Spider mites are one of the most common pests encountered in indoor and outdoor gardens. If left untreated a spider mite infestation can wreak havoc on your plants, putting a serious dent in your yield and quality. We’ll discuss identification and look at a few ways to get rid of these bad bugs as well as some preventative measures you can take.
It’s important to positively identify any problem in your garden before attempting a solution. As their name implies, spider mites are not insects but part of the arachnid family. They tend to hang out on the bottom sides of leaves, and although they are small they can be seen with the naked eye if you know what to look for. Affected leaves will show small yellow spots where mites have sucked out material from plant cells. Heavy webbing on buds or flowers indicates an advanced infestation that may be a threat to the survival of the plant.
Before going after the mites directly it’s a good idea to eliminate the areas where they thrive. Larvae hatch from eggs then go through two nymph stages before reaching adulthood in as little as five days. At each stage the mites must shed their exoskeletons. This molting process occurs most easily in dry conditions such as dead plant material. Remove any dead or severely damaged leaves from your plants then clear the area of any loose plant matter. Get rid of old bags of dead leaves since these can be a breeding ground for pests. Keep your plants well-watered.
Spider mites are low on the food chain, so you probably won’t see out of control infestations outside. Indoors, mites have few predators, so unchecked populations can grow exponentially. One option is to introduce predatory insects into your indoor garden. Ladybugs are a good all-around and easy to source beneficial bug, and there are predatory mite species that can be even more effective. If you choose this route, make sure any sprays you use are compatible with your beneficial insects.
If all else fails, there’s always the chemical route. But don’t fret: There are numerous safe and effective mite control products on the market that are suitable for ingestible crops, and many even carry organic certifications. Some of the most effective of these are made using essential oils from plants like rosemary and cinnamon. Try these gentler options before resorting to neem oil or pyrethrins. For most effective use, apply sprays at 5-7 day intervals and alternate active ingredients every 2 applications.
Don’t rest when you stop seeing damage. Spider mites are good at hiding and they lay lots of eggs. If you’re not careful you could have a second wave of mites which are now more resistant to the sprays you used before. Keep fighting using every tool available until you are beyond certain that every last mite and egg has been eliminated, then spray down floors and walls with a mild bleach solution. With some consistent practices and determination spider mites can be easily controlled and sometimes even eliminated completely.