While not technically insects but rather a type of arachnid, spider mites are a common nuisance for both indoor and outdoor gardeners. Nearly microscopic, the many varied species of the spider mite family Tetranychidae often colonize a plant before the grower even notices they have moved in. Spider mite varieties are prolific throughout North America and like to feast on a wide variety of crops. Spider mites tend to be pale to brownish red in color and are found primarily during hotter times of the year, and in dry spaces.
Dealing with a Spider Mite Problem
Spider mites feed on the vital fluids of our plants. They pierce leaves and suction out the fluid. In large enough quantities, this can cause significant damage to your plants. This damage may appear as curling leaves, or leaves that begin to fall. To find spider mites, look underneath the leaves of plants, or anywhere that is protected from moisture. Look for tightly woven webs that closely resemble the webs of a typical spider. Spider mites prefer to be protected from damp conditions, so any part of the plant that would protect the bug could make a sufficient home.
In Spring, you may find large numbers of young spider mites that have overwintered as eggs on the bark or leaves of your plants. This is quite common. Spider mite larvae have six legs, while adults have eight. The entire cycle from egg to adult may take as little as five days. Be vigilant during this time, taking care to check your plants often, in order to prevent the possibility that a small problem could become a large infestation.
Spider mites tend to travel large distances across many plants using their webbing to float in the wind. Using care to contain both the bugs and their webs when removing is critical.
Getting Rid of Spider Mites
We always stress prevention as key, and nothing is different when it comes to spider mites. Keeping your grow space as clean and free of sweet-smelling goodies really is key to keeping the critters out of your area. That said, we know that no one – especially us! – can prevent everything.
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Thankfully, we have discovered a handful of great natural, garden-safe solutions for those pesky spider mites. Remember to always stay away from the commercial, chemical-laden products. Not only do many of them provide sub-par results, but they will likely kill your crops and could hurt your body, too!
Fight Bugs with Bugs
One of the best remedies for spider mites is the addition of beneficial nematodes to your soil. The nematodes will feast on the spider mites and the problem is solved. Depending upon how infested your crop or individual plant is, you may want to engage in some heavy pruning – or even pull an entire plant or two if it is part of an infested plot – before introducing any remedy, in order to give your plant the best chance of recovery.
Give Your Plants a Bath
Another option is to give your plant a treatment or bath. Properly emulsified neem oil, sulphur baths, or Spinosad are all applications that can be utilized to kill the spider mites and keep them away. Preferably, the most ideal route for an infected plant is to begin treating with a combination of the listed treatments (neem oil, sulphur, Spinosad) over the course of a few weeks.
We certainly understand that fighting to get rid of any pest is a challenge, and the spider mite can be one of the most frustrating of all. We have lost a plant or two ourselves, after all. But rest assured, it is all part of growing and learning, together.