Spider mites - how long can they live without food?

don555(3a)December 9, 2011

I googled the subject of this post and the hits were mostly pot-growing forums where spider mites are apparently quite a problem for indoor cultivation. There was a mix of opinions, so I thought I'd see what people here thought.

I have a finished basement, and in the room I'm in right now I was storing winter squash, picked in late September. At the end of November I noticed some of them were going "fuzzy", which I assumed meant they were going moldy. Alas, the fuzz was actually colonies of spider mites (never had that issue before this year). I threw out the squash and thought the mites would soon die without food. But 10 days later I'm still killing mites each day, even though there is nothing in this room for them to eat.

I have indoor pepper plants in the next room and I'm freaked that the mites will find those plants, maybe they already have and it won't become obvious for a few weeks until their population grows. I'm being careful now to limit my visits to the pepper plants to about once per day, to try and avoid contamination.

My question about how long mites live without food is based on 1)if they really haven't found the peppers yet, how long do I have to be careful of spreading things from my infested computer room to the grow-lights in the next room? And 2)assuming the mites have already spread or will spread soon to the peppers, how long do I need to have that space cleared out of all plants before I can seed my spring bedding plants without worry of being infected by leftover mites?

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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I'd bug bomb the room, maybe with something like Dr. Doom.

As they say....'Nuke 'em from orbit'...it's the only way to be sure.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 9:39AM
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I first got mites indoors 3 seasons ago.
The only thing that seems to somewhat work is Hot Shot no pest strips to control them.

I've totally cleared out all my plants for a couple months and all of a sudden there was a ton of webs hanging down from my Fluoros.
That was more than a month of no plants indoors.

The mites hibernate when things get bad,the fluoro housing was where they went.
I guess they don't mind the heat from the ballasts either.

They send egg ladened females into hiding when the colony gets into unfavorable conditions.

I don't know how long they can hibernate for or what wakes them up.

But I do believe what U.C.Davis and Cornell said about mites.
They are very hard if not impossible to get rid of but you can somewhat control them.

They easily get immune to most poisons and usually reproduce faster than beneficial bugs can eat them.
Pyrithrins(sp?) actually help mite reproduce according to what I've read.
Though there is a poison with Pyrithrin and sulfur that is supposed to work pretty well,I can't find the stuff at Homey Depote or the Nursery.
They do sell it online though.

I tried every beneficial mite eater sold by Tip Top Bio and several poisons and miticides that only worked 4-6 weeks max.

Over 3 years I bet i spent over $1000. in every so called mite killer in the book.
Neem was a total waste even though it's sold as a miticide.
Mites lined up every morning and evening with their bath brushes and robes on to get their neem shower.

Just plain water worked as well or better than 99% of the stuff I tried.

Outside hosing down my plants at dark thirty AM and at dusk kept them to reasonable levels.
Indoors I can't do that.

Green Lacewings seemed to help out more than ladybugs.
Ladybugs liked other stuff better I think where Lacewing larva(whatever) are into eating anything they can catch,including each other.

Read the warning on the no pest strip-not for food areas and not in places you spend 4 hours or more a day.
They also only last about 2 months not 4 like the label says.

I put mine indoors only when I see mites and for a week or so after , then it goes out in my shed to deal with the crickets and black widows.

I haven't found a water soluble form of sulfur yet but read that it kills mites.
I find lots of powders but no liquid.
I tried powders indoors and it was too much of a mess even when I took the plants outside to treat them.
The powder ended up everywhere eventually.
I got tired of the stuff getting all over and really never gave it a chance.

I still get mites whenever I stop with the no pest strips or hosing down my plants.
I have to find the source-where they are coming from.
We have been having 30-40 degree night but I recently found mites on my Manzano.
We hardly ever get weather as cold as it's been lately and it's supposed to kill mites when it's this cold
I assume there is some place they are hibernating and come out when the days get warmer.

This season I'm getting rid of all my plants and starting over.Usually I can grow year round outside here.
Waiting on my last pods to ripen and then I'll get rid of all but a couple plants.
I'll cut them down to stems and spray the heck out of them.
If they don't die I hope I'll have gotten rid of the mites outside.
I just started some new plants a while back indoors and after using the no pest strips it seems they are either gone or are under control for now.

Good luck fighting the sob's.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 10:25AM
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Oh, carp! I just found webs on my two overwintering rocotos! Last year it was aphids, now it's mites. I do have Safer brand fungicide, which is sulfur based. Maybe I'll try that for starters. The only other things I have on hand are sevin powder and Safer soap. Since the high today is supposed to be 12 degrees, I won't be going shopping...I'm trying to hibernate at this point(and it's not officially winter yet, sigh).

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Uuuuggg, I wouldn't wish spider mites on anyone - OK maybe a few politicians ;-))

If you're going to listen to anyone, Smokemaster unfortunately knows of what he speaks. Once established they're next to impossible to get rid of.

If you're lucky you catch them early and happily isolated to just one or a few plants. At this stage you can bag the plants in place, seal and toss. You may loose a few plants but this is one case where you'd gladly loose the battle to avoid having to wage a full out chemical war with odds of success against you.

