Spider mites are pests that suck plant sap, attacking them mostly on the underside of leaves. By depriving the plant of the sugar content of the sap, they weaken it and can even kill the plants.
It is, therefore, very important to get rid of them as soon as you find them. They multiply into hundreds causing large scale infestation in a short period of time. You can remove them chemically or biologically.
Before moving on to the techniques, let us understand very briefly what they are, how they work, and what are the conditions that invite this pest.
What are Spider mites?
Spider mites are tiny bugs that look like spiders and can be red, black, brown, or tan in color.
They belong to a family of arachnids (classed as relatives of spiders, ticks, and scorpions).
There are about 1 millimeter in length and have oval-shaped bodies with eight legs.
How Spider mites attack and weaken the plant
As you might be aware, transpiration and water retention are carried out through the leaves of the plant.
Leaves are used by the plant to send water and nutrients throughout its length.
Spider mites penetrate the underside of leaves and start sucking the sap. As the fluid is lost, the plant closes the flow of liquids to the rest of the parts automatically.
Now all the fluid is trapped in the leaf, and it becomes easy for the spider to feed and thrive on the plant.
This results in severe dehydration in the plant. The leaves dry out and start to drop. Photosynthesis is compromised, and the plant starts to dry up.
Eventually, it results in the death of the plant.
Where do Spider mites come from?
They can come from anywhere and are especially active in dry and hot environments. They are thirsty and very much attracted to plants in this weather.
They can take a ride through your pets or from newly bought infested plants.
They can enter while repotting your plant with unsterile soil/garden soil etc. They can also come from the air outside via window or balcony.
Having understood what Spider mites are and how they work, let us now proceed towards techniques used to get rid of Spider mites easily.
How to get rid of Spider mites on indoor plants
Spider mites infestations can spread rapidly in a short time duration. It is, therefore, very important to quickly deal with the problem at hand to stop the plant from getting sick.
Unfortunately, by the time you notice them, some amount of damage would have been done.
This is because they are really tiny and usually not visible to the naked eye from a distance. The first step is to identify the spider mites on your indoor plants.
Identify the Spider mites presence
As their name suggests, ‘Spider’ mites tend to weave a web around themselves and their younger ones for protection.
The ‘Web’ is the most obvious characteristic of the Spider mite infestation. It is usually apparent near the feeding areas and in extreme infestations, all around the plant.
There are very few Spider mites that do not spin a web. The areas where the mites have fed themselves would be apparent as yellow botches (yellow-colored holes).
The leaves start to discolor, deform, wilt, shrivel and start eventually start dropping off from the plant.
Another method to check for their presence is to keep a paper underneath the plant and shake its stems. The Spider mites will fall on the paper. Next, use a magnifying glass to confirm their presence.
Isolate the infested plant
After identifying the Spider mites, the next step is to quarantine the plant.
Take it away from all other healthy plants and keep it in isolation so the Spider mites cannot travel or lay eggs on other plants.
Remove the infected parts
The next step is to remove all the infected leaves and parts of the stem. Throw them away in the garbage after sealing to prevent Spider mites from spreading.
Do not prune all the leaves at one go. For an effective treatment, remove all debris, weeds, and fallen leaves from the potted plant.
From here, our treatment gets bifurcated into two options. We can use a chemical-free option or treat the Spider mites using chemicals.
Chemical-free (natural/biological) method to remove Spider mites
The chemical-free method can also be called natural or biological methods. It can be used for delicate plants and also if you don’t want to go for chemicals.
However, if the Spider mites don’t disappear by this method, the chemical method is the next stronger option.
Using water and soap
Take the plant outside or in a big basin or tub and wash away the mites with a strong jet of water.
Sponge away the affected area with a soft cloth dipped in soap water. Use three tablespoons of a good insecticidal soap or any effective soap per gallon of warm water.
You can also use one tablespoon dishwashing soap mixed in one liter of warm water. Use the solution to bath, sponge, and spray the leaves. Check the sensitivity of the plant to soap in a small area beforehand.
Using botanical insecticides
There are many commercially available natural chemical free insecticides that can be used on the Spider mites to effectively remove them from the plant.
Pyrethrins are natural compounds and have good insecticidal properties. Rosemary can be used as a spray or oil mixed with water. It is an excellent mite repellant.
Neem oil can be used as such or used as a neem spray made with neem oil + detergent + warm water. It is ideally sprayed in the evenings as it is more effective in the dark.
You can also make your own insecticidal solution + spray using cloves, cinnamons, dishwashing soap + any of the naturally occurring mite repellants like neem, rosemary, etc.
Most of the botanical insecticides can be sprayed or sponged directly on the plant—some need to be mixed with water. Follow the instructions on the box for correct management.
Sprinkle diatomaceous earth
Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of the diatoms. ‘Diatoms’ are small ocean plants.
Diatomaceous earth eats away the outer cuticle of spider mites draining away their fluid levels.
They suck up the fluids causing dehydration in spider mites. The Spider mites dry up and die.
Using predator insects to kill Spider mites
This is a safe, environmentally friendly pesticide option. Thankfully there are some insects found in nature that are predators for Spider mites. These target the mites and finish them up really quickly.
Ladybugs is a good example. It only eats up the Spider mites leaving the rest of insects alone. Another good predatory mite is ‘Phytoseiulus Persimilis.’
You can ask for predatory mite species from the retail gardens or purchase online. Follow the instructions and release them on the infected plant accordingly.
Chemical methods are a sure shot method, although they can be harmful to certain plant species.
Always check the chemical’s compatibility with the plants by doing a patch test or reading up about them.
Using rubbing alcohol
‘Rubbing alcohol’ is denatured antiseptic alcohol and is safe for most plants. Check out your plant’s compatibility. You can also try to apply to a small patch of the leaf to see if it burns.
If your plant is sensitive, go for 1:3 with one part rubbing alcohol and three parts water. If the plant is strong, go for a 1:1 ratio.
Soak a cloth or sponge and wipe down the plant with alcohol and water solution. Let it dry out on its own.
Using liquid sulfur
Liquid sulfur is a strong solution and needs to be sprayed on the affected plant carefully. Spray from a distance and make sure not to use any other chemicals on the plant before /after spraying liquid sulfur.
Let there be a gap of 20-30 days between using an oil and liquid sulfur.
Do not use liquid sulfur in temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Commercially available chemical sprays/wipes
The last alternative is to use commercially available chemical sprays/wipes. Check on the label to find out its compatibility with your plant.
While following the instructions, it is a good idea to lower the dosage. Also, use these chemicals only about twice or thrice per season. This will prevent the Spider mites from becoming immune to them.
Preventing Spider mites
Once you are rid of them, prevent them from coming back by keeping the plant healthy. Keep them out of direct sunlight. Water them regularly and clutter your houseplants together to increase humidity.
Keep misting the plants with neem spray, soap solution once in a while. Keep a humidifier or water in a pebble tray.
It is a good idea to shower your houseplants with a hose by taking them out once a week and letting them dry naturally.
Before bringing new plants inside, make sure to debug them and quarantine for a bit to watch out for any signs of infestations. Follow these steps to make sure Spider mites don’t ever come back.
Spider mites can be pretty difficult to get rid of, but following the above steps, you will be able to get rid of them.
Read a bit about your plant before choosing either the chemical-free or the chemical option. Try different techniques and see what works best.
All the best taking care of your indoor plants!
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