Spider mites are one of the most common pests in landscapes and gardens and feed on many fruit trees, vines, berries, vegetables and ornamental plants, as well as houseplants. These tiny mites are just large enough to be seen with the naked eye, but may just look like tiny, moving dots. For tiny creatures, they can do considerable damage to plants if left unchecked.
How Spider Mites Hurt Plants
Spider mites cause damage by sucking cell fluids from plant leaves. A small number of mites usually isn’t a reason for concern, but plants can sustain heavy damage if populations are high and the infestation spreads. You may notice a stippling of light or yellowish spots on affected leaves and often the webbing of mites can be seen on leaves and stems. As the damage continues, leaves may turn completely yellow, dry up and fall off the plant.
Controlling Spider Mites
Spider mites reproduce rapidly in hot, dry weather, therefore, keeping plants well watered is a good deterrent to heavy infestations. There are also many natural enemies to these pernicious bugs, such as lacewing larvae and some lady beetles that help to keep mite populations under control. Cultivating these helpful insects may be all that is necessary to minimize spider mite activity unless the infestation has already increased and spread.
Because spider mites are too tiny to pick off infected plants, judicious pruning or trimming of infested plants can help remove these pests. In heavy infestations, it may be necessary to discard an entire plant to take the mites with it. Do not put these clippings or removed plants in compost piles, however, or the mites will continue to thrive and will return to healthier plants.
At times, it may be necessary to use chemicals to deter spider mites. Be careful when using broad spectrum insecticides, however, as these will kill any beneficial insects as well as the spider mites, which can disrupt the delicate balance of a garden’s ecology. Simply spraying plant leaves with a blast of water, taking care to spray the undersides as well, can help to reduce mite populations by physically removing the spider mites. Insecticidal soaps and neem oil are also good choices when dealing with spider mites.
Once the mites have been removed, damaged plants may look bedraggled, but they will generally recover within a season or two, especially if the pests were recognized and treated quickly. Don’t let spider mites catch you in their webs – get rid of them today!