Finding Spider Mites

On Monday,  I talked briefly about having a problem with spider mites on your house plants. Spider mites–those tiny, almost microscopic little spiders that can be red, brown, grey, two-spotted  (or so I am told-you couldn’t prove that to me!)–anyway, you get the idea.

They are fairly easy to spot if they are the web-building kind, but by the time they have built enough webs and are merrily sucking the juices out of your house plants, it is to the point where you need to ditch the plant.

This is the point in my house plant lecture where I always say that we know Stephen King is not a gardener. Then I go on to tell horror stories about insects and say, “Right? If Stephen King were a gardener,  this would be in a book by now.” And this is true for spider mites.

They reproduce so quickly–like aphids,  it’s every 3 days. So once you have a good colony of spider mites going, it’s almost impossible to keep up–or to control them. Ditch the plant.

And because they are so tiny–they are about the size of the tip of a pin, not the head–you really need great light, stellar eye sight, or a good hand lens to find them.

But there are some defenses. First,  know what plants are susceptible.  Ivy will always get mites.  It is a given.

Those lovely little miniature rose plants they sell for Valentines Day–the plants, not cut flowers–are also susceptible.  Juniper bonsai grown indoors will usually succumb.

Those are just 3 of many possibilities.

So how can you know if a plant has mites (before it shows symptoms). One of the best ways is to take a leaf (if the plant has big leaves)  or take the whole plant, hold it over a sheet of pure white  paper  and shake or tap it vigorously.

Then move the plant away and study what has fallen on the paper.  If anything is walking, you have mites.

Something else you can do for a plant like ivy,  which is definitely susceptible,  is to give it a cold water shower every week or 10 days. That should wash away any mites before they get totally out of control.

In late February,  I will talk about the other indoor pests to begin watching for. But for now, watch for scale and mites on your prized house plants.

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