaves and excrete honeydew, a sticky substance that promotes the growth of sooty mold. Despite their small size, aphids can often be discovered by visual inspection. Early signs of aphid infestation include yellow spots on or yellow tipping of previously lush, green leaves.
Mealy bugs are small white or pale pink insects that are sometimes covered in a fuzzy white webbing similar to white flies. Mealy bugs can reproduce quickly and will attack every part of a plant: roots, stems, twigs and leaves. They also excrete large amounts of honeydew, and affected leaves often have a shiny or waxed appearance. The honeydew is attractive to ants, so if you see ants in your viburnum or crape myrtle, examine the undersides of the leaves for pests.
The Simple Solution
If you discover that your garden is harboring white flies, aphids or mealy bugs, it’s important to take action immediately. A single diseased plant can quickly infect an entire garden. Visit your local nursery or garden center and ask for Talstar or a similar multi-purpose insecticide that kills pests systemically or on contact. Spray infected plants thoroughly, paying special attention to the underside of leaves. For mealy bugs, soak the soil at the base of the plants to kill bugs that have infected the root system. Repeat every seven to 10 days as necessary.