The Q&A Archives: Eugenia hedge whitefly infested

Question: I live in San Diego, Clairemont area, and have a very tall Eugenia hedge that gives us privacy from the neighbors. Last year it was infested by whitefly and this year it's alot worse. I am looking for an organic solution? Also, our neighbor decided to whack the top 6 feet off the hedge, straight across, which just looks terrible! I know it grows back fast but I'm afraid the shape in general is ruined. Any suggestions on pruning to help it grow back healthy? Thank you, Becky Frederick

Answer: Management of heavy whitefly infestations is very difficult. Whiteflies are not well controlled with any available insecticides. The best strategy is to prevent problems from developing in your garden to the extent possible. In many situations, natural enemies will provide adequate control of whiteflies; outbreaks may occur if natural enemies that provide biological control of whiteflies are disrupted by insecticide applications, dusty conditions, or interference by ants. Avoid or remove plants that repeatedly host high populations of whiteflies. In gardens, whitefly populations in the early stages of population development can be held down by a vigilant program of removing infested leaves, vacuuming adults, or hosing down (syringing) with water sprays. Aluminum foil or reflective mulches can repel whiteflies from vegetable gardens and sticky traps can be used to monitor or, at high levels, reduce whitefly numbers. If you choose to use insecticides, insecticidal soaps or oils such as neem oil may reduce but not eliminate populations.

Biological Control
Whiteflies have many natural enemies, and outbreaks frequently occur when these natural enemies have been disturbed or destroyed by pesticides, dust buildup, or other factors. General predators include lacewings, bigeyed bugs, and minute pirate bugs. Several small lady beetles including Clitostethus arcuatus (on ash whitefly) and scale predators such as Scymnus or Chilocorus species, and the Asian multicolored lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, feed on whiteflies. Whiteflies have a number of naturally occurring parasites that can be very important in controlling some species. Encarsia spp. parasites are commercially available for release in greenhouse situations; however, they are not generally recommended for outdoor use because they are not well adapted for survival in temperate zones. An exception is the use of parasite releases for bayberry whitefly in citrus in southern California. You can evaluate the degree of natural parasitization in your plants by checking empty whitefly pupal cases. Those that were parasitized will have round or oval exit holes and those from which a healthy adult whitefly emerged will have a T-shaped exit hole. Whitefly nymphs can sometimes be checked for parasitization before emergence by noting a darkening in their color. However, some whitefly parasites do not turn hosts black and many whitefly nymphs that occur on ornamentals are black in their unparasitized state.

Avoiding the use of insecticides that kill natural enemies is a very important aspect of whitefly management. Products containing carbaryl, pyrethroids, diazinon or foliar sprays of imidacloprid can be particularly disruptive. Control of dust and ants, which protect whiteflies from their natural enemies, can also be important.

Topping a tree or hedge does reduce the size, but gives it an unnatural appearance. It may be painstaking, but if you cut the stems at irregular lengths, it will have a more natural appearance. Wait until it begins to regrow and then selectively prune some of the new shoots so they vary in length.

Best wishes with your eugenia!

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