Pest infestations are something that every succulent lover dreads finding. Even the most meticulous gardener can suddenly end up with a garden full of pests.
In the battle against pests, it’s crucial to know exactly what type of pest you’re dealing with. The more you know about the insects infesting your beloved succulents and cacti, the better prepared you’ll be to treat them and eliminate the infestation.
If you examine your succulents one day and find that they’re covered in webbing or tiny white mites, keep reading so that you can develop the correct plan of action for your specific pest problem.
What are White Mites?
White mites are often referred to as spider mites because of their spider-like appearance. Like spiders, mites have eight legs and are considered to be arachnids. Mites live in colonies, so even if you’ve only spotted one or two on your succulents, there’s bound to be more.
White mites are tiny, measuring only about 1/50 of an inch long or .5mm. Though they are often referred to as white mites, spider mites come in a variety of colors ranging from a pale whiteish color to reddish brown.
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The term ‘white mites’ is a generic term that actually covers a range of mite species. The species most commonly referred to as ‘white mites’ is the two-spotted spider mite. The two-spotted white mite is pale in color with a brown spot on either side of the abdomen.
It should be noted that while these mites are described by color and as having eight legs, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to really see the details of their appearance due to their tiny size. Instead, you’re likely to just see pale-colored specks moving around or the mites signature webs.
Though they can be damaging to plants, mites are considered to be a relatively harmless pest in terms of human and animal encounters. Though they may spread through your house, they won’t bite you or your pets.
White mites are most commonly found in dry, warm conditions. You know, the same conditions preferred by most species of succulents. They are considered to be cosmopolitan, which means they can be found around the world. So, no matter where you live, your precious plants are at risk.
White mites are incredibly prolific, so just a small population can explode in a matter of weeks. This accelerated reproductive rate also means that mites are capable of quickly adapting to resist pesticides, so treatment can often be difficult for particularly large infestations.
Though spider mites are a common pest with succulents, they also have no problem spreading to other types of plants such as houseplants, flowers, and vegetables. Mites are also common in deciduous trees and evergreens.
Though it’s possible for the infestation to start with a single succulent, a mite colony’s population can increase rapidly, spreading to other plants. If you have other plants in your home or garden, you’ll likely need to treat them all to ensure that the infestation has been completely eliminated.
Unfortunately, mite treatment isn’t a one application process. Getting rid of mites is a laborious process and you’ll need to dedicate a considerable amount of time to treating your beloved plants.
Before you begin treatment, it’s important to understand the life cycle of white mites so that you know what exactly you’re up against.
The Life Cycle of White Mites
The life cycle of white mites is not long, and they reproduce quickly. For this reason, an untreated mite infestation can quickly grow from a single affected plant to your entire home.
White mite eggs are typically laid on the underside of leaves, which can make it difficult to detect them in the early stages of an infestation. The eggs are attached to the leaves with the webbing that spider mites are known for. This webbing also helps disguise the eggs.
In optimum conditions, eggs will hatch after just three days. In temperatures less than 75 degrees Fahrenheit, it can take up to 19 days for the eggs to hatch.
After hatching, mites go through a larval stage. During the larval stage, very little plant material is actually consumed.
The larval stage usually only lasts a few days, after which the mites enter into a nymphal stage. Mite nymphs look almost exactly like adult mites, just a bit smaller. Nymphs are not yet sexually mature, so they are unable to reproduce.
Depending on the temperature, it takes between one and two weeks for mite larvae to hatch and complete development. In ideal temperatures, such as those above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, mites are able to complete development in as little as five days. It can take up to 20 days for larvae to complete development in cooler weather.
One they reach maturity the adult female mites are capable of laying up to 20 eggs per day. Adult mites typically live for two to four weeks, so during their lifespan they may lay hundreds of eggs.
With such a rapid reproduction rate, even a small colony can reach incredible numbers in just a few weeks.
