What Are Spider Mites And How Can You Save Your Plants From Them?

updated May 11, 2022
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(Image credit: Jaclyn Campanaro)

So, you’ve noticed some tiny pests creeping on your precious houseplants , leaving little webs and stressing out your once-thriving plant. Here’s the bad news: You may have a case of white spider mites. These buggers reproduce quickly, so the time to take action is NOW to save your favorite green buddies, like your fiddle leaf fig plants and dracaena plants. Here’s the good news: It’s possible to quell a spider mite infestation, but it will require persistence. Up to the challenge? Here are some helpful steps to resist the invasion and help your plants live to see another day.

What Are White Spider Mites?

White spider mites are a type of tiny insect that lives on the underside of the leaves of both outside plants and houseplants. While they’re harmless to humans, they do have the ability to reproduce quite rapidly, and can be damaging to plants. 

How to Identify Spider Mites

Check for signs of spider mites: identifying the infestation correctly is the first step in fighting it. Below, we’ve included four things to look for if you’re wondering how to identify spider mites. 

  • Tiny bugs that look like miniature spiders (as their name suggests, white spider mites are arachnids, not insects) on the underside of leaves
  • Spotted or discolored leaves
  • Tiny white spider webs
  • Small holes in the leaves (a sure-fire sign that the mites have chewed through the surface of the leaves). 

So you’ve determined that white spider mites are to blame for your plant’s miserable condition.  To help figure out how to get rid of spider mites, we asked a trusted plant expert, horticulturist Justin Hancock at Costa Farms, for advice. The steps outlined below aren’t difficult, but they will demand diligence. Good luck—and don’t give up!

How to Get Rid of Spider Mites

Like any pest infestation, getting rid of spider mites won’t be a walk in the park. But if you follow the simple steps we’ve listed below, you’ll be on your way to healthier plants in no time. 

(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

Step 1: Give the Plants a Bath

Regularly hosing down your plant in the shower can both combat an existing infestation and prevent one from starting. Use room-temperature water and pay special attention to the bottom of the leaves, the spider mite’s first target. Wiping the leaves with a damp sponge can also physically remove the mites, but spraying the plant with a hose is the quickest method. So how often should you shower your houseplants? “The more often you do it, the more effective it is,” Justin says.

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell)

Step 2: Boost the Humidity

Because spider mites prefer a dry environment, turning your home into a rainforest will help slow their spread. Turn your humidifier on high, spritz your plant with water using a spray bottle, or use a pebble tray or glass cloche. Justin warns us that while moisture alone won’t cure a spider mite infestation, it’s helpful when used in combination with other tactics.

Step 3: Switch Up the Sprays

Insecticidal soaps and neem oil (a vegetable oil made from the fruits and seeds of the neem, a type of evergreen tree) are pretty effective against spider mites, especially if used consistently. Test the spray on a small section of the plant first. If you don’t see an adverse reaction, spray it thoroughly, paying special attention to the underside of the leaves. The most important tip to remember: “Mix up the product you’re spraying so that the spider mites won’t build up an immunity to it,” Justin says.

Step 4: Go to Battle

If you really want to step up your plan of attack, you can buy predatory mites (such as phytoseiulus persimilis), another type of mite that only eats spider mites and will wage a mite-against-mite war on your fiddle leaf fig. If the thought of willfully releasing even more mites into your home skeeves you out, well, I don’t blame you one bit. The one major plus to this method is that you will only have to do it once, and the good mites will take care of the rest, whereas with sprays, you’ll have to regularly re-apply.

Step 5: Give It Some Alone Time

To prevent an infested plant from jeopardizing the rest of your indoor garden, it’s a good idea to quarantine it. Don’t think of it as a punishment—just a little “me time” to help your plant focus on healing.

Thank you, Justin, for sharing your plant-healing powers! The next time you’re near Miami, consider stopping by Costa Farms, a supplier of plants to IKEA, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and more (check out our visit here).