Thanks To The Fig Whitefly, We’re Having White Christmas Seasons.

Like tiny clouds of snowflakes, the fig whitefly falls from a shaken branch. The overused ficus is now in decline due to this introduced relative of the cicada.

If I offered you a plant and said “try this as a hedge, it grows over ten feet a year, requires lots of water and fertilizer, has roots that stray far from the plant and may crack your home’s foundation ,” would you take it? If not trimmed, it will reach 80 to 100 feet in height and width. Now you can add the 100 to 175 dollar quarterly visit from your local pest control company to control Ficus Whitefly to that scenario. The neonicotinoid pesticides used to control whitefly are implicated in the occurrence of Sudden Colony Collapse of honeybees.

Several species of Ficus are invasive and require tax money to remove from our parks and private money to keep them out of our yards. Only the strangler fig is native here and is a very important berry producer for our birds. If you must have a fig tree, plant one of these at least 50 feet from any structure.

Diversity: a mix of plants, rather than a monoculture, stops pests from building up in numbers and spreading to other members of its preferred species. When one kind of plant is killed by a pest, especially an introduced pest like the Fig Whitefly, having a diversity of plants assures that you don’t suddenly loose all of your cover at once.

Shrubs to replace ficus include the Simpson, Spanish, red and redberry stoppers. These, along with myrtle of the river, are in the guava family and yield small dark or red berries that the birds fight over. Jamaica caper, marlberry, Walter’s viburnum and firebush have lovely flowers and berries. For wind and salt tolerance try indigo berry, blolly, myrsine, Florida privet, yaupon holly and saw palmetto. Pineland privet attracts many butterflies when in flower. Marlberry and wild coffee are great in the shade. Wild coffee has beautiful red berries at Christmas time and it’s fun to bring cuttings of these indoors for the holidays. Rinse off the insects hiding among the fruit if necessary.

The plants that I am recommending are slow to moderate growers and can be kept low with yearly selective pruning. This job requires thought and is much quieter than the mindless drone of hedge clippers every month. It is also safer and doesn’t use gas. Never box a hedge; it won’t produce fruit and looks… well, square. A mixed hedge with a textured appearance is more aesthetic.

Enjoy the Christmas season by shaking a ficus branch and creating a blizzard of tiny Fig Whiteflies; then cut the ficus down and mulch it. Look at this as a great opportunity to replant your yard with natives. In the long run it will be cheaper, quieter, safer, more attractive and you will have more birds and butterflies to enjoy.