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Additionally, mite eggs do not need to be fertilized in order to hatch. Without getting into the genetic details of mites, the basic premise is that unfertilized eggs hatch into males while fertilized eggs hatch into females.
The exact ratio of males to females varies in any given colony, but in most cases, there are more females than males. More females mean more eggs, which means you’ll soon be dealing with an even larger colony than before.
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Signs of White Mites
As previously mentioned, it’s unlikely that you’re going to notice individual mites on your succulents and cacti. Instead, you’re probably going to see the webbing that these mites are known for.
In the early stages of an infestation, the webbing is likely to only be present on the underside of leaves. This is why it’s so important to check your plants periodically. The earlier you catch infestations, the easier they’ll be to deal with.
Once the mite colony has reached a certain size, you may also begin to notice damage on your succulents. Mites feed on plants by piercing the leaves with their mouthparts in order to suck out the juices inside.
The mites damage the plant by feeding, which often results in tiny yellow or white spots. These spots are sometimes called ‘stippling’ and will be evident on any leaf affected by the mites. Some gardeners describe the leaves as having a ‘sand-blasted’ look.
With serious infestations, you may begin to notice entire leaves yellowing or becoming brown. Once an area has been fed on by mites, the cells of the leave in that area are typically damaged beyond repair. Even if you are able to eliminate the infestation, the leaves that were fed on will not be able to recover.
However, with proper care a plant can overcome an infestation and produce new growth unaffected by the mites’ feeding.
It can be difficult to see the mites themselves on the plant with the naked eye, so if you see webbing and stippling and suspect that mites may be present, there is one way to verify.
Hold a white piece of paper below the leaves of your succulent and gently tap to dislodge some of the mites. If mites are present, they’ll drop down onto the paper from the leaf, which should make them more easily visible than on the leaf itself.
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Getting Rid of White Mites
Once you’ve identified the white mites infesting your succulents and cacti, it’s time to deal with the problem. There are many different ways to treat a mite infestation, so you may need to decide which method will work best for you and your plants.
Most experienced gardeners will discourage you from reaching straight for the harsh pesticides. There are many mite treatments available on the market that are much less harmful for you, your plants, and the environment.
Exposure to the ingredients in pesticides can expose you, your family, and any pets you may have to toxic chemicals that could put their health at risk.
Additionally, mites can quickly become resistant to chemical pesticides due to their accelerated reproduction rate.
Although water won’t get rid of white mites by itself, it’s a great place to start no matter what method of treatment you intend to use. It’s completely natural and won’t harm your plants. It won’t affect your chosen method of treatment either.
To use, you’ll want to spray your plants with a high-pressure blast of water. For more delicate plants, this might mean using a spray bottle and adjusting the nozzle to a single stream of water. For more hardy plants, especially those planted outdoors, you can use a hose if you’d like.
Spray the areas of the plant that have been affected by the mites in order to knock them off the plant. The water will remove most of the webbing as well, which will help make your additional treatment methods more effective.
Remember, you’ll need to spray the bottoms of the leaves in order to remove as much webbing and as many mites as possible. Unlike with other types of pests, mites can find their way back onto the plants after falling off, so this isn’t a permanent treatment.
Neem oil is a popular choice for ridding gardens of a variety of pests because it’s a completely natural substance. Neem oil is found in the seeds of the neem tree. It’s typically a yellowish-brown color and smells a bit like garlic or sulfur.
This naturally occurring pesticide can be irritating to skin and eyes, so use caution when handling and wear gloves when applying it to your plants. It’s also toxic to cats, so keep your pets away from any treated plants.
Neem oil is most often found in oil form, but you can also buy it as granules and dust if you prefer.
Neem oil is especially useful for mite infestations because it affects the arachnids’ ability to grow and reproduce. This can help slow down the mites’ reproduction rate and allow you to get a better handle on the infestation.
