House plants make lovely additions to homes and help purify air. Often they become damaged because of pests such as mites. Many people consider mites insects, but they're actually arachnids--invertebrate animals with jointed legs such as spiders and ticks. These pests are known for feeding on plants and especially house plants. Mites damage plants by sucking cell contents from leaf tissue in addition to laying eggs on plants, making the problem worse.
The most common mites that attacks house plants are spider mites such as the two-spotted spider mite. Also known as the red spider mite, it feeds on plant sap and makes wounds that resemble white flecks. Spider mites produce webbing, and where there are large populations, the webbing can even be visible. A heavy infestation causes leaves to drop prematurely. House plants that are attacked most include ivies and scheffleras.
Cyclamen mites and broad mites also attack house plants, but are much rarer. Both are exceptionally tiny and don't make webbing. Common signs of an infestation are twisted plants and stunted plant growth.
Spider mites only live a short time. According to Hydro-Gardens, it takes a little more than two weeks for an average spider mite to go from an egg to an adult, completing an entire life cycle. Females lay about five eggs each day. Hydro-Gardens says warmer temperatures cause the spider mite population to explode, speeding up the life cycle. When the temperature is 90 degrees F, the life span is only 3.5 days, while with a cooler temperature of 60, the number of days from egg to adult increases to 30 days.
Plant mites are so tiny, they're hard to detect. One way to determine their presence is to hold a white piece of paper under a shoot or branch and then sharply tap or shake the branch. If mites are in a plant, some will fall onto the paper, where they're visible as tiny moving specks.
The best method of controlling house plant mites is to increase the plant's humidity. Regularly washing house plants also helps. Small house plants can be washed with a jet water spray from a kitchen or shower sprayer. Two-spotted spider mites are hard to control using pesticides, so horticulture oils are mostly used. Insecticidal soaps are also somewhat effective.
It's important to carefully read all the fine print on any insecticide, ensuring it has the ingredients needed. Also, not all house plant insecticides are considered safe for all plants, so it's vital to check labels for lists of plants intended for a product. When using a product requiring dilution with water, mix only the amount needed to be used for one day, and ensure it's all used. House plants should be sprayed in well-ventilated areas such as porches or garages.