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When you spot browning leaves on your plants, what is the first thing you do? Panic? Do not, as anything can be solved if you take a deep breath and carefully analyze the situation. One of the reasons may be tiny, bothering pests, so you might want to learn how to recognize spider mite infestations and how to get rid of spider mites on indoor plants.
In this article, I shall tell you more about:
- What are the most common symptoms?
- How to diagnose spider mite infestation?
- How to prevent a plant from getting affected by spider mites?
- How to treat a plant affected by spider mites?
- Related questions
Buckle up, and prepare to learn more on how to solve the spider mite problem!
What Are the Most Common Symptoms?
Are there patterns of silvery moving dots or delicate webbing? If the answer is positive, then you are dealing with spider mites. They are usually located underneath the plant leaves on finely spun webs. These tiny bugs have an oval-shaped body, eight legs and can be brown and red. One of the most common signs of their presence is brown spots and holes in plant leaves.
Unfortunately, they become prominently visible only when the population explodes. You cannot see them with the naked eye, until the leaf damage escalates, to say so. That’s why it is wise to inspect plants regularly and discover spider mites before they invade the whole plant.
Luckily for them (but not for your plant), their population can enlarge twice its size every couple of weeks. It takes around a week for a single pest to mature. Within the next couple of weeks, they become capable of laying eggs- hundreds of them. Spider mite eggs only take 72 hours to hatch. Spider mites thrive in warm conditions when the air is dry. That’s why you need to be extra careful during winter when the heating is on.
Now, you probably wonder where do these miniature enemies come from? How do they end up on your plant after all?
Believe it or not, they ride a webbing on the breeze, like some sort of windsurfers. They are extremely small, so they can spread unnoticed. Being so mobile, they spread rapidly, conquering windows, doors, and eventually undersides of your plant’s leaves.
How to Diagnose Spider Mites?
Having in mind that they reside underneath the leaves, it’s easy to assume where the first signs of damage will be noticed. It’s the plant leaves that suffer first, but if the situation escalates, the rest of the plant gets affected as well.
These mini bugs feed off of materials from plant cells. Simply put, they are juice suckers who will suck the life out of your indoor plants if you fail to notice their presence on time. They enter the pores (stomata), which are in charge of regulating water retention.
If the foliage wilts, turns yellow or brown, has some strange speckles all over it, wilts, shrivels, or even worse, falls off, then you can be positive that it’s because of the spider mites. When a plant loses water, it becomes more vulnerable and prone to developing issues.
A weakened plant is halfway to a dead plant but can be saved, with proper care. All you need to do is dedicate yourself fully, take the necessary steps and your plant will recover.
Here are the most common prevention and treatment methods!
How to Prevent a Plant from Getting Affected by Spider Mites?
Wipe the leaves
Too much dust on the plant leaves will lead to poor transpiration, and will most certainly result in a stressed plant. If your plant is not able to regulate the water circulation process well, it becomes weaker and more susceptible to pests and diseases.
Occasional cleaning will not only result in a tidier plant but will be beneficial for its health as well. Clean foliage combined with a wise watering schedule is one of the crucial factors for maintaining the plant’s well-being as optimal as possible.
Adjust the humidity levels well
As I already mentioned, spider mites prefer dry air, so keeping the humidity higher will minimize the possibilities for them to appear.
The vast majority of plants does prefer higher humidity levels, so it is something that you should pay attention to regardless of the pests. There are many ways to keep humidity at desirable levels.
You can put a plant on a pebble tray filled with water, or mist it from time to time. In case you live in areas where the air is too dry due to such climate, then use a humidifier.
In addition to this, you should regulate the lighting. Use a curtain to diffuse the lights and avoid exposing your plants to direct sunlight. This will also contribute to maintaining desired humidity levels.
Eliminate the bugs before taking your plant indoors
During summer, we like to keep plants outside. The conditions are well-regulated by nature, so we don’t have to worry as much as a plant is kept indoors.
However, when the time comes to return it inside, don’t forget to inspect it thoroughly for potential bugs and pests. Make sure you eliminate spider mites on houseplants all before relocating your plant indoors. If the unwanted residents remain unnoticed, they could easily affect other plants.
How to Treat a Plant Affected by Spider Mites?
Before you decide to treat a plant for spider mites, you have to make sure they are present on your plant. Sometimes, the colonies move before you even realize they have attacked your plant and damaged it.
If you suspect an infestation put white paper under the container. You can even shake the leaves over a white paper to see if the tiny crawlers will show up. Take a close look at the undersides and if you spot webbing or moving spots, apply some of the following methods to deter spider mites!
Pruning and isolation
If you have confirmed the presence of miniature enemies, the first thing to do is isolate your plant from the rest of the gang. This way you eliminate the chances for other healthy plants to become affected as well.
Then, prune all the parts where spider mites and their webbing is spotted. Dispose of that debris as soon as you can. Before and after you finish dealing with a plant suffering from a pest attack, wash your hands and disinfect the tools.
Treat your plant with plant-based miticides
Sometimes it is possible to get the job done by using products containing natural ingredients. Whenever possible, avoid using heavy chemicals, but keep in mind that even natural products and horticultural oil can harm if not used according to instructions.
- Before spraying the entire plant, test the product on a single leaf.
- If you don’t want your plant to become immune to certain products, mix them up from time to time.