Additionally, neem oil will affect the mites’ ability to feed on your succulents so it can help slow the destruction of your beloved plants.
As with water, you’ll need to apply neem oil to the bottoms of the leaves of your succulents. With particularly small plants, you might be able to hold the soil in the pot with one hand while you gently tilt or tip the plant over to expose the leaves’ underside without spilling soil everywhere.
For larger plants, you can also try wrapping the container with clear plastic wrap to keep the soil contained while you tip or tilt the container over. Plastic wrap also works great for spiky plants like cactus and agave that you may not want to handle directly.
One of the downsides of neem oil is that you will need to reapply it every two or three days until you’re sure the mites have been eliminated. Since you’ll be dealing with several generations of mites at any given time, it can take several weeks of treatment to get rid of them all.
This popular and effective method of pest control may seem old-fashioned to some gardeners, but it works great on white mites and is gentle on all succulents and cacti.
If you’re unfamiliar with insecticidal soap, it’s simply a solution made from soap diluted in water. Its non-toxic to both humans and animals, so it’s ideal for homes with kids and pets.
Insecticidal soap kills pests by drying their bodies out. It penetrates the mites’ cuticles and causes their cells to collapse and dry out. This isn’t necessarily a fast process, so you’ll need to be patient if you use insecticidal soap to treat your mite infestation.
You can find insecticidal soap at your local nursery or favorite online retailer. It’s usually quite inexpensive, but you can also make your own. A few drops of soap in a spray bottle filled with water will be enough to get you started.
It’s important to note that you need to use actual soap and not detergent for insecticidal soap spray. Detergents are harmful to plants, so you need to make sure you’re using real soap like Dr. Bronner’s, Ivory Snow, and Shaklee’s Basic H.
To use insecticidal soap, you’ll apply it to the bottoms of the leaves just as you would neem oil. The spray needs to contact the mites directly in order to work.
If you’d like, you can also add a few drops of cooking oil to your insecticidal soap solution. Many gardeners swear that it helps the mixture stick to the plants better, but you’ll need to be sure to shake your spray bottle thoroughly before application.
Preventing White Mites
White mites can be incredibly difficult to get rid of, so prevention is key. As mentioned earlier, it’s impossible to completely prevent pest infestations, no matter how thorough you are, but if you can take steps to control pests before they take over your garden, treatment will be that much easier.
This crumbly substance is a great way to prevent not only mites, but many other types of common garden pests. It’s made from the fossils of tiny aquatic organisms and works similarly to insecticidal soap.
The rough edges of diatomaceous earth damage the mites’ exoskeletons, which will eventually dry them out. Many gardeners create a barrier around their plants with diatomaceous earth as a preventative measure.
It might seem counterintuitive to invite more mites into your garden if you’re trying to keep them away. However, predatory mites feed on other types of mites NOT plants. Your precious succulents and cacti will be safe around these arachnids.
Predatory mites can help keep white mite colonies in check by feeding on them before they get a chance to damage your plants. However, these helpful creatures are better at preventing infestations than they are at treating them.
While predatory mites do eat a lot, they simply can’t eat enough to reduce the numbers of a huge white mite colony.
It’s worth noting that if you plan on inviting beneficial insects into your garden, such as predatory mites, you’ll want to avoid using diatomaceous earth, neem oil, and insecticidal soap. Unfortunately, these substances don’t discriminate, and will kill the good bugs as well as the bad.
Instead, try to get the mite population under control, or even eliminated, before introducing predatory mites. Remember, they’re best used as preventative measures instead of treatment.
Check Your Plants Regularly!
The most important aspect of preventing a white mite infestation is to check your plants on a regular basis. If you only take a good look at your succulents and cacti every few months, you may be surprised at how quickly they can get out of control.
It can be difficult to fit a thorough inspection into your already busy schedule, especially if you have a lot of plants, but aim to check your plants out about once a week. This will be often enough to catch any pest problems before they become difficult to treat.
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