If you fancy yourself a green thumb, it is more than likely that you already have or will have to contend with pests in some way or another. But, inevitable as it may be, it doesn’t make the problem any less frustrating. Spider mites are quite common. They can show up both outdoors in the garden and indoors on houseplants. Read on to learn about these tiny little buggers, how to identify them and what to do about them if you end up with a spider mite problem on your plants.
So What Are Spider Mites Anyway?
Spider mites are tiny little bugs that are no larger than a pinhead. They are tick-shaped critters belonging to the spider family (as the name would suggest) that tend to emerge outdoors in the spring when the weather warms up or indoors when the air is hot and dry (i.e. in the middle of the winter when your furnace is kicked into high gear).
They live for up to about a month, and females can produce about 100 eggs during their lifespan. After that, they “windsurf,” dispersing themselves to other plants by using their webbing as a sort of little magic carpet. So, containment and disposal of any infested plants are essential for managing these sneaky pests!
How to Identify or Find Spider Mites on Your Plants
The first thing you are likely to notice if you have spider mites are little yellow or brown spots on your plant’s leaves. If the infestation has already gotten out of control, the leaves on your plant may yellow completely, and its growth may be stunted. If you suspect a spider mite problem, the first sign is the presence of fine webs covering areas of your plant. Another way to check is to hold a piece of white paper under the leaves, shake them gently, and if you see what looks almost like pepper fall onto the paper, it’s probably a spider mite problem.
How to Get Rid of Spider Mites on Houseplants
Just like most problems, prevention is the best way to manage these pests. So, any time you bring a new plant into your home, be sure to quarantine it in a room separate from your other houseplants for at least a few days and check about 25 percent of the leaves using the paper trick we shared earlier.
If you determine that you do have spider mites on your plants, it is vital to start treatment immediately because these guys are pretty destructive and can get out of control if left unmanaged.
Start by isolating the affected plant and prune away any excessively damaged or infested leaves. The next best method of attack is to simply spray your plants with water every few days once you notice spider mites. Either with a spray bottle or in the shower if it is a rather large houseplant.
You can even mix a small amount of a mild dish detergent in with the water and wipe down all of the stems and leaves with a damp cloth. Just be sure to always use lukewarm water to avoid shocking your plants, be very thorough, and rinse them off well afterward. Also, keep in mind that the treatments may mean you can reduce your regular watering schedule as it is likely to saturate the soil in the process. Continue this treatment a few times a week for a couple of weeks.
Another alternative, particularly for heavy infestations, is to apply an organic insecticide like neem oil to the leaves. This will also need to be done regularly for a couple of weeks.
Treating Spider Mites Outdoors
Treating spider mites on plants in the garden is not all that different than treating them indoors. Remove severely affected plants or leaves from the garden immediately, and spray the rest with a relatively strong stream of water at least once every couple of days to break their lifecycle (particularly the undersides of leaves). If that doesn’t work, insecticidal soaps and superior horticultural sprays are quite effective at mitigating spider mites on plants. If all else fails, you can also look to chemical insecticides or miticides.
Spider mites are a pain, but you can easily keep them from getting out of control in your garden or house plant collection with the correct information and a few simple steps. If you have any questions or need help solving another garden or landscaping problem in Des Moines, be sure to stop by the garden center—we’d be happy to help!