How to Prevent and Get Rid of Spider Mites In Medicinal Plants
Spider mites can be detrimental to your medicinal plants. Spider mites are part of the mite family and are related to spiders, ticks, and other mites. Although they’re a common medicinal plants pest, they can be very difficult to get rid of.
Spider mites have tiny sharp mouths that pierce individual plant cells and suck out the contents. This is what results in the tiny yellow, orange or white speckles you see on your plant leaves. Many growers see the distinctive tiny spots of a spider mite infestation and think it’s some sort of nutrient deficiency, not realizing it’s actually something far more sinister.
Types of Spider Mites
There are several types of spider mites found in the various spider mite species naturally inhabit fields and meadows and seek out their favorite outdoor environments including farms/gardens in the warmer months. If you’ve found spider mites in your grow room, this is likely what you’re dealing with.
Understanding the life cycle of spider mites is key to dealing with them. While there are general time periods for each stage of the spider mites development, environmental conditions and outside forces can both hasten or slow these intervals.
Eggs (3-5 Days) – Spider mite eggs are small and round, and appear on the underside of leaves, usually in small clusters of around 20 eggs. These eggs can also overwinter on outdoor plants and begin to hatch as temperatures warm. Eggs can hatch in just a few days after being laid.
Transitional Phases (5-9 Days) – Spider mites emerge from their eggs as 6-legged larvae. Initially colorless, their hue will begin to change after the first couple days as they feed on the host plant. Larvae feed voraciously, building up energy before transitioning into the nymph stage where the 4th set of legs appear.
Adult (2 weeks) – After the final molt, the adult spider mite emerges ready to reproduce. An adult mite can lay hundreds of eggs over a two-week lifespan, which is why they are so devastating if left unchecked. This is also the period where they will begin to produce more noticeable webbing in order to protect the eggs they have laid so obvious webbing will indicate an established population.
Early Signs and Symptoms of Mite Infestations
Inexperienced growers often miss the early, and sometimes even the later stages, of a mite infestation. This is because the adults are tiny and difficult to see, thus many growers who are new to mite infestations will miss these signs until the damage becomes severe. Those who have battled mites before become well-accustomed to the first signs that include small white or yellow flecking, often on older foliage. This occurs from mites feeding on the leaf epidermis, sucking out cell contents. As the mite population grows, the entire leaf becomes stippled or light in color and may eventually develop a bronze appearance under heavy infestations. Mites then produce the characteristic fine webbing, slung between leaves, over buds/flowers, or the growing points of plants. Mites use this webbing as protection from predators. If left untreated, mites will eventually weaken plants to the point of defoliation. Even milder infestations will significantly reduce yields, quality, and overall productivity.
How To Spot Spider Mites
They live on the plants, mostly on the underside the leaves, but can be found on the buds. They can also be found moving along their silvery webbing, from leaf to leaf and even plant to plant.
Spider mites pierce the surface of the leaves and then suck the liquids from cells. These punctures appear on the leaves as tiny yellow/brown spots surrounded by yellowing leaf.
Identify infestation by tiny spots on the leaves. They can be seen as colored dots on the leaf undersides. As the population grows they produce webbing that the mites use as a protective shield from predators, a nursery for their eggs and a pedestrian bridge between branches or plants.
Spider mites pierce cells and suck their liquids. They are more of a threat than most pests because of their high rate of reproduction.
How to prevent pests in your medicinal plants grow
Here are some basic guidelines for keeping plants healthy and pest-free:
Indoors, make sure your grow room is completely sealed. Use caulk or spray foam to fill in gaps or cracks, seal doors and windows with weather stripping, and place filters over air inlets.
Don’t let clothes cross-contaminate your plants. Change clothes before entering a grow space so you don’t bring in any “hitchhikers.”
Keep pets out of the grow area; they can bring in all types of bugs.
Keep equipment sterile. Always use new soil and grow media. Sterilize all tools and containers, wash hands before handling plants, and remove all plant debris immediately.
Ways To Control Spider Mites
Spider mites thrive in dry climates. Increasing humidity in the vegetative and early flowering stages can slow population increase.
- Insecticidal soap kills many of the mites, lowering the population and the damage, but does not eliminate the population.
- Pyrethrum is effective against some mite populations, but others have developed immunity to it.
- Cinnamon-clove tea
- Herbal pesticides
How to Kill Spider Mites Naturally
Although many gardeners consider the spider mite a frustrating pest, the truth is they can be eliminated from your grow room naturally with minimal effort, and no harsh chemicals. Especially if you have been doing your due diligence monitoring the health of your plants, you should catch the spider mites before it gets out of control.
- Prune and Destroy
If the infestation seems restricted to a few stems and leaves, aggressively prune out the majority of the nests. If the infestation is more severe you might consider destroying the entire plant.
- Hose Down the Plants
Buy a safe, organic pesticide or make one yourself. Hose down the plants with a mild solution, covering both the undersides and topsides of each leaf.
- Natural Pesticides
Spider mites dislike many common household ingredients, like alcohol, essential oils, carrier oils, and soap. Mix any of these into the water, in a mild dilation, and you have an affordable and uncomplicated natural pesticide. There are also many commercially available natural pesticides in garden stores and online.
- Introduce a Predator
Some growers, usually within large commercial operations, find it more useful to introduce a natural predatory - like the ladybug. Adding more creatures into your garden is an excellent idea if you farm for a living, but maybe a bit of overkill if you are farming as a hobby.
Homemade Spider Mite Spray
Despite how prevalent spider mites are in the indoor gardening industry, they are relatively easy to treat with natural home-made solutions. If you notice a small infestation, try treating it naturally to avoid pesticide contamination on the final product. You can easily make a number of home-made solutions with easy to find ingredients.
- 2 tsp Neem Oil (essential oil)**
- 1 quart Water
- ½ tsp dish soap
Combine all ingredients into a spray bottle and dose all plants within the infested room. Spray both the tops and bottoms of the leaves, the stems, and the soil (if growing with soil).
Repeated every day until well after the infestation subsides.
Citrus, peppermint and eucalyptus oils are also natural pesticides. Mix with the neem oil, or use separately. Keep in mind essential oils are very aromatic; it may not be an ideal solution for pest control during the flowering stage. The aroma and flavor may ultimately affect the final product.
Spider mites might seem like the end of the world - but they are easily treatable with a little due diligence. The most important part is to be on the lookout before they reach the grow room, and inspect your plants daily.
The best way to fight mites is before the battle begins. An ounce of prevention up front can lead to pounds of high-yielding medicinal plants at the end, and fewer headaches for you, the grower, along the way.
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