Spider mites, eight legged arachnids just like spiders, are common microscopic pests in succulents unfortunately. These pests thrive in dry and warm conditions which makes the cactus and succulent plant a prime target. An affected plant will have yellow spots on the leaves and, if not controlled, may die. Luckily, spider mites are easy to manage if they are caught soon enough.
What are Spider Mites
Spider mites are sap-sucking insects that live in large colonies of hundreds to thousands of individuals. As mites, they only grow to a single millimeter long (1/25″) at full maturity. Typically, because of their small size, these mites have to be identified by a microscope. However, they can also be identified based on the damage they cause.
What do Spider Mites Look Like
Spider mite = spider small. Spider mites are essentially small spiders with sharp jaws that cut into the flesh of a succulent. They are somewhat flat if they are magnified large enough to see it. The mites lay eggs on the leaves of a succulent that often look like small black or white spots.
Where do Spider Mites come From
Spider mites come from a variety of sources. Sadly, you may get them from a plant you purchase in the store since there’s no way of knowing, other than damage, that the plant has mites. If you buy an infested plant, the eggs will remain dormant on the plant until conditions are right for them to thrive – they hatch and multiply in hot and dusty areas.
You could carry spider mites in from the outdoors on your clothes or shoes. You’ll carry others in your shoes and clothes as well. If your succulent is outdoors, mites can be blown in by the wind from nearby gardens.
Spider mites can take a ride indoors on your shoes
An adult spider mite will lay eggs on your cactus within hours of ending up there. The eggs look like tiny white or black spots. After a few days, these eggs will hatch into small larvae. These larvae will then evolve into nymphs and finally into adults. Once the nymphs reach adulthood, the mites begin to eat ravenously.
This entire life cycle could take only a week. This means that before you know it, you could have a massive infestation. You may have thousands of spider mites on your cactus before you even begin to see damage.
Where do Spider Mites live
Spider mites live on plants grown in hot and dusty areas. To remain unseen, spider mites tend to gravitate toward the crevices of a plant. This means that in most cacti, the mites will be in the valleys between the ribs. Often, they will weave webs on the underside of leaves and live in colonies of up to 100 spider mites in a single web.
How do My Plants get Infected?
Neglected plants are more likely to get infected with spider mites. Usually, the mites will attack dusty or water-starved plants. You want to make sure that your succulents’ leaves are wiped down when they get dusty. Also, follow the correct watering schedule, so the plants don’t suffer from water stress. Of course, even healthy plants can be infected with spider mites.
How do Spider Mites Damage Succulents
Spider mites damage succulents in their feeding process by piercing the plant cell and sucking the sap. As the bugs continue feeding on the sap, the leaves will develop yellow spots and eventually turn brown due to the loss of chlorophyll and water. The broken cell walls also keep water from moving up the stems to the plant’s leaves.
Symptoms of Spider Mite Infection
Spider mites innately attack the undersides and crevices of a cactus or succulent to avoid detection. With heavier infestations, they may also attack the upper part of the leaves.
- Yellow patches on the upper surface of leaves
- The whole leaf gains a bronze color
- Silky webs on the leaves
- Brown or white spots (eggs)
- Eventually, the plant will shrivel and die
Can You See Spider Mites on Succulents
No, you cannot see spider mites on succulents with naked eye without a lot of effort. You can use a 10 times magnifying glass to spot them. You can also look for the symptoms of infection to indicate whether spider mites are present. Some symptoms to look for include leaf discoloration, webs on the leaves and stems, and brown or white spots on the leaf surfaces.
How to Treat Spider Mites on Succulents
Spider mites are stubborn to eliminate because they inhabit a plant in large colonies and in the small spaces where any treatments have trouble reaching. However, there are ways to get rid of spider mites quickly and easily if you find yourself with an infestation.
The Fastest Way to Get Rid of Spider Mites on Plants
The quickest way to get rid of spider mites on your succulents is to wash them off with water. Of course, this means waiting until your plant needs water again. But if it does, water the leaves without worrying about getting them wet and make sure that the water hits the leaves with some velocity. The fast moving water will wash the spider mites off the cactus or succulent. Just make sure that as much of the extra water drains away as possible.
Using Oils to Get Rid of Spider Mites
Oils are great if you want to naturally kill spider mites and their eggs. Horticultural oils are a natural way to killing insects on plants that is safe to use around children and pets. When oils are applied, they kill insects by blocking them from air and therefore suffocating them.
Neem oil is a horticultural oil that is actually toxic to insects. This means that it not only kills insects by suffocation but also by poisoning them. Neem oil will kill spider mites in all life cycles so you can quickly get rid of the infestation. When applying neem oil, you want to make sure that it doesn’t get into contact with your eyes because it can cause irritation.
