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November 13, 2012 > Pat Kite's Garden: Spider Mites

Pat Kite's Garden: Spider Mites

By Pat Kite

The man wonders whether spiders are attacking his indoor plants. He has seen tiny webs. He has seen ultra-teensy black spider-looking things wandering about the plants. Plus his plants are beginning to look somewhat yucky. What should he do?

Spider mites are not spiders, merely spider relatives. Since spiders aren't insects, having eight legs instead of six, neither are spider mites. However, where spiders are usually quite beneficial, spider mites are pests. Basically you want spider mites to go away.

Why? Spider mites have two needle-like feeding tubes called stylets. These act like miniscule straws. When the mites puncture a plant leaf they promptly proceed to suck out green chlorophyll that serves as plant food. The mites also suck out the plant's water. This leaves the plant both hungry and thirsty. As the infestation proceeds, leaves begin losing color. They appear speckled yellow and green, at first. Then the leaves become mostly yellow. Tired, and sad, they begin falling off.

If you like science stuff, try observing spider mites under a magnifying glass. There are hundreds of mite types, or species. They may be red, yellowish, orange, greenish or blackish. You might have several types on your plants. This may not enthuse you, but it does add interest. Put a piece of white paper under a suspect leaf. Tap the leaf. If you see dots the size of salt grains frantically crawling around on the paper, that is an Aha! Moment.

If you have oodles of spider mites, there may be lots of webs. Take your magnifying glass and check under the leaves. Perhaps you will see teensy-tiny red-orange or transparent eggs. Each female spider mite produces from 100 to 300 eggs during its six-month lifespan. And yes, the young mature rapidly.

How did these pests get into your castle? From a new plant, on your clothes after gardening or on the breeze from an open window. Spider mites infest outdoor plants too, but that's another story. Getting rid of them on indoor plants is an iffy procedure. First, move the infested plant away from other indoor plants. Or you can just treat all at the same time. While the Internet gives multiple organic concoctions, some seem as lethal as the spider mites. You can also purchase miticides, insecticides specific for indoor use. They may, or may not work, depending on the mite type. Otherwise, in brief: remove infested leaves. Hose off the plants in the sink or shower. On really big plants, try wiping off all leaves with a soft, damp, cloth. Do this once a week until spider mites disappear. A targeted plant may recover, slowly, or may not. Keep watch.

Prevention is more of a key. Spider mites go after stressed plants. Make certain your indoor plants have their preferred water amount. Fertilize as appropriate. I always talk to my plants, because if you pay attention to them, they often communicate little problems well before they become big problems.

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