Last month we talked about how to improve the dry air that comes with winter and create a healthy, humid environment for your plants. As February continues to dry out the air in our homes, its important to stay on the look out for pests that thrive in this environment.
Spider Mites (Teranychidal) love dry air and once introduced can destroy a plant in a matter of weeks. They are nasty critters and the sooner you identify and address them the better! Here are some steps to identify, treat and prevent the tiny bugs:
Spider mites are tiny white specs that show up all over the leaves and stalks of your plant. They spin webs that encase the leaves typically starting around the base of the leaf at the connection to the stem. Ideally you will catch these pests when they are just tiny specs, but most of the time you won't notice them until your plant is covered in webs.
Spider mites feed on the nutrients in the leaves of your plant. Yellowing or pale looking leaves are another sign to watch for, and may be the first sign you see.
Spider mites take over quickly, so it's best to quarantine all infected plants right away. Move them outside if its warm enough or to the tub or shower away from other plants.
It's time to blast these pests away. With a hose, shower or faucet (depending on the size of the plant) blast the leaves with cool or luke-warm water to physically remove most of the webbing. If you have more than one infected plant do this one at a time and be thorough.
Next go through with a rag or paper towel and some miticide to spray and wipe each leaf (be as tedious as you can, even just a couple of mites can reinvade the whole plant). There are a few options for miticide, including homemade solutions. We opt for organic products, as in NOT chemicals. Here are our favorites:
- Indoor Pharm Rosemary Spray - an insecticidal soap full of essential oils like rosemary which kill the mites and leaves the beneficial organisms alive
- Homemade insecticidal soap - a clean spray bottle with 1/2 teaspoon dish soap (organic or Castile) for every one cup of water. Best to rinse off the residue 2-3 hours after application to avoid burning the leaves.
- Neem Oil - this product comes in a concentrated version or as a spray. It has a chemical type smell to it but is completely natural.
For any of these solutions it is best to apply the spray at a time when the plant will not be in direct sunlight for several hours (such as at dusk) to make sure the soapy liquid doesn't scorch the leaves as the sun hits it.
Healthy, hydrated plants are less susceptible to insect infestations. Keep your plant adequately watered and in appropriate light to avoid water and light stress that can lead to an unhealthy plant. Adding fertilizer or compost during the growing season is another great way to defend the plant against pests. And of course, a humid environment is the number one way to keep spider mites away, so mist often especially in the drier months! Any tools, rags or spray bottles used on infected plants must be disinfected with soap or isopropyl alcohol to prevent spreading the mites to other plants!!
6. CUT YOUR LOSSES
On many occasions, we have lost the battle against spider mites. If your plant is completely covered in webs and is looking yellow and wilted, just say a few words in honor of your time together and get that thing out of your house. Its better to save the rest of your plants than to hold on to a sick one.