Spider Mites feed on just about anything…fruit trees, vines, ornamental plants and vegetables. There are various types and colorings of Spider Mites, but what you really need to know is that they are undesirable in the garden and no matter the type of Mite, their damage is similar as are the steps you can take to control them.
Spider Mites are difficult to see without magnification. They’re tiny. But, they live in colonies, sometimes made up of hundreds of Mites and that’s what you’ll see when there’s an infestation. They tend to colonize on the underside of leaves so it’s often the telltale webbing that you’ll discover first.
In cold areas, Spider Mites overwinter in layers of tree bark or in piles of garden droppings and trash. In warmer areas, where plants remain green (Southern California gardeners take note) they can feed and reproduce throughout the year. Either way, when the weather is warm, Spider Mites lay their eggs. It doesn’t take long for the next generation to appear.
Spider Mites prefer dry, dusty conditions. You’ll often see them first along the outer edges of the garden or on plants that are water stressed. Their damage is first visible as stippling on the leaves. Affected leaves will eventually yellow, red or brown and fall off. You’ll see webbing over areas of leaves, often at the tips of branches. They not only cause leaf damage but can also cause direct damage to the fruit or vegetable pods.
If you suspect a Spider Mite infestation the first action to take is to confirm it. Shake an affected leaf over a piece of white paper. When mites are present they move quickly. Only think about treating when the mites are present. In minor occurrences of Spider Mites insecticidal soaps or oils or even sprays of water may keep them under control. Please heed this warning: There are many sprays on the market said to control Spider Mites. These should only be used as a last resort as they are not only often ineffective, but they target the natural predators of Spider Mites as well as the Mites themselves. This, in fact, then allows Spider Mite reproduction to increase.
The best ways to manage Spider Mites are with biological and cultural controls. Adding natural predators to the garden is the most effective way to control Spider Mites and most other pests. The predatory insects are available for purchase and release at many garden shops or online. They are easy to use and highly effective in maintaining control of harmful insects.
In terms of cultural controls try to keep plants from being water stressed. That can be difficult for tomato growers since they should be kept on the slightly dry side. If you can keep surrounding areas moist and dust free it will help. Water down the pathways now and then. Be sure to keep garden areas tidy and rubbish free. This is helpful in controlling all sorts of things you would rather not have taking up residence in your garden.
Whether you’re growing a Fall garden or just looking ahead to Spring, it’s worth it to take the time now to be sure the garden is neat and tidy. It’s one simple step you can take that will help prevent future problems.