These pests are not insects. Rather, they belong to the family of arachnids. Similar to spiders, they also have eight legs. However, such is not one thing that you will notice because of their small size. In fact, they look just as big as the period at the end of a sentence. The adults have a maximum length of 1/50 inch. The color is pale or reddish brown. Before transforming into an adult, they start as an egg then transition into a larva with six legs. After this, they undergo two stages as nymphs wherein they already have eight legs.
Spider Mite’s Habitat
Most spider mites prefer warm weather, such as honeylocust spider mite. They feed on the flower, shoots, and leaves of their host. They create a silk webbing, which they produce through the glands in their mouth. During the dry months, they grow quickly from egg to adult, which happens in just about a week. They live in colonies and create traces of dots in the leaves. The infestation is heaviest in areas wherein their natural predators are absent, primarily because of the use of insecticides.
Identifying Spider Mite’s Damage
Spider mites affect a wide array of plants, including both that are present indoors and outdoors. They thrive in fruits and vegetables, such as eggplants, tomatoes, beans, melons, and strawberries. Their presence is also common in ornamental plants, shrubs, and even turf grass. You can also see them in shade trees, including oak and elm. The evergreen host plants, on the other hand, include spruce and juniper.
The following are some of the most common signs that are indicative of the presence and infestation of spider mites:
- Leaves will experience discoloration and other visible damages. Yellow spots will develop on the underside, which is a result of sucking of the pest. It may also become white or brown. It will soon die and fall off the host, exposing only the plant’s skeleton.
- Look for the appearance of webs, similar to what spiders produce. They are common on the leaves and stems of the host plant.
- Inspect the fruits as well to determine the possible presence of spider mites. They might appear smaller than the usual or they will show signs that they are not growing as what you expect.
Results of Infestation
Because of the small size of spider mites, their presence only becomes evident after causing a severe infestation in their hosts. They suck the cells of plants, depriving the hosts of the nutrients that are necessary for its survival. The damage becomes more severe if the plants are also experiencing water stress. Severe defoliation will most likely happen, which is a serious problem during spring. It can lead to sunburns and usually results in negative impacts on crop yield in fruits and vegetables. The latter might not reach full development. Because of the loss of nutrients, plants can die as a result of heavy infestation.
How to Get Rid of Spider Mites
Natural and Organic Solutions
Below are some of the effective solutions that target spider mites without causing harm to the environment and humans:
- Biological control is one of the best ways to eliminate spider mites. Encouraging the presence of their natural enemies in the garden is perhaps one of the best ways to restrict their population. You can buy and release predatory mites, such as Galendromus and phytoseiulus. Lady beetles will also deliver the same benefits. For the best outcomes, rather than buying, you can alter the environment around the host plants to make it attract natural predators.
- There are also cultural control measures that you can execute to get rid of spider mites. The application of water is one of the simplest solutions, which will help to get rid of dust. Force spraying is also a must, especially in the case of plants that will tolerate pressure.
- If the leaves are big enough, you might also want to try wiping the plant using a cloth dipped in a mixture of mild detergent and warm water. For every gallon of water, use three teaspoons of mild detergent. Apply the solution at least once a week.
- Rather than using pesticides with toxic chemicals, neem oil is an excellent alternative. The latter is made from pressing the fruits and seeds of Azadirachta indica. It is effective if you use it in the dormant season. However, take note that the effects will not show up in an instant. In most instances, you have to give it at least a week for the results to be evident.
- Fan blowing, especially in the case of indoor plants, is another solution you might want to give a shot. Spider mites love environments that are stagnant and hot. A little wind will help to control their population. Moving air will let them loose from the host plants and will also discourage their growth in the future.
If the natural solutions are not enough to deal with spider mites, you might want to resort to the use of chemical control. This is not usually a good choice as it can kill even beneficial insects and not just the pest that you are targeting. Acaricides and miticides are some of the best for controlling their population, which have a special formulation to specifically deal with mites.
How to Prevent Spider Mites
To prevent severe damages to your plants, early detection is necessary. With this, you need to use a magnifying glass since spider mites are too small. You should eliminate the eggs before they hatch and cause an infestation. Pruning is necessary once you are sure that it already affects some parts of your plant. In some cases, such as in grass, it is best to pull it out to prevent spreading to the healthier portions. The provision of right irrigation is also necessary, as well as the removal of dust. At the end of the day, the most important is to perhaps maintain the plant in its healthiest state to make it less susceptible to spider mites.