Most growers around the world know about spider mites. As part of the mite family and closely related to ticks and spiders, these little insects are some of the most destructive pests known to farmers. Sometimes referred to as the two-spotted spider mites, red spider mites, or spruce spider mites, these little creatures are rather difficult to get rid of once they take hold of a farm.
The worst part of spider mite control is populations grow so quickly and they spread so fast that by the time a farmer recognizes the first signs of an infestation, there is a good chance that it will be already too late and even spider mite killer or insecticidal soap may not be enough.
What Are Spider Mites?
Spider mites, with one of the most common species in the U.S. being Neoseiulus californicus, form part of the arachnid family, but, despite that fact and their name, they are not exactly spiders. They are tiny sap-sucking insects that get great joy from destroying the plants in your garden. They have a ferocious appetite that could quite literally wipe out entire crops in a very short time span.
These pests are referred to as spider mites because they have a habit of making webs on the underside of plant leaves. This is also where they lay their eggs and tend to live. Spider mites only live for about four weeks. Their eggs hatch in three days and they lay a new batch every single day.
Each female spider mite has the ability to produce a huge batch of eggs very quickly. This makes these little pests difficult to deal with since they have a high generational turnover thus making them less susceptible to chemical pesticides as they quickly develop a tolerance.
Signs that You Have A Spider Mites Infestation
Yet another reason why spider mites are so destructive is that they are not easily spotted. Unlike most aphids, spider mite infestations are not easily noticeable. There are two main reasons for this:
- Spider mites are tiny (about 1 mm in size)
- They tend to exclusively live on the underside of leaves
Unless you are going to be checking the underside of every leaf for silk threads and webbing, the only alternative is keeping an eye out for white or yellow spotting on leaves. These spots are the telltale sign that you may have a spider mite infestation in the works.
These infestations often occur during warm and dry conditions. If you have indoor plants that are suddenly not doing so well and look listless, you should get a magnifying glass and a piece of white paper. Go over to the plant and place the paper under the leaf and then shake the leaf. Keep an eye out for the tiny specks that fall on the white paper. Get your magnifying glass and study those tiny specks. If you see them moving and they have something like eight legs, then you know you have spider mites.
Some of their favorite host plants include:
Although they cannot fly, they are wonderful windsurfers who can ride their webbing to far off plants. The worst part is that a single female can start her own colony even without fertilized eggs. She will just lay unfertilized eggs that will hatch into male spider mites.
This video gives you a quick rundown on the life cycle of a spider mite:
These infestations tend to get worse during spring and summer. That is because the spider mite eggs can overwinter on dead leaves and fallen twigs. Once the weather gets warmer, the little buggers hatch, start eating, and mature in just a few days. They then immediately start reproducing and the circle continues. Are you starting to get a clear picture of why they can be so difficult to control?
What Damage Can Spider Mites Cause?
To understand the kind of damage spider mites can cause, you first must understand how a typical plant works. Healthy plants regulate their water retention through their leaves. These leaves have a vast array of stomata that tend to open and close in accordance with prevailing environmental conditions thus allowing water to either escape or be retained.
This regulation is essential to the health of the plant. When the plant’s stomata are closed, the leaves are resistant to water loss which can keep the plant alive during dry seasons and periods when they don’t get enough water. It is essentially the plant’s life support system; sort of like our ability to eat and stay hydrated. It is this life support system that spider mites eat away.
These little critters feed by puncturing a great number of holes in the leaves of any plant they attack. They then extract fluids and leaf cells thus puncturing the plant’s protective waterproof casing that keeps it hydrated during tough times. Your plants then begin to lose a great deal of moisture through the punctured holes and there is nothing they can do about it because their self-preservation mechanism is severely compromised by the spider mites.
What was an attack on one leaf quickly snowballs into a domino effect that will see the plant lose its ability to photosynthesize and repair itself. Slowly, it dies off, as the leaves fall off and the plant’s entire system stops functioning. Now imagine this happening to entire crops.
Because spider mites reproduce so quickly, they can affect acres upon acres of crops in no time at all.
How to Control Spider Mite Infestation
Sometimes, the best course of action against any infestation is to stop it from occurring in the first place. Since spider mite infestations are not easy to spot at its genesis, the next best thing is to try and contain the infestation as soon as you notice the telltale signs. Here are tips on how to control spider mite infestations:
Isolate the infected plants and keep the rest clustered: Spider mites tend to migrate from plant to plant and they can windsurf across different leaf clusters. Once you start seeing the telltale white and yellow spots on leaves as well as silk webs on the undersides, then you should immediately isolate those plants. Keep the rest clustered so that they maintain a moist environment in which spider mites do not thrive.
Retain moisture and humidity: Keep your plant pots on a platter of water, put in some peat moss or bring the plants indoors. These moist conditions keep spider mites from thriving.
Keep the plants out of the afternoon sun: Spider mites like dry, arid weather. Keeping your plants away from the hot afternoon sun or setting a humidifier close to the plants is an excellent way to discourage spider mites.
These are just some tips on how to control spider mites once they have taken hold of your plants. But what if the infestation is too widespread? What do you do then?
How to Get Rid of Spider Mites
Best Natural Spider Mites Control Methods
Spider mites have lots of natural enemies. Surprisingly enough, one of the biggest natural enemies to spider mites is actually a different kind of mite: the western predatory mite. You could also create an environment where any one of the following natural predators thrive so as to keep the spider mite population under control:
- Spider mite destroyer lady beetle
- Bigeyed bugs
- Lacewing larvae
- Sixspotted thrips
- Minute pirate bugs
But if you find that this method of control just isn’t working for you, then it is time to bring out the big guns:
Insecticides That Get Rid Spider Mites
- The toxic kind might also get rid of other natural predators that help keep spider mite infestations under control
- Because they breed so fast, spider mites quickly develop a resistance to most pesticides and miticides
Additionally, organic pesticides and miticides are just safer for use around the house and on your farm as well. Here is a quick list of some pesticides that you should consider using to get rid of spider mites:
These are some of your best options when it comes to DIY solutions for spider mite control.
Why You Need to Call A Pest Management Professional
But when it is all said and done, the best course of action you can take against any kind of pest infestations, spider mites or otherwise is to call a pest management professional. We are highly trained and well equipped to deal with any kind of pest infestation on any scale. By hiring us, you can rest assured that we will run a thorough check of the pest situation in your home. Not only will we get rid of the spider mites that have invaded your property through biological control, but we will also give you practical recommendations on how to keep populations to a minimum as well as give you a quick rundown on all other pest-risks you run.
Give us a call today and let us help you keep that spider mite population at zero as well as show you how to keep your property pest-free.