Spiders are one of the only bugs that I ignore when I find them running around since they snack on all the nasty insects that have snuck their way into my house. I don’t ignore spider mites in my garden, though.
Spider mites are annoying little creatures that can seriously harm your garden and houseplants. Plus, they spread disease.
Unfortunately, they’re an extremely common pest. Are you wondering how to get rid of them? Here’s how.
What are Spider Mites?
Spider mites aren’t actual spiders, though they are related. They’re so named because they look a great deal like the multi-legged creepy crawlies.
These tiny mites are bad news for your garden plants. When the weather warms, the mites creep out of the ground and start feasting.
Unlike other types of mites, they won’t harm you or your pets, but they can do a lot of plant damage, despite their miniature size. They use their mouths, which have needle-like appendages, to extract and eat the fluid of your plants.
Spider mites target a slew of plants, so there’s a chance you’ve had to deal with them at one point or another. Haven’t spotted spider mites on any of your plant babies? It’s bound to happen at some point!
Hydroponic systems, even those indoors, are especially prone to spider mite infestations.
The Spider Mite Lifecycle
Spider mites take a rest in colder weather and become active once temperatures warm up. In a climate where it’s hot all the time, the mites will happily munch away at your plants 365 days a year.
Unlike many other pests, spider mites like it hot and dry, so they’re a common houseplant problem – indoor conditions tend to be a lot drier than outdoors.
Females lay their eggs once the weather warms in the spring. These nasty little creatures reproduce fast, and a small population can quickly turn into a horde within a short period of time.
Signs of Spider Mite Activity
Spotting these little buggers is a bit tough. They’re hard to see with the naked eye. If you look carefully, though, it’s possible to see them moving along plant foliage.
Since they’re so hard to spot, the best way to check for spider mite activity is to look for their distinct webbing and plant damage.
If you notice plant foliage has small holes, and there’s webbing nearby, you likely have a spider mite infestation on your hands. The presence of webbing, however, usually means you’ve caught the infestation late in the game.
If it’s apparent that a plant is infested, you’ll need to act quickly to salvage the situation.
Anytime you notice your plants looking sickly, it’s essential to take a closer look. Don’t assume it’s a weather or nutrient issue.
I like to inspect my plants on a near-daily basis to check for pest activity. The sooner you spot a problem, the easier it’ll be to deal with it.
Yellow spots on leaves are sometimes the first sign of spider mite activity – though many people mistake these spots for disease or nutrient deficiency issues.
By the way, there are several other types of plant mites that can attack your plants. Spider mites aren’t the only ones!
Your plants can also be attacked by mites that target specific plants, like spruce mites, fruit tree mites, and honey locust mites.
Why Are Spider Mites Bad For My Plants?
Spider mites, like other pests, can harbor disease. They also weaken previously healthy plants and cause both cosmetic and systemic damage that can, over time, kill your plant.
As the mites continue to feed, your plant will, in turn, become stressed. In fruiting plants, your harvest will be drastically reduced if there’s severe damage.
In plants with a heavy spider mite infestation, leaf loss is common, which can cause sun burning.
How to Deal with a Spider Mite Infestation
Okay, you’ve spotted spider mites. Now what? Here are a few tips for handling the pesky (or should I say, pest-y) problem:
- Commercial sprays or insecticidal oils (e.g., neem oil) designed to handle spider mites and other pests are available. They’re useful for handling heavy infestations. All leaves should be sprayed so as not to miss any hiding insects, and you’ll likely need to reapply multiple times.
- In addition to using commercial or homemade sprays, it’s important to keep your plant healthy during this infestation period to avoid undue added stress. Make sure to feed and water as needed for your individual plant.
- You can’t physically pick off individual mites from plants like you would a larger pest, such as cabbage worms, but you can use a forceful spray of your hose to dislodge them. I’d use this strategy sparingly, though, since splashing and spraying of the leaves can leave an opening for diseases.
Thankfully, it’s possible to successfully eradicate spider mites from your house or garden plants. Spider mites are a pain in the butt, but they’re not impossible to defeat, like other stubborn pests.
How to Prevent Spider Mites
As with any pest problem or disease issue, preventative measures are the best way to avoid disaster. It’s always tougher to deal with an established pest than it is to try and prevent it from settling in, to begin with.
Here are important steps to follow to prevent spider mites from making a home in your garden:
Encourage the Presence of Predatory Insects
Buy predatory insect eggs and release them into your garden or plant flowers and other plants that attract these hungry alpha bugs. You can also purchase or encourage predatory insects to visit your garden.
Still, you’ll likely need to use insecticidal sprays to reduce the present population to see any noticeable reduction in mites. Think of predatory insects as an assist – not a solution.
Bugs like lacewings will feast on the tiny mites. Other useful predatory insects include ladybugs and spider mite destroyers.
Scrutinize Store-Bought Plants
Spider mites are a common houseplant pest, and if you’re not careful, you could bring home a plant with these unwanted hitchhikers. Check the undersides of leaves and carefully inspect the rest of the plant for spider mite activity.
Water Plants Adequately
Obviously, overwatering is a bad idea. It can cause root rot and encourage other types of pests and diseases. But since spider mites prefer dry conditions, be sure to keep plants adequately watered to discourage them from settling in.
If you do decide to bring a new plant home (or order one from an online retailer), there’s always a chance that you’ll have to deal with a secretly hidden pest. Keep new plants far away from existing ones until you’re sure they no longer pose a threat.
Buy High-Quality Soil From Reputable Sources
A number of pests and diseases can hide out in the earth, and buying low-quality stuff is a recipe for disaster. Trust me. I’ve dealt with the consequences of buying poor soil because it was cheaper. I’ll never make that mistake again!
Nourish Your Plants
Healthy, fertile soil that has all the nutrients your plants need to help strengthen them and prevent mite infestations. If your plants are starved for nutrients, they’re likely targets for pests, including mites.
Spider Mites Don’t Have to Be a Death Sentence
While it’s never fun having a pest infestation, you could do a lot worse than spider mites. With a little bit of elbow grease, know-how, and some good old fashioned prevention, these tiny bugs don’t have to be a death sentence for your plants.