What they are and what you can do about them
Having an indoor garden offers a solution in the winter months for the gardening enthusiast who wants to ensure that they have a source of self-sufficient food. And while you may take all precautions to maximize the potential for a high yield on your seeds, you may find that your plants still suffer and die due to parasites. Perhaps one of the most damaging of parasites is he spider mite. This guide will help you identify and get rid of this dreaded adversary to your indoor garden.
What is a spider mite?
There is not one specific species of the spider mite, and so to give a physical description of one would be a bit misleading for the 1200 species within the family. However, there is a general description which can be applied. Spider mites are extremely small, ranging from 1mm or less.
Typically, the spider mite has a reddish color, but that may vary. The body shape is spherical with spider-like legs attaching to the body (hence the name). Because they have 8 legs, they are not considered an actual insect which typically have 6 or less.
Due to the small body of the mite, they are relatively hard to spot until the plant has been infested. On any given day, a spider mite can lay up to 20 eggs, each of these can start producing in as little as 5 days.
While you could use insecticide to try to kill the mites, due to the rapid reproduction and quick adaptation of the species to be resilient to pesticides, getting rid of an infestation may be harder than imagined.
What areas of a plant are typically effected by Spider Mites?
The incredibly small size of the spider mite makes them very hard to identify on an indoor plant. Therefore, looking for signs that your plant may be infected is crucial. If your indoor plants appear to have a dull color, or if the shine of the plant has faded, it is a good indicator that something is amiss.
Check the underside of the leaves to see if the plant has any blackish, reddish, or brow spots, as these could be clusters of Spider mites. Additionally, if you spot any fine webbing the it’s almost a sure sign of Mite infestation.
If you believe that your plant may have spider mites, look first at the connection of the leaves to the steam. When in small numbers, they will sometimes be found there or on the underside of the leaves. However, due to the fact that he spider reproduces extremely quickly, you are apt to find them spread along the bottom side of the leaves.
Again, check for webbing and spots on the underside of the plant. Yet, if you do not find evidence by observation alone, you can take a white sheet of paper and gently tap the leaves of your dull plant. If your plant has spider mites, then you will see them on the white paper. They will generally appear as pepper and (depending upon the level of the infestation), appear to move.
Prevention from getting Spider Mites
The leading cause of an indoor gardener getting spider mites on their plants is from having exterior plants intermingling with the indoor plants. To prevent your indoor plants from receiving spider mites, a good basic rule is to never accept gifts of plants.
While plants may be given in sincerity, there is no way to really determine if the plant is infested (unless you inspect it right there in front of them). Additionally, because the eggs of a spider mite are clear, even if you did conduct a basic test on the plant being given as a gift, it may or may not show signs of an infestation.
Take the defensive stance and avoid bringing outside plants into the indoor space. If you must accept a plant, either spray it with a suitable insecticide or simply quarantine it somewhere else until you’re certain that it didn’t come with unwanted pests.
Getting Rid of Spider Mites
Even with the most preventive measures, it is still quite possible for a plant to get spider mites. Once you have identified the problem, then you need to get rid of them quickly. There are a number of ways in which you can do this.
· You can use insecticide on your plant. Keep in mind, however, that the spider mites reproduce as a rapid pace and that they are highly adaptive. If you treat the plant and you cannot get rid of the mites, it may be that they have become resilient to the poison. In this case, you would need to find a different method. Do not bombard your plant with insecticidal soap as you are quite likely to kill or damage your plant by doing so.
· Consider using miticides. These Miticides are available for indoor use on some products, but you do need to ensure that you buy the right kind. Even with an indoor registered product, you should have an ample amount of ventilation. Again, you may find that the mites are resilient o the spray, especially if you have already used that brand on the plant previously.
These are the non-organic methods for getting rid of spider mites. As a gardener, you will want to reduce the chemical dependence upon such insecticides. Also, common sense would tell you that if there is an organic method for getting rid of mites, this is preferable and substantially healthier.
How to get rid of Spider Mites, Organically
To organically get rid of spider mites, you should first take the steps mentioned above for diagnosis and minor treatment (using the paper and water). Once you have conducted this basic step, continue with the following:
1. Remove any heavily infested or dead leaves from the plant and discard them in a plastic bag. Do not forget to look for any leaves which have fallen off of the plant. Although they are not attached, they can still be a breeding ground for the spider mite.
2. Citric Acid: There are a couple products made with citric acid with an oil base designed to specifically eradicate mites. If you’re in a pinch, you could make your own, though not as effective but will do the job okay. Simply mix around 3 teaspoons of powdered citric acid per quart of water and spray the plants, particularly the undersides of the leaves where they tend to congregate.
3. Using Rosemary Essential oils, spray the plant thoroughly. The rosemary will not damage the plant or other useful parasites for your plant. It is important that you use an organic rosemary essential oil as a “fake” could cause damage to the plant.
4. You could also use ladybugs on the plants. Ladybugs do eat spider mites. Of course, the problem with this is that you could be replacing one problem with another. Lady bugs have a tendency to reproduce quickly as well and tend to find their way into window stills, attic spaces, and various nooks and crannies. They can also bite. So before you go and add a bug for a spider, think of how you are going to contain the lady bug.
5. Rubbing Alchohol: Mix around 1 part rubbing alchohol to 2 parts water and spray away. This is probably one of the most affordable non-toxic solutions and generally kills them on contact.
Just a word of realism on treating Spider Mites organically. When people ask me “does xyz product kill mites?” I say, “Yes, I’ve been killing them for years with it!” The point is, that there is no magic bullet for completely eradicating them. Depending on the size and location of your indoor garden, they could very well become a familiar site for you. These organic items listed are just control methods, you must continue regular treatment, or they will come back.
Determine the damage and whether it is worth saving.
When dealing with Spider Mites, especially on your main sustaining food source, you must have a non-biased mind. Granted, you may have spent time and money in cultivating the plant, but if the plant poses a threat to the rest of your food source, then it should be discarded. This does not necessarily mean that it has to go to the dump, but it does need to be away from any place where the infestation could spread. Place the infected plant in a plastic airtight bag and dispose of it far away from your garden.
Maintain your garden
It is relatively easy to keep spider mites from infesting a plant. If you clean your plants on a regular basis, spray your plant with Rosemary to keep the spiders from breeding, and if you steer clear of letting anyone infect your garden by offering you an infested plant (though I really doubt someone would do this maliciously), then the odds of you having a great indoor garden are high. Remember that your food and your survival is ultimately your responsibility. Just because you have a system which requires little maintenance does not mean that there is no maintenance. Take care of your plants and they will take care of you.