Monday, May 5, 2014

I Hate Mondays: Attack of the Spider Mites!

Out of all the garden pests on my sand dune, and there are oh so many, the one I loathe the most is the Spider Mite.  The tiny little arachnid bastards lurk under leaves, biding their time, weaving their wee little webs, and reproducing like...well, by the million kazillions.  They get the energy for all this by sucking the leaves dry.
Red Spider Mite courtesy of Wikimedia
Everything will seem just fine in your flower bed, or your citrus or veggie patch, except for a smidge here and there of yellow leaf stippling. Here you can see a healthy sunflower leaf, and some yellow stippling, caused by the #!%* mites, on the other:
Mites get overexcited when the weather suddenly turns hot and dry and your watering schedule hasn't caught up to the change. So the plant will send, "Help, too hot and dry!" messages and the mites take this as their signal to go crazy. Within 48 hours, their enthusiasm has created a shriveled mess in your garden:
At this point, the worst affected leaves will have very visible mites on the undersides:
The last thing you'll see is the webbing; usually at this point, it's too late, game over:
Lemon tree affected by spider mites, courtesy of Wikimedia
My dahlias got hit, literally, in just 48 hours when our weather turned hot and dry. I wasn't watering them enough, and they needed some shade, which they didn't get, because I wasn't there. Mites also attack mesembs and cacti. Yikes! What to do?

Miticide, either topical or systemic, is a good idea. But I live on an ecologically sensitive dune, and I don't have too many dahlias. So I simply washed them with water mixed with a smidge of laundry detergent. I made sure to get all the mites off the undersides of the leaves. Even cleaned the buds. Then I rinsed them off. Now fresh leaves are bursting forth, and no mites. The eggs I missed will hatch soon, so I'm going to wash them once a week, a few more times, just to be safe. And I doubled the watering and gave the plants a little shade. The sunflowers were only slightly affected; they got a bath, too, but they're looking fine. The dahlias are still pretty scraggly!

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