Whiteflies deposit a milky substance on

the underside of coconut palm fronds that are often planted near

pools. At left, the whitefly residue pollutes a South Florida pool

near the drain.
TOM CUCINOTTA Whiteflies deposit a milky substance on the underside of coconut palm fronds that are often planted near pools. At left, the whitefly residue pollutes a South Florida pool near the drain.

South Florida’s inviting climate has made it home to invasive species such as parakeets, pythons and walking catfish. One of the latest immigrants to the region has brought headaches for service technicians.

The rugose spiraling whitefly arrived in Florida in 2009 and is found today from the Florida Keys through Palm Beach County. As it spreads, it leaves a honeydew-like film on pools that can neutralize chemicals. The whitefly also deposits a black goo on decks, furniture and railings.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Tom Cucinotta, owner of Cucinotta’s Pool Service in Boynton Beach, Fla. “They’re sucking the chlorine right out of the pool.”

Two types of whiteflies are responsible for the problem: the ficus whitefly, which has been around for quite some time, and the rugose spiraling whitefly, a species that’s relatively new in the area.

“The spiraling whitefly, unlike the ficus whitefly, is not super-picky about what it feeds on and reproduces on. So it’s got a very wide host range,” said Laura Sanagorski, environmental horticulture extension agent in Palm Beach County Extension Service.

One of its favorite hosts is the coconut palm, which is often planted in proximity to pools.

“On the pool deck, wherever the palm trees are, everything turns black because what [the flies] are excreting is a sap. It sticks to the plants, it sticks to the pavers, it sticks to the decks, it sticks to the rails — you name it,” Cucinotta said.

Mario Ramos, owner of Somar Pools in Hallandale, is seeing the same thing.

“The deck [gets] sticky or slippery, and the pool [turns] milky. We had some customers who were trying to do everything to keep the pool clean and just could not. You’d put in 15 pounds of dichlor shock one day and the next day there’d be a zero chlorine reading. Whatever these whiteflies are putting into the water . . . was just completely interfering with getting and holding a chlorine reading in a pool.”

That’s when Ramos started using CV-600, made by Orenda Technologies. “Their product has been a lifesaver,” Ramos said. Now he is putting the enzyme water cleaner in every pool he services.
Cucinotta has begun using the product as well.

As the whitefly expands its range, Florida pool professionals are seeing it farther north. Ian Fischer of Precision Pool Service in Palm Beach Gardens is finding the whitefly — and its residue — more prevalent.

“I do see the things covering the tops of pools. And I did notice that since it’s been happening, the pools are definitely going through more chlorine than usual.”

Fischer said he’s been putting a bit more chlorine than usual into his customers’ pools, and that’s holding the problem at bay. So far, he’s absorbed the cost of the added chemical and hasn’t passed along any price increases to his customers.

The best solution, of course, is to eliminate the whitefly. Removing the insects from the trees is the first step, and experts recommend washing the trees with a hose on full blast, then following up with pest control treatments.

Sanagorski has had success with a pesticide from the neonicotinoid family, treating the tree with either a soil or trunk application.

Brian Krol, owner of B Green Pest Control in Boynton Beach, has experienced good results with that technique. “We’re seeing results with the injections. Within 24 hours, we’re seeing whiteflies dropping,” he said.

“We’re gearing up, [expecting] that this is going to be a major problem until it’s resolved. We’re getting 10 to 15 calls a day to handle this. I don’t see it going away quickly because of how fast they populate.”

If that’s true, pool professionals will have their hands full with this insect for some time to come.