Plants 101

Bug Off: All About Spider Mites

If you noticed some bugs around your plant, chances are you want to get rid of them. You’re in luck. Our Bug Off series takes a closer look at common houseplant pests, how to get rid of them and how to prevent future breakouts.

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Why Does My Plant Have Pests?

It’s important to note that bugs are totally normal. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or lack of care on your part. You’re doing fine. It’s just nature taking its course. Bugs can remain invisible to us, even when we inspect our plants before purchasing. You may want to spray your plants with a mild, unscented soap-based cleanser, hort oil, or insecticidal soap to kill any pests that may be hiding. Check in on plants from time to time for pests and make sure they aren’t under stress, lacking light, have too much water or not enough, and that the humidity levels are ideal — any one of these or a combination of factors can be the perfect mix for pests to emerge.

What Are Spider Mites?

Spider mites are a lot like spiders in that they are arachnids and can spin webs, although their webs are more cloth-like, not netted. They’re real tiny with a light body mass and are able to use their webs to float on the wind or grab onto clothes. If your windows are open in the summertime -- when spider mites are most active -- they could float right into your house and right onto your plant.

Spider mites are very small and often only discovered when the plant is damaged. This makes spider mites some of the most destructive and pervasive houseplant pests. Spider mites have very short life spans, from egg to adult in about two weeks, but they are on a mission.

Spider mites hang out on the undersides of leaves. If you hold a leaf still you can spot them slowly crawling. Spider mites attack leaf cells, ripping them open at random. Leaves look stippled, mottled, or curled with only a skeletal leaf web left behind. If your leaves are in one piece but look dusty, it could be a sign that spider mites are around. Their detritus and waste littering the leaf surface causes it to look dusty.

Spider mites are attracted to the light and are more likely to infest the new growth on plants that are in direct sunlight. They also have an affinity for certain plant types, being attracted to certain secondary metabolites and volatile compounds/aromas produced by those plants. For example, if you have a palm and a rubber tree in the same window, the spider mites will be attracted to the palm tree first. They will generally ignore the rubber tree until they exhaust the palm tree.

How To Get Rid of Spider Mites

The most effective pesticide against mites is elemental sulfur. However, this is generally not recommended for indoor use. Luckily, they are also susceptible to horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps.

First, give the plant a wipe down, wiping off as much of the insects and webbing as possible, or you can even shower it with a hose in a sink or tub. This will clear the way for the insecticide to work. Spider mite nests actually repel the pesticides and protect the eggs and insufficient wiping may result in re-infestation. Next, you can spray down the plant with neem oil or an insectidicial soap that lists Spider Mites as a target pest.

Spray the plant with your solution, targeting the undersides of the leaves and every possible nook and cranny where these bugs can hide. Unthorough spraying could lead to re-infestation. Reassess and reapply once every 3 days for 9 days for a total of 3 separate sprayings. If done correctly, your spider mites should be gone in no time. Make sure to quarantine any plants infested with Spider Mites away from others to reduce transmission.

Plant pests are annoying but harmless to humans and pets. They are relatively easy to be rid of with a few simple solutions. When treating your plant for pests, be sure to give them time to recover. Be sure to check out our articles on how to get rid of fungus gnats, mealybugs, and scale.


Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people — a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of Plant Experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.