8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with Them

We explain the basics you should know about spider mites, the earliest signs of the infestation, and ways to deal with it.
Phyllis McMahon
Phyllis McMahon
Research Writer
Phyllis teaches English Literature at a local college and loves writing in her free time. She’s also a great cook – her British beef Wellington is something the best res read more
Reviewed By
Chas Kempf
Chas Kempf
Expert Consultant
Chas works in a professional pest control company and knows all the nuances of this job. Also, he’s a fantastic tennis player and loves to organize BBQ parties for his fam read more
Last updated: August 26, 2023
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Spider mites are pesky pests, and if you are not keen, they will make a home and thrive on your plants in the hot summer months. Seeing the early signs of spider mites is the only sure way of protecting your plants from the pests’ wrath. You can easily treat them and employ the necessary precautionary measures to avoid a future attack. Spider mites are tiny spider-like plant pests that come in different colors, including yellow, brown, red, and green. They are highly destructive and thrive during hot and dry seasons.

They can come with the wind or a plant you buy from a local nursery. Since they are extremely tiny, spider mites can ravage your entire lawn and go unnoticed. They spread quickly because they are not picky eaters. In this article, we cover all there is to know about the plant-eating pests, including their life cycles, their effects on plants, and their earliest signs.

What Are Spider Mites?

Spider mites are itty bitty plant pests that are hard to spot unless you are extra keen. The pests live in colonies underneath plant leaves and eat by piercing plants’ leaves and sucking up the fluids. They thrive in hot and dry seasons, especially when most of their natural enemies have been killed by insecticides. The National Pesticides Information Center (NPIC) advises against using chemical insecticides in controlling spider mites. The insecticides only end up killing the beneficial predators that could eat the spider mites and reduce their population significantly.

Types of Spider Mites

8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with ThemAlthough it is hard to spot a spider mite at first glance, you can notice the pests as tiny dots moving on your plants’ leaves frantically. With a magnifying glass, you can get a close-up look at the invasive pests and even identify their different species by examining the color, body type, and markings.

The most common species of spider mites you are likely to encounter in your greenhouse or garden backyard include:

  • Southern red mites: These have a red appearance and round-shaped bodies. They like to attack plants with broad leaves in herb gardens or shrubs. Southern red mites eat not only the leaves’ cell content but also the fruit, thus making it more disastrous for crops.
  • Two-spotted spider mites: These range in color from dark red to green and are harder to spot at first glance. They have black spots along their backs and a small oval-shaped body. According to an article by the University of Minnesota Extension, two-spotted spider mites feed on everything, including vegetables and flowers.
  • Spruce mites: These love to attack needle-leaved conifers in tree farms. Unlike other spider mites, spruce mites prefer cold weather. They are light green as hatchlings and turn darker as they mature.
  • European mites and Citrus mites are also pretty common. Regardless of the species, Spider mites can cause massive damage to crops in a greenhouse, tree farms, or backyard gardens if not managed or controlled.

Life Cycle of Spider Mites

8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with ThemAccording to a research paper by the University of California, spider mites can feed and reproduce all year round, depending on the location. In cold areas where plants drop leaves, spider mites take a break from feeding and reproducing, and they stay under the ground litter or bark until the weather allows leaves to grow green and strong.

The mites go through the same life cycle, but their development varies with different species. The life cycle includes the egg, larvae, two nymph stages, and the adult stage.

The lifecycle is pretty short as it only takes 5 to 20 days with ideal surrounding conditions.

The female spider mites have a two to four-weeks lifespan, and they can lay hundreds of eggs in their lifetime. The eggs are translucent and look like water droplets on plants’ leaves. They change into a cream color as the mites develop inside them. The hatchlings emerge with only six legs and feed on the underside of leaves until they develop eight legs and mature.

Why Do They Appear on Your Plants?

Like every other plant pests, spider mites appear on your plants to feed and reproduce. Their tiny size makes it easy for them to sneak into a landscape. They can easily get blown in by the wind, or you could unknowingly introduce some into your garden with a plant you purchase from a plant store.

Spider mites are attracted by:

  • Dry and dusty conditions: Failure to water your plants can attract mites. Hydroponic greenhouses and gardens are also highly prone to spider mites because of the dry and humid conditions in their setups.
  • High phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the soil: This is caused by fertilizer overuse.

How Do They Spread?

Spider mites spread rapidly because they are not picky eaters. They can feed on any plant, whether a house or garden plant, a flower, vegetables, or a tree. The mites spread in various ways, including:

  • From other infested plants: the pesky arachnids expand their territory by moving from one plant to the next when their current host plant is dead or overpopulated. Female adult spider mites will lay eggs on the nearby plants.
  • Wind: Spider mites get blown by the wind easily because of their tiny size. The pests have adapted to the high winds and take advantage of them to find new hosts.
  • Animals: Your pets can carry spider mites from one plant to the other when playing in the garden, or in the house.

What Are the Effects of Spider Mites on Plants?

8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with ThemAlthough spider mites are fond of cutting into and feeding on plant leaves’ bottom, the effects usually appear on the top. The arachnids can cause serious damages that can lead to the death of a whole plant if uncontrolled. The amount of damage caused by the pets depends on their population on one plant.

Few spider mites may have insignificant effects on a plant and cause minor damages like the loss of a few leaves. With minor damages, the plant can always regenerate.

