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Pest Profile: Mites

November 5, 2010

Types of mites: Two spotted spider mites and citrus red mites are most common. Less common and harder to diagnose are cyclamen mites and broad mites.

Plants most commonly affected: English and Algerian ivies, crotons, palms, cast iron plants, anthuriums, dracaena marginatas, “lucky bamboos,” and scheffleras

Appearance: Very tiny, greenish to reddish oval-shaped bodies that move when you bump them with a fingernail. There will also be tiny white specks which may be eggs or shed skins. Large populations will generate light-colored webbing on plant leaves and stems.

Damage: Most often white or silvery speckles on the leaves as the mites suck chlorophyll out of individual cells. Stunted growth, dropped leaves, and webs are also signs of a spider mite infestation. While hard to detect at first because of their small size, spider mites can multiply very quickly and will soon overrun a susceptible plant.

Methods of control:
•    Detect spider mites early! Check for them regularly if you have one of the plants listed above. Early treatment is the most effective way to rid your plant of spider mites.
•    Raise the humidity and move the plant to a cooler location if possible (but don’t go below 55 degrees!) Mites love hot, dry weather. Put the affected plant near a humidifier or mist it frequently to help discourage mites.
•    Spray the plant down thoroughly with a soap(couple drops)/water(7parts)/rubbing alcohol(1part) mixture. Be very thorough, and make sure to spray undersides of leaves, soil surface, and every nook and cranny.  Do this once a week for at least three weeks or until the mites are gone.
•    You can also spray with neem oil or leaf shine, which smothers mites. However, be careful not to use too frequently or in direct sun or you may burn your plant.
•    If detected and treated early, pesticides are not usually necessary. However, there are several pesticides available at local retail stores if you’re still having trouble. Be sure the chemical you choose is labeled for mites and for indoor use.
Additional tips:
•    If you have trouble detecting mites, try this trick. Dab some rubbing alcohol onto a paper towel and rub the towel on the undersides of 3 or 4 leaves. If the paper towel comes away red, yellow, or green, you have mites. Brown or gray just means you have a dirty plant
•    Infested plants will also look and feel dusty or even gritty to the touch.
•    Infested plants often stop drinking as much water as usual. This can be another method of detection.
•    If you don’t detect the mites until the plant is completely covered with webs, it may be too late. Sometimes it’s best to dispose of the plant and start again. Just be sure to sterilize the container!

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