If there’s an insect pest peskier than aphids and ants in peppers plants, it’s the tiny yet damaging spider mites. Often mistaken as aphids, spider mites have become a severe headache for many outdoor and indoor plants. I even remember seeing them crawling about on some of my flowering plants. However, most of them went on a feeding-spree on my habaneros, eventually killing some of my seedlings.
Due to their tiny size, pepper growers often overlook their presence until they start wreaking severe havoc on their pepper plants. Good thing, spider mites can be easily controlled using several tried and tested methods.
What are Spider Mites?
Spider Mites are insect-like arachnids whose family members include spiders, scorpions, and ticks. They are so small that most species grow up to the size of a grain of sand, with some being mistaken as specks of dust on pepper leaves. They have oval-shaped bodies with four pairs of legs for adults, while the larva sports only three pairs. There are hundreds of spider mites species globally, but the most common pepper-loving ones are the Two-spotted spider mite, Strawberry spider mite, and the Pacific spider mite.
- Two-spotted Spider Mites have yellow-green to reddish-orange bodies and are also known as Red Spider Mites. They are so named because of the two blacks markings on each side of its body once it reaches adulthood.
- Strawberry Spider Mites have orange bodies and are quite similar to the Two-Spotted Spider mites in appearance except for the males who have varying genitalia characteristics.
- Pacific Spider Mites have amber-gold greenish bodies primarily; however, they often turn orange-red when their population explodes.
Much like aphids, spider mites multiply fast and grow huge colonies within days to a week. They typically live on the leaves’ underside and eventually take over the entire upper and lower surface when their population booms. Furthermore, they best thrive during the summer months when the climatic conditions are hot and humid. Hence, they are a severe pest of tropical countries like the Philippines, where the environmental conditions are quite favorable.
Damage Done by Spider Mites
Spider mites thrive by sucking your pepper leaves’ juices leaving small dotted or stippling marks on the leaf surface. The sucking will also cause the leaves to slowly crumple and curl, leading to yellowing and premature leaf fall. For a very severe infestation, your pepper plants will dry up and die. Sadly, they also have a penchant for the blossoms and even pepper pods, not just the leaves.
A few spider mites may go unnoticed; however, the common signs of their presence include the appearance of fine white webbings around your pepper plants. Their damage may look like nutritional deficiency symptoms at first or even sunburn, but be sure to check the underside of your leaves for the presence of reddish insects before finalizing your diagnosis.
How to Control Spider Mites?
Despite being a severe headache since spider mites lack size, they make up for their number; these pests can be easily managed and controlled. Here are five easy ways to control spider mites at the comfort of your own home:
Water Spray, Pruning, and Burning
If your spider mite infestation has just begun and is located on isolated leaves, then cultural control methods can be employed. You can blast off the mites using a water hose with an adjustable nozzle. Use just enough water pressure to remove the insect; more substantial pressure may cause unnecessary physical damage to your pepper plants.
Another method involves pruning the infested leaves, blossoms, or pepper pods. Do not merely throw the removed parts anywhere, as the spider mites may just come back after a few days. Instead, find a spot far away from your pepper plants and dig a shallow hole. Afterward, place the pruned plant parts on the hole and burn them thoroughly.
Horticultural and Dormant Oils
A great pesticide alternative that you can use as effective as chemical ones are horticultural oils and dormant oils. Horticultural oils are best used during the hot summer months; meanwhile, fixed oils are perfect in killing spider mite eggs and inactive adults during the colder months.
A perfect example of horticultural oil that most pepper growers use is neem oil. This organic pesticide effectively disrupts insects’ reproductive cycle, such as spider mites, preventing multiplying further. Plus, it can also kill any existing eggs on your pepper plants. Generously spray pure neem oil or a mixture of two tablespoons of neem oil and one gallon of water on your pepper plants every three to five days.
The use of biological control has been widely adopted in addressing pest problems in crops. In spider mites, the insects that prey on these pests include lacewings, ladybugs, thrips, minute pirate bugs, and other predatory mite species. If you see these insects roaming around your pepper plants, don’t kill them as they will help you out in removing your spider mite problem by feeding on them. However, if they don’t naturally thrive in your area, then you have the option of introducing a few of them in controlled numbers.
Insecticidal Soap Spray
Like aphids, spider mites can be easily killed using insecticidal soap solutions. There are already available solutions in your local pest control stores. Just follow the directions indicated on the label as to the usage and amount. However, you can also just make your soap solution by mixing dishwashing soap with water. Spray generously on the surface of your pepper leaves. What’s excellent about insecticidal soaps is their wide range of target pests which include ants and aphids. So it’s nearly killing two birds with one stone.
Miticide and Arachicide
There are many miticides and arachnicides that you can use to kill your spider mites in one swoop. However, use them as your last resort when all else fails. Or if the infestation has progressed to a very severe degree, other control measures cannot manage anymore. When choosing the best chemical pesticide, be sure to ask your local pest control store firsts. Never randomly select one as the wrong one can also adversely affect not only your peppers but also its surroundings. You can find the complete list of miticides and arachicides here.
Spider mites damage can significantly affect your pepper yield, plant health, and overall aesthetics. These small but terrible pests are hard to notice, so I advise you to periodically check your pepper leaves’ surface now and then using a magnifying glass. This can be a bit time-consuming, but trust me, it helps a lot in the pest control process. Furthermore, always make it a habit to clean up and remove the weeds in your surroundings to avoid any pest infestation from occurring. Prevention and early detection are still better than fighting off a severe infestation.