At Home: Tiny pests causing big headaches for gardeners

Spider mites can be controlled, if you work at it

MANHATTAN — While the hot weather may be giving your garden plants a case of the “blahs,” they also may be fighting a nearly invisible pest problem.


Spider mites are tiny dark-colored creatures that live on the undersides of leaves. Neither insects nor arachnids, these arthropods get the “spider” in their name from the protective webbing they create when they feed on leaves.

“An early symptom associated with spider mite damage is referred to a ‘stippling’ and/or ‘speckling,’ because spider mites feed on the chlorophyll of plants, thus removing the green content,” said Raymond Cloyd, K-State Research and Extension specialist in horticultural entomology.

As the infestation progresses, the plant will begin to look droopy.

The easiest way to test for spider mites is to use a blank, white piece of printer paper. Hold the paper under a leaf and then tap the stem of the leaf with your finger. Don’t shake the leaf — just tap it. If small black specks fall onto the paper, watch for movement. If they move, you have spider mites.

Cloyd’s first suggestion is to try to dislodge the mites with a forceful spray of water.

Chemical controls are effective — you can choose organic or synthetic formulas. Persistence is the key to payoff, Cloyd said.