Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spider Mites

I have yet another garden pest to introduce to you today.  I always watch my tomatoes for blight and I always have to fight off the blight to a certain extent.  It hasn't been too bad this year, but I have had to regularly trim off infected leaves.  Not long ago, it seemed the blight was starting to overwhelm the plants.  Our temperatures are too hot to make new tomatoes now (the plants may blossom, but they won't set fruit if nighttime temperatures are above 70 degrees), so I wasn't too worried about it.  I figured we'd let the fruit that is on the plants ripen, then pull the plants and prepare for a fall tomato crop. 

But last week when I was listening to our favorite local horticulturist on the radio, he mentioned spider mites being a big problem right now.  Hmmm......spider mites.  Upon closer inspection, that is exactly what I have on my tomato plants. 

The first clue to spider mites is often small yellow spots showing up on the leaves:
These spots show up because the mites are sucking bugs.  They suck fluids from the leaf, which causes a yellow spot.  They live on the underside of the leaf, so if you turn a leaf over, you might see this:
Do you see the tiny brown spots?  Here's a closer view of the three near the top (you'll notice the middle one moved between pictures...these spots aren't just egg casings or anything, that's the actual insect):
I believe the species we have are two spotted spider mites.  They breed and grow very well in hot, dry weather, so conditions are perfect for them right now. 

You can use neem oil to control them, but you have to be sure you spray the underside of the leaves, where they live.  Like blight infested plants, I've read it's better not to compost spider mite infested plants.  There seems to be some debate on this issue and I think it mainly comes down to whether or not your compost gets hot enough to kill the eggs. 

This has definitely been a year of learning about pests!  We have lots of everything around thanks to last year's drought and a very mild winter.  I'm starting to see a few small grasshoppers around too.   Neem will help to some extent with the grasshoppers too, but they are voracious and will decimate a garden if they get a foothold. 

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