Green Solutions: Biological Control for Ficus White Fly

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Many homeowners are seeking solutions that are less dependent on traditional pest control methods to control pest infestations. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the combination of actions and decisions homeowners make to protect their home and yard from unacceptable damage caused by insects, disease and weeds. IPM uses all available methods: biological, organic, mechanical, cultural controls and even more traditional non-organic methods, when needed to prevent pests from damaging plant material beyond the action thresholds set.

Biological Control is just one of the tools Island Environmental uses from the Integrated Pest Management tool box. Today, we are working with two homeowners to combat white fly on their ficus trees and hedges by releasing beneficial insects that are known to target white flies as well thrip.

Paulo showing homeowners the beneficial pests we are releasing today.´╗┐

The first step in Integrated Management (IPM) is scouting for pests. Scouting can be as simple as walking your yard and looking for problems. Pay attention for signs of plant stress and damage such as wilting, yellowing leaves, defoliation, chewed leaves and even insects themselves. Today we are adding yellow sticky traps to help monitor pest activity in-between monitoring visits.

Bruce attaching monitoring traps to ficus hedge.

Prior scouting, monitoring and property history has indicated we need to be treating for white fly on the ficus. The homeowner has decided on biological control as their preferred method for combating white flies. Biological controls do not eliminate pests but rather suppress insect populations below levels damaging to the plant material. This method of control is slower acting and requires more patience for results.

Paulo scouting plant material for pests for signs of both harmful and beneficial insects.
Paulo scouting plant material for pests. Here we see the cast skins from white fly that have previously hatched. However, we do not see signs of adult white fly today.

The mites arrived in sachets attached to sticks. We placed a sachet of mites into the ground at the base of each ficus plant. We also released mites into foliage 4-5 feet from the ground. The mites will emerge from the sachets over the next 4 weeks. Because these mites feed on white flies and thrips, our goal is to build the population of beneficial insects up enough to control white fly damage below damage thresholds.

Bruce placing beneficial mites at the base of ficus.

We have scouted the property, identified the target pest, and taken action by releasing beneficial insects to control the pest, now what? Because biological controls are slow acting, we will return to scout and monitor the ficus on a regular basis. We will check the traps for adult white fly activity and monitor the overall condition of ficus. We should start seeing mites moving throughout the ficus and feeding on white fly and thrips. What we find during our scouting and monitoring in the upcoming weeks will determine what, if any, action we take next. For more information on biological control, check out the Green Solutions section of our website.  Follow our blog to see who is winning the Battle of Mighty Mites vs White Fly.