Shop Vacs and Ladybugs: Eliminating our Whitefly Infestation Organically!

A few weekends ago when Matt, Bailey and I were at the Dock Daze event in Maryland I got a panicked phone call from my brother.  He had stopped by our house to pick up some boxes he’d been storing there and on his way to the basement’s bilco doors he was swarmed by clouds of tiny white flies.  Sure enough, when we returned home from the event we were dismayed to see that the miniscule flies were covering the undersides of the leaves on our boxwood bush, bean plants, tomatoes, peppers, and basil.  Ugh!

Whiteflies!  (Photo from sarracenia.com)

A quick google search of white flies on boxwood revealed that these tiny pests are in fact called “whiteflies” (how practical!) and they cause damage by sucking a plant’s sap.  There are all sorts of chemical “cures” for whiteflies on the internet but luckily we had the presence of mind to consult some organic gardening resources before spraying our vegetable garden with poisons.  🙂

Stop! You don’t need these chemicals to get rid of whiteflies!  (Image from arlnow.com)

We began our chemical-free whitefly offensive by thinning out the whitefly population a bit since there were literally thousands of them hovering around our garden.  Matt took a shop vac and spent 30-40 minutes gently shaking and brushing our giant boxwood bush and vacuuming up the flies as they flew out of the bush.  I don’t know how much the shop vac did to ultimately squash the whitefly population, but it was very satisfying to watch them get sucked into the vacuum!

Watch out whiteflies…. the ladybugs have arrived!

Next, we consulted our favorite organic gardening resource, Mike McGrath from “You Bet Your Garden.”  We searched the archived questions of the week from Mike’s radio shows on the Gardens Alive Web Site and found this very helpful article on white flies.  It turns out that you don’t need dangerous chemicals to fight whiteflies… all you need is some beneficial insects like ladybugs or lacewings!  We purchased 1500 live ladybugs on Amazon from Hirts Garden’s and they were waiting (in a mesh bag in a box) in our mailbox a few days later.

A ladybug hanging out on the boxwood bush (the original site of the whitefly outbreak).

Here’s what we learned about releasing ladybugs:

  • When you first receive your ladybugs, put them in the fridge to “calm them down” from their long journey.
  • Wait until dark to release them since ladybugs don’t fly at night (who knew?).
  • Before releasing them, water your garden (leaves, soil, everything) thoroughly since they like moisture.
  • Rather than dumping all 1500 ladybugs out at once, split up your ladybugs into several smaller releases over several days.
  • Sprinkle the ladybugs directly onto the foliage of the whitefly-infested plants.
  • Put your un-released ladybugs back in your fridge for storage – just make sure to carefully tape up the incision in the bag so you don’t end up with ladybugs all over your food!
  • Oh, and it goes without saying… if you already have chemicals all over your garden don’t bother releasing any ladybugs – the chemicals will just kill them!

It has now been about 3 weeks since the first whitefly sighting and I’m pleased to say that every last one of those swarming pests has vanished.  Our shop vac and ladybugs did their job and our garden is whitefly- and chemical-free!

Not a whitefly in sight!

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One thought on “Shop Vacs and Ladybugs: Eliminating our Whitefly Infestation Organically!

  1. Pingback: June Is Bustin’ Out All Over – Garden Update! | The Little GSP

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