How to Get Rid of Spider Mites

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Are your houseplants starting to look sad? Are the leaves yellowing, drooping, or starting to fall off? It’s possible you have spider mites. Especially if you recently brought home a new plant or brought them in from outside.

My experience with spider mites

Spider mites have been a thorn in my side two years in a row. The first year I didn’t even know what a spider mite was. All I knew was that my beautiful dracaena palm (that I got on clearance) was dying. 

I bought it towards the end of summer and then brought it inside once it started to cool down. I wanted to be able to have this plant year-round, and the only way to do that here is to bring it inside. 

As the dracaena palm started to worsen, I discovered what looked like spider webs in the center of it. I also saw tiny specks moving on that webbing. 

I soon discovered that what I was seeing was spider mites. I also found out that if you have them on one houseplant, chances are they are on other plants.

After looking at all my plants, I have a large number of plants, I found evidence of spider mites on my hibiscus and a few others. 

The spider mites, and the following treatment, killed a few of my plants, including the dracaena palm, but most survived the treatment. 

The second-year I lost fewer plants to spider mites because I was able to prevent their spread. I knew what to look for and the most likely place they would come from.

The only plants that I lost due to spider mites this year were the ones that came from the store with the mites.

What are spider mites?

Spider mites are tiny arachnids that feed on the underside of plant leaves. 

Spider mites are identifiable by the webbing that they spin on plants. Though this is most notable with large infestations.

Large infestations will kill the plant they are feeding on, though most plants can tolerate smaller infestations.

How do you get spider mites?

There are two main ways of getting spider mites. The first is by bringing home a new plant. At least one of my spider mite infestations is because I bought a clearance plant that had spider mites on it. 

Since they are so small it’s easy to miss them until there is a large quantity of them spinning webbing on the plant.

The other main way of getting spider mites is by bringing plants that were outside in for the winter.

Spider mites are so small that they are easily spread by the wind, so if they are on outdoor plants, they can easily spread to the plants you bring in each fall.

Why don’t spider mites harm outdoor plants?

The easy answer here is that normal weather conditions, and normal outdoor watering, help keep the mites under control. The rain, or water from a hose, knocks spider mites off the plant making it harder for the spider mites to damage the plant.

Plus, natural predators to spider mites help keep them under control by eating them. 

This makes it much harder to notice spider mites on outdoor plants. So, you may have them outside and not even know it.

How do you get rid of spider mites?

There are a couple of options for treating spider mite infestations. The easiest (and most costly) is to just place the plant (pot and all) in a garbage bag and throw it away.

This is what I had to do with my dracaena palm. It was so far gone that there was no way of saving it.

The second option is to treat them with neem oil. I used Bonide Neem Oil and have had good success with it.

It’s a time consuming (but simple) process, but much less expensive than replacing all of my plants.

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How to apply neem oil

Step 1:

Take the plant to a sink or shower and spray all the leaves well.

This will knock many of the mites off the leaves. Since I had so many plants, some quite large, I used the shower. 

I set a few in the shower at a time, closed the curtain and turned the shower on warm.

I then moved the plants around as needed so that all of them were sprayed on all of their leaves. 

Once done spraying, let dry.

Step 2:

Once the leaves are dry, spray with neem oil

Try to focus on the undersides of the leaves. This was difficult, especially with the larger plants, so I just made sure to get the leaves covered in the neem oil.

It doesn’t smell good, but it works.

Step 3:

Let dry and leave for 5 to 7 days.

Step 4:

Repeat steps 1 through 3 every 5 to 7 days for a total of 3 to 4 applications.

I ended up spraying some of the plants 3 times and some 4 but had just as good of results on both.

Those that were sprayed 4 times were the ones that had obvious signs of spider mites.

Success Rate

Within a few weeks after the treatments, I had lost a few more plants. I think that they may have not tolerated the treatment very well. 

The hibiscus about 3 months after treatment. There are several dead branches needing pruning, but the rest is coming back nicely.

Those that struggled the most with the treatment were the tiny, young plants and the succulents.

I’m not sure what killed them, the neem oil, the lack of light (everything was downstairs for ease of the treatment), or the weekly showers. 

As it was mostly succulents that died, it was most likely the light or the wet soil that killed them.

Though I lost several plants from the treatment, I still managed to save most of my plants and haven’t seen any sign of spider mites since.

My hibiscus that looked like it may not make it is now starting to fill back in. It even bloomed just last week.

Tips for using Neem Oil

  • If you treat your plants outside, do it in the shade. Neem oil on leaves in the sun will cause the leaves to burn. I learned this the hard way this past fall. I wanted to avoid the nasty smell in the house and ended up damaging (and killing) several plants.
  • Also, if treating outside, only do it when there is no wind. The wind will make it hard to get the neem oil where you want it. Since you don’t want to inhale neem oil or get it in your eyes, you want to avoid being where the wind could blow it into you.
  • Loosen the base on plastic pots. I had several plants struggle this past year due to the soil staying wet too long. Taking the bottoms of the pots off allowed the dirt to dry out faster.
  • If possible, when showering your plants, keep the soil from getting wet by tipping just the plant under the water. This works better if you are able to take the plants outside to use the hose or use the kitchen sprayer. 

Have you ever dealt with spider mites? What did you do to get rid of them?

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