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For many gardeners, spider mites are a constant frustration that attack plants. A spider mite is an arachnid in the spider family. They are extremely small yellow, black, brown, red or orange creatures which gardeners may need a magnifying glass to see properly. Another way to see if they are on the plant is to hold a piece of white paper beneath the plant and tap the paper. Any spider mites on the plant will fall on the paper and look like grains of finely ground pepper.
The females lay their eggs in the webbing they spin under the plant leaves and as many as 17 generations of mites can be produced every year. Spider mites overwinter in the soil, so even the cold weather won’t kill them.
Spider mites are troublesome to gardeners because they suck chlorophyll out of the plants and infect them with toxins. They are worst during periods of heat and drought and infest a wide range of plants, inching apple, peach and apricot trees, cucumbers, eggplants, grapes, peppers and soft fruits.
A gardener can often spot spider mites’ presence if plant leaves are yellow and dry and have yellow or red blotches with small white dots on them. The plants will also have fine webbing between the leaves, and the fruit will often not develop.
To control and get rid of spider mite, follow these three tactics:
Sometimes something as simple as blasting the plants with jets of water from a garden hose is enough to dislodge spider mites. Spray the plant early in the mornings three days in a row or spray every other day for three mornings. The gardener can also spray insecticidal soap every week or so. Insecticidal soap can also take care of other pests.
Fruit trees can be sprayed with horticultural oil just before they emerge from dormancy. This is the stage when the spider mite eggs are at their most vulnerable. Other solutions to use as spray include garlic oil and water and cooking oil and cinnamon oil.
One way to control spider mites is to let their cousins, the beneficial spider mites, overrun the damaging insects. Other spider mite enemies are lacewings, ladybugs, and PFR (paecilomyces fumosoroseus), a microorganism that attacks spider mites and other pests such as whiteflies and aphids.
Spider mites should respond to the application of sabadilla and pyrethrum. Sabadilla is derived from a type of lily and has been used since the 16th century. It’s considered less harmful to beneficial insects than other poisons. Wear a mask if applying it as powder.
Pyrethrum is derived from a type of chrysanthemum. It works by paralyzing the insect and is considered safe for beneficial insects because it degrades after 6 hours in warm weather. It is best to spray it at dusk when pollinators are not active.
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