As for the most commonly used products, those are:
Pyrethrum: Originating from chrysanthemum’s relatives, this product is one of the most frequent choices. Keep in mind that some species of mites develop resistance to it over time, so don’t overuse it.
Neem oil: This is also a number one choice in fighting not only spider mites but other types of pests as well. Deriving from the nuts of the Neem evergreen tree, neem oil not only helps you tackle the current invasion but repels new critters for a decent period. Do note that it takes a while for Neem oil to become effective, so you’ll gave to re-apply neem oil a couple of times.
Cinnamite: Made from cinnamon oil, this one’s also a safe weapon. Treat your plant with this product every three days, and after a couple of weeks, the vast majority of enemies will be gone. Keep in mind that cinnamite cannot kill eggs, but is excellent in eliminating adult mites.
Rosemary oil: One more non-hazardous product, rosemary oil is usually diluted with water before being applied to plants. It is a particularly great choice for treating spider mites on herbs, as it’s non-toxic to humans. So, be at ease when harvesting and eating those delicious spices afterward.
Bonus recipe: How to make your own herbal tea miticide?
When you’re feeling sick or simply under the weather, a tasty warm tea can save the day. Interestingly, the same can be applied to plants, but you need to cool it before you apply it.
So what you need is one tablespoon of ground cinnamon plus 2 tablespoons of Italian seasoning. Boil that in a quarter of water, and then cool it slightly. Then and 2 tablespoons of crushed fresh garlic, and strain it after it gets completely cold.
Add a bit of dish soap and pour into a spraying bottle. Shake it so that it mixes well, and spray on the leaves’ underside every three days. Repeat the process for a couple of weeks, and boring pests will be gone.
Pro Tip: Stay away from dishwashing powders, laundry detergents, and citrus-based dish soaps. They may be full of heavy chemicals which could cause leaf burns.
Hot peppers work as well
In one of the tests, extracts from peppers eliminated about 45% of adult spider mites, making jalapenos, cayenne peppers, and other members of the “hot” gang excellent weapons against houseplants spider mites.
Can household chemicals be of help you get rid of spider mites on indoor plants?
Absolutely! As I already hinted, using pesticides is the last thing to do, so applying some not-so-heavy household chemicals is also a good option to try.
For example, rubbing alcohol is something that all of us have in the medicine cabinets. Wipe the leaves with it, and the pests will be gone. Dilute it with water before applying, 1 part of alcohol to 3 parts water for delicate species, a 1 to 1 mixture for hardier plants.
Then, the dish soap solution can also be used as a spray for eliminating pests. Mix one liter of warm water with a teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Pour this in a spray bottle or use it to wipe the leaves with a soft cloth. Re-apply regularly to keep the enemies away.
Mix one liter of warm water with a teaspoon of liquid dish soap. Pour it in a spray bottle and mist the plant, or wash the affected plant with a cloth or sponge.
Mites as friends in need
As ironic as it sounds, mites can be great friends in need when dealing with mites which are your enemies. Predatory mites are a foolproof method for eliminating spider mites from your plants. Phytoseiulus persimilis, ladybugs and lacewing are some of the many who like to feats on spider mites.
Yes, I know, this method tends to freak out some gardeners, but if you are tired of re-applying sprays and you don’t want to try luck with chemicals, ask these natural predators for help. So, if this is your option, then refrain from using pesticides and miticides, as they can damage these beneficial mites. Rosemary oil is the only safe option to tackle the spider mite problem.
Consider giving your plant a shower
When there are too many pests, hosing or showering can help you diminish the colony before it invades the entire plant or even worse- other plants. Use room temperature water and be gentle with your plant.
When showering a plant, pay attention to the undersides of the foliage, as that’s where the pests reside. It would be wise to shower your sensitive plants occasionally, so to minimize the chances for them to become invaded by tiny spiders or any other pests. If you have larger infested plants, you can regularly hose them with a garden hose.
Pesticides don’t work!
If none of the listed methods is helping you eliminate the eight-legged critters, be sure that pesticides won’t either. Ironically, they can even make things worse. They could harm the beneficial insects which are natural enemies of spider mites, meaning the tiny mites will be able to reproduce rapidly.
Throwing away a plant is the last option
Sometimes when a plant is heavily affected, there’s not much to do but to throw the infested plant away. If you have tried all of the above-listed methods of eliminating spider mites and they are still there, then consider cutting the losses. Clean and disinfect the area where the infected plant was located using a damp cloth and get yourself new plants.
How long does it take to get rid of spider mites?
It depends on the level of infestation and the method you use to kill spider mites, but let’s say the average is a few weeks. Sprays are weaker and need more time to start working but they are effective. Once you manage to control spider mites, spray occasionally for prevention.
What types of plants do spider mites like to attack?
They enjoy sucking sap from the majority of indoor plants, but most commonly from shrubs and ornamental flowers. As for the outside plants, they particularly enjoy tomatoes, strawberries, and fruit trees.
Should I throw away a plant infested with spider mites?
If the infestation is too heavy, and none of the methods can help you free your plant from miniature enemies, then yes, the only solution is to throw it away.
Do I need to call a pest control expert and seek advice on eliminating spider mites from indoor plants?
If you are a professional gardener who lives from planting and has hundreds of different plants, then yes. He/she will help you find some good long-term solutions. But for a pot or two, it’s not necessary to do that.