Aack! Spider mites!
And what to do if you've been invaded

By Marion Owen, Fearless Weeder for PlanTea, Inc. and
Co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul


Tom Hanks' "Power of Four" solution

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The other day, I received an email 'plea for help' from Donna Blair, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

Dear Marion, I purchased an ivy plant about four months ago. It was growing beautifully, until recently when I noticed that the leaves weren’t as green as they normally were and it now looks as if little spiders are everywhere on the leaves and stems and they’re on what looks like a web, but not exactly...It’s silky looking. Are they baby spiders?

I slumped in my chair, feeling like a doctor about to relay bad news. What I really wanted to say was, "No prob. Just brush the webs away." But I would have been lying. Donna's beloved ivy was indeed infested with spider mites, one of the most devastating things that can happen to an indoor plant.

Mites are not true insects. They're actually related to spiders and daddy longlegs. They're nearly impossible to see. In fact, they usually appear as no more than animated specks of dust the size of this period at the end of this sentence. The Vermont Extension Service photo at right shows them greatly enlarged.

Sorry to say, but spider mites are not only hard to see, they're nearly impossible to get rid of. If you suspect an infestation, signaled by stippled, mottled, curled or distorted plant leaves, which is caused by the mites' piercing mouth parts, quarantine your plant immediately so its neighbors don’t become infested.

Then, dip or spray the plant with insecticidal soap. Misting your plants with water also helps, since mites thrive in a warm and dry atmosphere--Hello! Like what you'd find in most homes and office buildings. Another thing, mites can be spread easily on your hands and clothing (they even blow around with puffs of air).

If you've tried everything--and I rarely suggest this--you may need to send the plant to the great compost pile in the sky.

Wait! There's more to this lesson...

Donna’s experience brings up three very important points:

  1. Check your houseplants often for pests and diseases.

  2. Be sure to isolate new plants for a few weeks after you bring them home. Reason: They might be bringing unwanted guests with them. (Remember the story of the Trojan Horse?)

  3. When it comes to spider mites, prevention is far easier than the cure.

Thanks for visiting. Keep your hands in the dirt, and your dreams on a star.

-- Marion Owen

Thanks for visiting and please stop by again. I'll put the coffee on!

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