Last week, while trying to avoid sitting at my desk and dealing with a stack of papers, catalogues and trade mags, I opted to do some watering. It’s surprising how relaxing dragging a hose can be. It doesn’t cause friction between the remaining brain cells and I get a nice long look at all the plants. Now, in Texas, when we are walking around, we generally watch the ground or look straight ahead. We have to look for things like Fire Ants, Snakes or cow patties (it all depends on what part of the state you live in…). Here, at the nursery, we have to watch the hoses, not just for our own safety, but for all of you too. I just happened to look up at the right time and noticed that the top of an Italian Cypress seemed to be an off-color. I took off my sun glasses to make sure it wasn’t an illusion. Dang it! That’s a problem!!!!
These tiny, plant sucking marauders can be a really frustrating to deal with. They over winter on your plants and in mild winter areas like ours, can breed all winter. Once temperatures start to rise, their population can explode. One female can become a million in less than a month. A huge contributor to their amazing ability to produce progeny is dry weather. This is why house plants can be plagued by spider mites…since they never get rained on. Rain slows them down and washes these little 8 legged beasties off your plants. You can read more about their life cycle at: https://insects.tamu.edu/fieldguide/cimg371.html
If your plants seem to have a strange color or look speckled, take a closer look, use a magnifying glass if necessary. At first glance, it might look as if the leaves have a fine coating of dust or salt on them, usually accompanied by black specks. Since they are true spiders, they make a super fine web, which will catch dust and other fine debris. If you have good eye site (I need to take my glasses off and get close), you can see them running around. When in doubt, bring in a few leaves and we can check them under the microscope.
Spider mites can breed at alarming rates, so you should act quickly, even if you only suspect they are present. The key to dealing with these little devils is to ask Mother Nature to coöperate and make it rain regularly…if you achieve that…we will gladly crown you king/queen/supreme ruler. Short of selling your soul, you can hose your plants off when it has been dry for a week. Make sure to get the backs of the leaves too. If we have extended periods of dry weather, twice a week rinses may be needed. You may also need to apply a systemic insecticide to control them. We use Martin’s Dominion (way cheaper than the Bayer equivalent) when spider mites pop up here.
On house plants, the best way to prevent spider mites is to give your plants a shower. Yes, a shower…if the plant is small enough to be carried to the kitchen or utility sink. Larger plants can be put into the shower or bath tub. Protect the sink or tub by setting the plant(s) on a rubber mat or old towel. If you have a shady spot outside, do this outside. Using cool water, gently shower the plants. Turn the leaves over, rinse the back side too. This is a great way to water them at the same time and remove any built up dust from the foliage. Thoroughly water your plant at the same time. This will leach any built up salts (from fertilizers and city water) from the soil. Let your plants sit over night in the sink or tub. This will allow complete draining of the soil and prevent possible over watering. House plants that can’t be moved easily should be wiped down with a damp rag or misted regularly, to remove dust and mites. Use an old sheet to cover the floor/carpet, around the plant to protect them from drips when misting plants. If all else fails, apply a systemic insecticide to the soil. If you are concerned about pets getting into the chemicals in the soil, cover the top of the pot with pine cones. Cats won’t like stepping on them and most dogs will ignore them. Do not use systemics if you have plants that your pets like to nibble on.