A mid-sized invasion with hundreds of spider mites can cause stunted plant growth. You will notice the plants losing leaves and flower buds all the time, and they may never recover from the damage.

A large invasion with thousands of spider mites can kill a whole plant in a matter of days.

Large invasions are virtually unmanageable, and even if you get rid of some of the mites, the plant has very low chances of surviving the extreme damages caused.

Do They Only Live on Indoor Plants?

Spider mites are not very picky on the type of plants to attack. They live on both indoor and outdoor plants, provided the leaves are green and full of sap.

What Are the Earliest Signs of Spider Mites?

8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with ThemThe earliest signs of spider mites are:

  1. Silky webs woven around the leaves and stems. Spider mites build cotton web weaves on leaves, and many people tend to confuse them with spiders. The web weaves are similar to typical spiders, but they only appear with serious invasions. You may not be able to see the web weaves during the first few weeks of invasion because the mites concern themselves with feeding first before building a protective web.
  2. Tiny white, tan, or yellow patches underneath the plant leaves and holes on top of the leaves. Colored patches on leaves are often ignored, yet they are the earliest sign of spider mites. It is only after noticing holes that people get serious and begin to suspect a pest invasion. Spider mites make the holes in the leaves with their mouthparts when sucking the sap.
  3. For a heavy infestation, you will notice a yellow or bronze appearance in one or many areas of the tree. Many yellow spots eventually lead to yellowing leaves which is a sign that the leaves are dying and about to fall off. Yellowing leaves are usually a bad sign as they can cause stunted plant growth.
  4. Brown curled leaves. Brown leaves curl at the edges immediately and are a sign of extreme reaction to spider mites’ bites.
  5. Live spider mites, eggs and poop. If you inspect your plants leaves and see one or multiple spider mites, that is a clear sign you have an invasion that needs quick acting to counter. The eggs are also a clear indication that the population will increase in a matter of days. The mites are tiny, but you can identify them as small dark spots moving slowly. The eggs are translucent, but they turn cream before hatching. The poop comes in different colors including white, brown, or black in a round or splash shape.
  6. Premature wilting of leaves. A plant that loses its turgidity too soon could be attacked by spider mites because the arachnids feed by sucking the leaves’ sap.
  7. Increased ladybug activity on the plant. Ladybugs are natural enemies of spider mites as they eat them. Since ladybugs only hand around when there is food, there is a high chance your plants are infested by spider mites or another prey.
  8. Leaves feeing like they are covered with sand when touched. Although you can’t see them easily when their population is scarce, you can distinguish spider mites by touch. Rub a leaf with your fingers and if you feel a rough sand-like texture then inspect further for spider mites. Don’t be afraid, they don’t bite.

What Happens at the Later Stage of Spider Mites Infestation?

When Spider mites are uncontrolled, their population grows exponentially and your plants risk irreversible damage. The leaves and flower buds wilt away, dry and fall off eventually after the mites have sacked all the sap. Loss of leaves causes stunted growth and in extreme cases, plant loss.

How to Get Rid of Spider Mites

8 Early Signs of Spider Mites on Your Plants, and How to Deal with ThemMany plant owners assume spider mites are insects and thus resort to using insecticides to get rid of the pests. Spider mites are arachnids, the same classification with spiders, scorpions, and ticks. You will need a miticide or a pesticide that can kill mites to get rid of the sneaky pests completely like the NPK Industries OG6110 Mighty Spider Mite and Egg Killer. It is versatile and will keep both your indoor and outdoor plants, including vegetables and fruits safe from spider mites.

The advanced 701290B is another fantastic versatile option. The 3-in-1 disease, insect and mite control formula will keep your plants safe from various insects, spider mites and fungi. It even offers systemic rainproof protection for up to 30 days.

Other ways of getting rid of spider mites include:

  • Pruning and isolating: when you discover spider mites on a few plants, you should prune and isolate them to avoid further spreading. Dispose all the infested plant parts that you prune carefully then treat the remaining plants.
  • Homemade remedies: rubbing alcohol mixed with water and sprayed or manually rubbed on the infested leaves can reduce spider mites’ population significantly. Dish soap and water solution also works in a similar way.
  • Get mightier mites to do the job: you can purchase Spider mites’ predators like Photoseilus persimilis, lacewing, or ladybugs, then release on your plants and let them feed on the spider mites.

How to Prevent Spider Mites

As mentioned before, spider mites are attracted to hot and dry conditions and soils with high Nitrogen and Phosphorus levels. An extension paper by the University of Colorado advises that watering your plants properly in the hot and dry season will go a long way in preventing an invasion. Also, hosing off your plants regularly is a fantastic way of removing spider mites and their webs from your plants.

Inspect your plants regularly for signs of spider mites to ensure you keep a healthy landscape bed and can act quickly before too much damage occurs.

Final Thoughts

Knowing the early signs of spider mites is essential in preventing the sneaky pests from spreading and causing irreversible damage to your plants. The arachnids are attracted by hot and dry conditions and nitrogen and phosphorus rich soils. Watering your plants regularly and lowering the use of fertilizers on your agricultural landscape can go a long way in preventing a spider mites attack.

You should act quickly after establishing you have a spider mites’ invasion by using miticides or any of the natural remedies we have discussed in the article. You can also consult plant health care services to help you with the spider mite control.

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