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When heat is on, spider mites attack

Web-spinning pest loves hot, dry conditions

Spider mite webs with debris
Spider mite webs catch all kinds of tree debris. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Some pests LOVE this heat. The hotter, drier, dustier the conditions, the more they thrive. Topping that heat-loving list: Spider mites.

Where are they? Just look for the fine webs.

Right now, several of my shrubs look like they’ve been web-bombed. Leaves of my Christmas camellias are so coated, they pick up all sorts of garden debris – anything dropping from nearby trees or blown into the webbing by gusts of wind.

Spider mites don’t mind. These itty-bitty arachnids thrive in hot, dry, dusty conditions. Their favorite food? Water-stressed plants. During this record heat, just about any plant can fall into that category.

If it seems like spider mites and their telltale webs came out of nowhere, they almost did. According to the UC Cooperative Extension master gardeners, spider mites can multiply rapidly during these conditions.

“If the temperature and food supplies are favorable, a generation can be completed in less than a week,” say the master gardeners’ pest notes.

No bigger than a pinpoint, a spider mite is a teeny-tiny arachnid, the same eight-legged class that includes spiders and ticks.

Spider mites spin fine-textured webs, which are much more noticeable than the tiny creatures. They attack just about any plant from strawberries to full-size trees, sucking out moisture.

Spider mite webs on camellia leaves
This camellia has several spider mite webs on the leaves.

Beneficial insects usually can outnumber the spider mites and keep them under control. But when the weather turns unusually hot and dry (like right now), predators retreat, allowing the spider mite populations to explode.

What’s the best cure for spider mites? Water. Take the hose and spray dust (and bugs) off leaves, making sure to get the undersides of foliage, too. A strong shower disrupts spider mite paradise and holds them at bay until the real rains come (hopefully) in fall. It also gives those natural predators a chance to catch up with their mite munching.

To keep spider mites away all summer, regularly water your landscape. Irrigation is key to spider mite control; this pest prefers life hot and dry. Whether you see webs or not, occasionally wash off foliage, especially of large shrubs such as camellias or roses. Your plants will be happier and healthier – only the spider mites will be gone.

For more on spider mites:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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