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The Definitive Guide to Winning the War On Spider Mites

The Definitive Guide to Winning the War On Spider Mites

Greetings, noble gardeners! Today, we embark on a crusade against a most nefarious foe: the dreaded spider mite. These minuscule invaders, though tiny, can wreak havoc on our verdant realms. Fear not, for with the wisdom of the ages and the courage of knights, we shall reclaim our gardens. Let us don our armor, unsheathe our swords, and prepare for battle.


Know Thy Enemy

Before any battle, it is crucial to understand the adversary. Spider mites are no larger than the tip of a needle, usually less than 1 millimeter in size. They are arachnids, closely related to spiders, ticks, and scorpions. Their bodies are oval-shaped and can be red, green, yellow, or brown, depending on the species and the season.

Spider mites have a rapid life cycle, especially in warm and dry conditions. Here’s an overview of their stages:

  1. Egg: Female spider mites lay eggs on the undersides of leaves. These eggs are spherical and translucent, almost invisible without magnification. A single female can lay hundreds of eggs during her lifespan.
  2. Larva: After a few days, the eggs hatch into larvae. These larvae have only six legs and start feeding on plant sap immediately.
  3. Nymph: The larvae molt into nymphs, which have eight legs like adults. They go through two nymphal stages, during which they continue to feed and grow.
  4. Adult: Finally, the nymphs molt into adults. Adult spider mites are more mobile and continue the cycle of feeding and reproduction. They spin webs not for beauty but to ensnare our precious plants, sapping their strength and vitality.

    Under optimal conditions, spider mites can complete this cycle in just a week, leading to rapid population explosions and forming vast armies overnight that can decimate our green sanctuaries if left unchecked.


    Conditions Favoring Spider Mites

    Spider mites thrive in hot, dry conditions. They are particularly problematic in indoor environments like greenhouses or during hot summer months. They prefer dusty conditions, so plants in arid or improperly watered environments are more susceptible. They're also common in dusty corners of otherwise humid environments. Keeping your plant properly hydrated and strong is therefore the bet defense.


    Damage to Plants

    Spider mites feed by piercing plant cells with their mouthparts and sucking out the contents. This feeding behavior leads to several types of damage:

    1. Stippling: The most common sign of spider mite damage is stippling, tiny yellow or white spots on the leaves. This occurs because the mites are removing chlorophyll and other cell contents.
    2. Webbing: Heavy infestations often produce fine webbing, particularly on the undersides of leaves and between stems. This webbing protects the mites from predators and environmental conditions.
    3. Leaf Drop: As the infestation progresses, leaves may yellow, curl, and eventually fall off. This weakens the plant and can significantly reduce yield in fruits and vegetables.
    4. Stunted Growth: Severe infestations can stunt plant growth and even kill young or particularly vulnerable plants.


        Suggested Potions

        Fortunately, there are no shortage of potions to battle spider mites. Unfortunately, there is no magic spell to destroy them forever. All of the below must be administered regularly or one risks the mites' inevitable return. 

          • Soapy Water: A simple remedy against spider mites involves mixing 16 parts water with 1 part liquid soap (we like Bronner's castile soap of any variety). This concoction, sprayed liberally upon the plants, suffocates the mites and disrupts their siege. Be sure to douse the undersides of leaves, where these marauders often hide.
            • In fact, when bringing home a new plant from the nursery, it's best to create a lukewarm soap bath to submerge the leaves in for 5-8 minutes before introducing them to your plant menagerie.
            • However note that soapy water should only be considered a prophylactic and is often not enough to save a heavily infested plant. Consider it the opening move in your epic battle.
          • Alcohol + Hydrogen Peroxide: Another potion we have tried is 1 part alcohol + 1 part hydrogen peroxide + 16 parts water. Spray this liberally on plant leaves top and bottom every 5 days. The only thing we would warn against is to keep this plant out of the sun once treated as it will promote leaf burn. 
          • Neem Oil: Nearly every insecticide in the plant aisle seems to contain some sort of Neem Oil, touting its natural, environmentally-friendly benefits. Neem oil contains a compound called azadirachtin, which is an insect growth regulator. Azadirachtin interferes with the hormone systems of insects, preventing them from molting, maturing, and reproducing.
            • When spider mites come into contact with neem oil, it disrupts their normal development and reproductive cycles, leading to a gradual reduction in their population. Neem oil also acts as an antifeedant. When spider mites ingest plant material treated with neem oil, they lose their appetite and stop feeding. This results in weakened mites that cannot sustain themselves, eventually leading to their death.
            • To use Neem Oil properly, it's recommended to dilute 2 tablespoons of pure Neem with 1 gallon of water, and spray liberally on your leaves (over and under). This should be repeated every 2 days for heavy infestations or 4 days for lesser infestations.
          • Sweet Water: A remedy we recently discovered that works well for outdoor aroids is to mix 1 part molasses (found in the baking aisle of grocery stores) + 1 part H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) + 16 parts water. Mix well in a spray bottle and spray leaves generously for 3 days in a row (especially the underside of leaves). While you can use this on indoor plants, we recommend spraying outdoors before bringing it back in because it will otherwise leave your surroundings a bit sticky. 

          Once you stop noticing signs of active proliferation, you can decrease administering your remedy to once every 2-3 weeks. Note that spider mites do develop resistance to the same remedy over time, so switching up your potion is key to keeping them at bay. 


          Desperate Measures for Desperate Times

          What if your plant is too far gone? Are there any last resorts? While we haven't personally tested introducing predatory insects, they do exist for those of us who are one step away from simply burning down our gardens in defeat.

          • Phytoseiulus persimilis mites are the most effective Spider Mite predator. They breed faster than the pests and feed immediately when applied. 

          "The Phytoseiulus mites do not, however, survive long without food and cannot be introduced before Spider Mites are present. They also require temperatures to be above 15°C to be active and are most active from 20-30°C, temperatures above this will reduce and stop their activity.

          Introduce the predators after Spider Mite have been observed, and apply them close, or onto, the infected areas of the plant. In high infestations, repeated applications may be required to build up their numbers to a level where they will outcompete and completely control the Spider Mite." - From Dragonfli


          A Final Word

          Victory in any battle requires persistence. The fight against spider mites may be long, but with determination and the right strategies, triumph is within our grasp. Monitor your garden continually and reapply treatments as necessary.

          In conclusion, dear gardeners, let us be ever vigilant and valiant in our quest to protect our green realms. With the wisdom of medieval tactics and the courage of knights, we shall win our battle against the spider mites and ensure our gardens thrive. Go forth and conquer, for the glory of our gardens awaits!

          May your plants be ever green and your battles victorious.

          Yours in gardening glory, 

          The Cowbell Crew

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