Horticultural oils kill bugs, including spider mites in your garden, only through suffocation. Vegetable, mineral, and highly refined oils are all horticultural oils. These oils are ideal if you want to maintain your garden organically. When applied correctly, they are less harmful to beneficial insects than neem oil.
Insects cannot develop resistance to horticultural oil
The oils work by covering the breathing pores of insects, thus suffocating them. In some, these oils will penetrate through the exoskeleton of the pests, thus causing death and desiccation. In particular, horticultural oils work well against smaller insects so they are perfect to target spider mites on cactus plants.
Perhaps that biggest benefit to horticultural oils over neem oil is that they do not kill through toxin. This means that insects cannot develop a resistance to them over time. So you don’t need to be afraid of applying horticultural oils at the wrong time or over-applying them.
Horticultural soaps work somewhat similarly to oils. They are also kill insects via suffocation. However, there are some added benefits to soaps that oils don’t have. Soaps act as a natural surfactant which help to spread the chemicals over the entire surface of the plants and the insects.
Insecticidal soap is perfect for organic gardening pest control. Not only do soaps work by suffocating the insects but they also disrupt the waxy layers that surround the insect. This causes the bug to dry out and die via dehydration if they don’t die by suffocation. Insecticidal soap also won’t harm any non-insect predators like snakes and birds, which is a nice feature.
Contrary to what the garden centers tell you, you don’t have to have a special soap to use in your garden. Your dish soap will work fine if you mix it correctly. If you do choose to go this route, make sure that the dish soap is not an anti-bacterial formula because it may harm your plants.
Mix a pretty loose solution of dish soap and water. Spray the solution directly on the mites and cover all the leaves until they drip. The treatment will dislodge the spider mites from leaf surfaces. It also acts as a repellent, making the leaves slippery so mites cannot attach themselves again.
Other Natural Methods of Getting Rid of Spider Mites
Spider mites are unlikely to develop resistance to non-chemical methods of treating them. This is because non-chemical methods of treating spider mites work on a mechanical process. So spider mites have a harder time evolving to resist them.
The natural methods you use determine your success. Predatory mites, water, alcohol, and diatomaceous earth are the best natural methods of getting rid of spider mites.
Phytoseiulus persimilis, Amblyseius californicus, and Amblyseius andersoni are some of the most effective predatory mites. Predatory mites are also mites but they actually eat spider mites. They feed on both the eggs and the adult spider mites to quickly wipe out a population.
Predatory mite species can die off quickly if they run out of food, get put in an inappropriate environment, or get affected by other mite treatments. So if you’re going to use predatory mites, make sure that you don’t use any other mite treatments.
Water will help your cactus be free of spider mites in two ways. First, a cactus that gets enough water will be less susceptible to spider mites. Second, you can use jets of water to clear spider mites off your cactus. If you have an infestation, fill a spray bottle with water and spray the undersides of the leaves to clear off mites. This won’t help with the spider mite eggs so you’ll have to repeat treatment every few days until there is no more evidence of spider mites.
Alcohol and Water
Rubbing alcohol fights insects, especially spider mites, by dehydrating them. Dehydration occurs within seconds of the alcohol being applied which can quickly wipe out an infestation. To use this technique, mix rubbing alcohol and water in a 1:3 ration in a spray bottle. Spray the leaves, stems, and base of the plant lightly. Do not soak the plant or you will damage it.
Diatomaceous earth, also known as DE, is a natural product that is made from the fossils of ancient seashells called diatoms. These microscopic fossils have incredibly sharp edges on them. To a larger animal, especially humans and pets, the DE looks like a fine white powder.
DE works by cutting the exoskeleton of an insect which will dehydrate it. An added bonus is that the DE works for as long as it’s present and not washed away by watering. So DE will continue to cut up and dehydrate any insect invader for several weeks on your cactus and succulents. Just sprinkle it on in a fine layer and it goes to work.
How to Prevent Spider Mites
The first method of preventing spider mites is proper watering. Follow the correct watering schedule, especially in hot weather, because water-deprived succulents are susceptible to spider mite attacks. While you don’t want to overwater your succulents, you want to make sure they are receiving enough water.
Dust also attracts spider mites, so succulents placed near dusty roads tend to get attacked more. To prevent dust accumulation, regularly wipe down plant foliage using a damp cloth. This also helps them to photosynthesize better.
Spider mite cactus can be a nuisance that, if not eliminated, can kill your plants very fast. Luckily, there are effective ways of getting rid of spider mites. The best way of killing spider mites is by using soaps, oils, water, alcohol, and diatomaceous earth. If you can, you should do everything you can to prevent a spider mite infestation in the first place. But that isn’t always possible unfortunately.