Spider mites are tiny plant-destroyers that can be hard to eradicate completely. They get their name from their tendency to leave webs around the leaves of the plants they infest, and they're closely related to spiders, ticks, and other types of mites.

How Do Spider Mites Attack?

a leaf that's been attacked by spider mites

The reason spider mites are such a problem (even though they're so tiny) is that they have very sharp mouths that allow them to suck out the contents of individual cells in your plants' leaves. They're like little white, orange, or yellow vampire specks on your plant leaves, and once they become an infestation, they can start to kill off plants entirely. These pests most commonly pop up when you’re growing in soil but can also be a problem in hydroponic setups. Spider mites are so small, you often won’t notice them until the infestation has gotten bad enough to wreak havoc in your garden.

Why Are Spider Mites An Issue?

There are a few reasons why spider mites are more painful to deal with than other pests beyond their being so small. One is that they reproduce at a rapid pace, with one female mite being able to make a million babies in under a month. Another is that they’ve got an enormous appetite, meaning they can go through your plants rather quickly. Once your plants are severely infested, spider mites can kill one in a single night. Plus, the silk webbing they produce can have a negative impact on your plants and attract a lot of dust to them. To make matters worse, spider mites can often become immune to the things you try to eradicate them with. You may think that you’ve gotten rid of your pest problem only to find that they've come back stronger than ever.

Spotting Spider Mite Damage

spider mites attacking leaves

Since spider mites are so tiny, the first apparent sign of them is usually the damage they do to your plants. If you start noticing yellow spots on your leaves, spider mites could be the cause of them. Leaves that seem bronze or silver in color when the light hits them are other telltale signs of a potential spider mite infestation. You may even notice holes, wilting, discoloration, distortion, or deformation among the leaves.

Stop Them Before They Start

inspecting a plant for spider mites

Spider mites can be such a hassle that it's beneficial to stop them from even entering your garden in the first place. This may seem impossible, but it’s not. The key here is to remember that stopping them from getting in just takes a little effort. Be on the lookout for them in all of your growing areas, so you don’t track them around to other plants. You also want to inspect any plants that you bring home carefully. Just a few hitchhikers on a plant can spell major trouble later on.

Early Detection

Early detection is one of the most important things you can do for your plants when it comes to dealing with spider mites. It can seem like a pain because you’re looking for bugs that are so small they look like specks of dirt, but you’ll be happy when you spot them before they can take hold of your growing area. A small infestation is easier to put down than a big one. You’ll just need to use a magnifying glass to inspect your plants every so often. Spider mites are typically found on the undersides of leaves.

Spider Mite Solutions

spraying pesticide on infested leaves

To take on a spider mite infestation, you'll want to make the environment feel as unbeneficial to them as possible. Spider mites don’t like heat or a lot of airflow, so try to create plenty of space between your plants to stop them from spreading. You can also use water to simply spray spider mites off of leaves.

Once you’ve messed with the environment enough to start getting rid of them, you can then apply a pesticide, organic or otherwise, to finish off those spider mites. Spinosad products, neem oil, and others are all good choices for these pests. Just be sure to follow the instructions carefully to make sure you’re not doing more harm than good to the plants themselves. If you find that an infestation is particularly terrible, you may want to try switching up the pesticides you use to prevent them from becoming immune to any one.

Also, don’t give up too easily and think you’ve won the battle if they seem to go away. Continue being vigilant and applying the pesticide even if you think that the problem is solved. Remember that spider mites have a knack for seeming to go away and then coming back with a vengeance.

Spider mites are a real problem. They are so tiny that they can easily become an infestation before even the most avid of gardeners notices them. Getting rid of them can be a real hassle, but always be persistent.