Can Spider Mites Live Without Plants? (Find Out Now!)
If you have houseplants, it’s a common worry that your home may be infested with spider mites. These small creatures are often seen swarming around indoor plants, in the soil and across the leaves. Though, they can wreak havoc on both your houseplants and even plants in your garden. What begins as small yellow spots on leaves can transform to complete decimation of a plant if you have a large population of spider mites.
This brings us to the question at hand: “Can spider mites live without plants?” Fortunately, spider mites cannot survive without plants. If you were to remove their food source, spider mites will only last about eleven days. Whereas, if you don’t have any live plants at all, you won’t get spider mites in your home.
Overall, the healthier your plants are, the less likely they are to get infested by spider mites. However, getting rid of spider mites can be difficult, as they have very unique survival instincts. Continue reading to learn more about these pesky creatures, including the most common signs of infestation, how to get rid of them, and prevent spider mites from returning.
What Are Spider Mites?
Spiders mites below to the arachnid family, which encompasses a number of insects, including scorpions, ticks, and spiders. These small, white arachnids are commonly compared to spiders since they spin silk webs that allow them to attach to plants. They are incredibly tiny and you’ll often need a magnifying glass to get a good look. If you have a spider mite infestation, the underside of your plant’s leaves will appear dusty or fuzzy but, upon closer inspection, the dust will be moving.
They are so tiny that they would probably go unnoticed if it weren’t for the webs they produce. In fact, it is nearly impossible to see spider mites with the naked eye. Spider mites go through five distinct stages of life: egg, larva, protonymph, deutonymph, and finally adult. Female spider mites have an approximate lifespan of a month and lay about a hundred eggs at a time. With so many babies, it’s easy to see how quickly your plants can become infested.
What Do Spider Mites Eat?
A spider mite’s primary food source is plant tissues and sap. These pests pierce the cell wall at the back of a plant’s leaves, literally sucking the juices out of the leaves and causing spots. Initially, it starts out as small yellow spots but then the leaf turns completely yellow over time. Eventually, a large population of spider mites will kill the entire plant.
Can Spider Mites Survive Without Plants?
So, if spider mites feed on plant tissues and sap, can they survive without plants? Fortunately, spider mites will not survive if they do not have a live host plant to feed off of. These mites also need a very specific environment in order to thrive. Spider mites grow most rapidly when they’re in hot, dry conditions.
While they can survive in humid environments, dry conditions seem to yield more egg fertility. It has also been shown that spider mites can be problematic for plants in dusty environments. Spider mites can be transported unknowingly around your home and yard by people and pets. Though, they will only survive for about eleven days with the shelter and nutrients they get from plants.
Spider mites are a hardy species, which have evolved to have some protection from the elements. Their eggs consist of a protein layer for protection and helps them stay alive even in the harshest conditions. Like the adult mites, their eggs are microscopic and can also stay alive even if they’re not attached to a plant. However, once the arachnid hatches, it will need to feed on plant matter and won’t survive if it cannot.
Both spider mites and their eggs may lie dormant during winter months, surviving even the coldest outdoor temperatures. Without food, adult spider mites can live for around three to eleven days. Females will survive a lot longer than males, who tend to die after just a couple days.
Signs of Spider Mites Infestation
When it comes to spider mite infestations, prevention is much better than a cure. It’s recommended to look after your plants well and keep them as healthy as possible. Aside from this, you also want to check your plants often for signs of spider mites, which include:
- White silk threads underneath your plant’s leaves or on the steams, which look similar to a spider’s web.
- Leaves have lost their vibrancy and now appear grayish in color.
- Yellow spots on leaves or total yellow leaf discoloration.
- Leaves feel like they’re covered in “fine sand,” when touched.
Ideally, you should be checking your outdoor garden plants for any of the above signs about every other week or so. For houseplants, however, you should inspect them more frequently. Since the conditions indoors are more stable than outside, houseplants tend to collect dust much faster.
