Our houseplants are our babies, so when something happens to them, it can be highly distressing to us. Probably one of the worst things to experience is having pests sap your plants of their vitality. They can be hard to manage, and if they aren’t eliminated in time, they could also infect the rest of your plants. In this series of posts, I’m going to be showing you how to identify and eliminate pests.
Spider mites: An introduction
Spider mites are nasty little bugs that are a bother to remove. They specially love Phalaenopsis orchids (hence why they’re also called the Phalaenopsis mite). However, they’ll munch on anything tender with a good deal of moisture in the leaves. These are fairly inconsequential to large, established plants, but can wreak havoc on plants that are already struggling, or on smaller plants. One of the main issues with these is that they like to target the tenderest areas, usually new growth, which can significantly set plants back in their growth.
True spider mites are red in colouration, and look like tiny spiders. Like the spiders for which they’re named, they spin fine webs on the plant they are feeding on. These are quite easy to identify, especially on a green surface like a leaf.
There are also so called false spider mites, which also suck the sap out of new growth. However, these are considered less serious. These look like tiny white bugs that are often found on the underside of a leaf. These will not leave webs. It is easy to tell if something is a spider mite or a soil mite in that spider mites primarily inhabit leaves, while soil mites primarily inhabit soil. Of course, there will be some soil mites on plants and some spider mites on leaves, but this is a general rule. Note: soil mites are harmless.
Completely exterminating these hellspawns requires time and effort. Dump the contents of the pot out, keeping your plant and whatever soil is secured to the roots. Make sure you are dumping the potting medium somewhere in the garden far away from the rest of your plants. Then, rinse the pot and the plant thoroughly, ensuring that you get into all the crevices in the stalks and leaves.
Change the clothes that you were wearing, as spider mites can hitch a ride on you. Pot the plant back up and bring it inside, leave it in a well-lit, warm spot with good air circulation to avoid rotting of areas that you got wet. Once the plant dries, spray all exposed leaves and stalks with neem oil. The neem oil forms a barrier on the leaves and stalks of your plant, through which spider mites cannot feed. Thus, they will naturally starve to death. The barrier also covers spider mite eggs, depriving freshly-hatched spider mites of oxygen. However, because the barrier is not perfectly even, and may not completely cover the entire plant, it is important that you repeat the neem oil spraying process once a week for a month and a half.
If you plan on using it for a phalaenopsis orchid, I’ve actually used linseed oil before too, and it works just as well despite being a lot cheaper. I dabbed it onto some tissues, and then wiped down the leaves with linseed oil. You can also dilute it 1:10 parts water, and spray it, then wipe to ensure coverage of the oil barrier. However, I would not recommend linseed oil for more delicate, tender plants, as it is such a heavy oil that leaves a thick barrier behind. Other horticultural oils should work too, but check with a retailer before buying, as different oils may have different purposes.
As you can probably tell, these critters are a pain to exterminate. Thus, prevention is the most effective way of keeping your plants safe. Here are some measures you can take to stop them from destroying your plants
- Quarantine new plants when they enter your home for at least a month. In a small space, you can do this by putting these plants on a lower rung of a bookshelf that still gets adequate light. Pests can always fall down from one plant to the next, but it is unlikely that they’ll climb up a shelf onto another plant.
- Change your clothes as soon as you get home from going out, and if you can, shower too. Spider mites can hitch a ride on your clothes and hair without you ever knowing it. They infest outdoor plants and fall onto us when we walk beneath these plants. They also live in the feathers of birds, and fall on us when the birds fly overhead.
- Preventative spraying. Some gardeners spray neem oil preventatively.