Pro Tip: Pay close attention to fruit-bearing plants and vegetables, as spider mites tend to prefer them over other types of plants.
Fortunately, light to moderate spider mite infestations are pretty easy to treat. When you have a pretty heavy infestation, though, control is much more difficult. Not to mention, heavy infestations put all your other plants at risk.
How to Get Rid of Spider Mites
There are a few different strategies for getting rid of spider mites on plants. After you’ve determined that you have an infestation, whether it’s minor or severe, you must quarantine all of your plants that are infested. Then, you can take either take a biological, chemical, or natural approach.
Biological Controls for Spider Mites
Natural predators, like thrips, lacewings, ladybugs, and predatory mites (Phytoseiulus persimilis) do an excellent job at keeping spider mite populations under control. Avoid pesticides to prevent killing these beneficial insects off. For outdoor mite infestations, you also want to water regularly, and mulch your flower and garden beds.
Predatory mites and insects can be purchased online for your indoor plants. Simply release them into your pots and they will consume around hundred mites a day. As an added bonus, these predatory mites and insects do not pose any threat to people, pets, and the plants themselves.
Natural Solutions for Spider Mites
Most organic, or natural methods to get rid of spider mites use a range of plant-based oils to smother both the mites and their eggs. While it won’t stop eggs from hatching, placing the oil on the egg will smother the larva inside and also disrupt breathing for the adults. Try these natural methods to get rid of your spider mite problem:
- Rosemary, spearmint, coriander, and chamomile essential oils: Studies suggest that these oils are the most effective at killing two-spotted spider mite adults and their eggs. Try putting a few drops in a spray bottle with water and apply it to all the affected leaves.
- Neem oil spray: Neem oil is a common natural solution for spider mites. It is a broad-spectrum organic herbal repellent and pesticide.
- Extracts from peppers, including chile, bell peppers, cayenne peppers, and jalepenos: These peppers were tested and shown to kill about 45% of adult spider mites. You can purchase hot pepper repellent online or make your own DIY version.
- Rubbing alcohol: Rubbing alcohol can also kill spider mites. Soak cotton balls in the alcohol and wipe it on your plant’s leaves. Let it sit for a few hours and then rinse with water thoroughly.
- Dish soap: Dish soap is another home remedy for dealing with spider mites. Mix about three tablespoons of dish soap with a gallon of water and spray this solution on all infested plants on a weekly basis.
Chemical Solutions for Spider Mites
In most cases, you should avoid using pesticides as they can kill beneficial insects. However, insecticidal soap or horticultural oil is effective at killing only spider mites and nothing else. Use either to cover both sides of the leaves. This option typically works best for houseplants, as indoor environments are climate-controlled.
Diatomaceous earth is an organic pesticide made from the fossils of aquatic organisms. It is lethal to arachnids, without posing any threat to humans. Simply sprinkle the food-grade variety on your infested plants and soil and it will dehydrate the spider mites’ exoskeletons, eventually killing them.
How to Prevent a Spider Mite Infestation
Again, prevention is much easier than attempting to rid your plants of a spider mite infestation once they’ve taken over. Follow these steps to prevent a spider mite infestation from the get-go:
- Before you bring a new plant inside, keep it away from your other plants and monitor it carefully.
- Check up on your plants once every 7 to 10 days.
- Wipe down the tops and underside of the leaves and steps with a moist paper towel once a week.
- Misting leaves regularly can help keep spider mites away.
- Never allow your plants to get dehydrated.
- Implement neem oil as a preventative measure, as it repels mites and other harmful insects. Spray the leaves and stems once every two weeks.
Jessica considers herself a home improvement and design enthusiast. She grew up surrounded by constant home improvement projects and owes most of what she knows to helping her dad renovate her childhood home. Being a Los Angeles resident, Jessica spends a lot of her time looking for her next DIY project and sharing her love for home design.
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