I dodged a bullet a year ago. I didn't notice mites on a Bay Laurel I brought in for the winter. They quickly spread to a dozen ornamental pepper plants I had started a couple of months earlier to give as x-mas gifts. I bagged everything and tossed to the end of the driveway. A month later I moved an expendable plant to the area where the mites were and watched it closely for a few months for signs of them. As I said, I dodged a bullet. I have numerous plants in the previously infested area without any problems.

noinwi, if you're sure they're spider mite webs and not just webs left by an ordinary spider, ya gotta ask yourself how badly do you want to keep those Rocotos?

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 2:39PM
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Bug bombs didn't work.
I put 3 in a 11ftX14ft. sealed off room.
I tried the ones that were for Fleas,another said cockroaches and the other said everything including spiders.
Didn't phase them.

Like i said,I tried about everything.

Diazinon,Dursban,Malathion and several miticedes,neem,and all kinds of stuff that friends had in their garages.
I tried systemics that killed off the bees etc.but not the mites and a few messed up the plants worse than the mites did(rose miticide).
All only worked for up to 6 weeks max. before mites started drinking it like it was vitamins.

I think the mature mites died but the unhatched eggs became immune.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 6:27PM
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Okay, you guys have completely scared the crap out of me now! I guess I'll monitor my plants carefully and if I see any sign that the spider mites have made it into the next room and found my plants I'll discard them all, disinfect the entire area and leave it barren for a few months until bedding-plant season. Maybe set off a small neutron-bomb in the growing area just to be sure...

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 6:40PM
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LOL don555.

A small neutron-bomb might be overkill. Start with the least force possible and build up from there. Perhaps a healthy dose of napalm to start?

Seriously, they are the worst nightmare for growers (home thru industrial).


    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 7:00PM
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Don"t wait to see if you have mites.

Choose your weapon and start using it now.

Once you see a couple on your plants there are a gazillion you didn't see and your screwed.

I think I have such a bad problem is because I had so many plants I didn't know they were there until and full of mites until too late.

I was growing 2 crops a year of about 400 plants a crop.
I always had plants growing outside and sprouting inside at the same time.
Lots of places for the mites to hide out year round.

A lot of people say they got rid of mites easily indoors with soap sprays and neem every day or so.

They had a mite problem before at one time and just spray their plants out of habit.
Whether they see any bugs or not.

You can't let the mites get established in the first place.
Also some mites are supposed to be easier to get rid of than others.

Most people that have mite problems seem to be like me.

I saw yellow leaves and thaught I was doing something wrong with watering or nutes.
It was really the mites eating the green layer of the leaves.
If I'd have checked for mites right away I might not have had the problems I had and still might have...

I'd start with simple soap sprays or neem.
I wouldn't use poison until I had to.Then I'd try sulfur or no pest strips.
Why I wouldn't go all out with the poison now is you want to try and kill the mites now and not get them immune to stuff you might need to use on full grown plants to manage them after months of growing them out.

Indoor plants are usually small enough you can leave a tub of soap spray and just dunk the whole plant.
Mites take 3-5 days for the eggs to hatch.
So a dunk every 3 days should drown the hatched ones before they can lay eggs.

At least that is what I'd try before nuking everything or tossing it out.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 6:31AM
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"ya gotta ask yourself how badly do you want to keep those Rocotos?"
Pretty badly, Ott, and yes, it's mites(sigh). Some control is all I can hope for. My two plants are small enough(in 8" pots)that I put them in the sink and thoroughly soaked them with the Safer soap. I'll do that every few days and see how it goes. If things don't improve I'll switch to the sulfur fungicide. They are my only plants aside from a few houseplants spread out around the apartment(can't isolate...have cats). The growing season here is so short that I'd like to keep them alive if I can. Otherwise I'd have to start more from seed(and I don't have much room to do that)in a couple of months anyway just to get a dozen pods by the end of the season(I think I got about 8 usable pods from these two plants this season). Either way I'll be frettin' & fussin' for most of the winter.
The environment is working against me,too. It's so dry here right now that we have a humidifier and a water kettle going constantly and you still can't touch anything without getting zapped. But I'm sure the mites are loving it.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 5:15PM
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smokemaster was right when he said the only thing that is 100% effective is no pest strips, unfortunately using them in your living area is not a good idea.

best i have been able to do otherwise is alternating soap and neem.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 5:41PM
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Smokemaster has clearly been there/done that and his approach makes a lot of sense for any serious grower. But I'm only experimenting with 6 plants under a small grow-light set-up during winter, so if my plants get infested, no big loss, I'll trash them.

On a positive note, it's been more than 48 hours since I've found and killed any spider mites in this room, and I've been looking for them pretty intently in areas where they would show up. That might just mean that they have left this room to look for my plants in the next room, but I'd prefer to believe that they have died or gone dormant.

On the downside, I guess if they have found my pepper plants in the next room, it will likely take a few weeks before the mite population builds up enough for them to be obvious. If I don't have an obvious mite infestation by mid-January, I'll start to believe that I dodged a bullet.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 3:47AM
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Neem. Spray inside plants once a month if you see them or not.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 6:43AM
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Agreed. An ounce of prevention beats a pound of pain.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2011 at 12:45PM
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Once you have spider mites, you always have spider mites. I've never heard of anyone growing indoors that didn't get them sooner or later, usually sooner. I just take it for granted that they will show up. No worries though, they can be controlled.

Pure cold-pressed Neem Oil (Dynagro makes a good one)- 1 oz per gallon of water, with 2 tsp soap (I use Murphy's Oil Soap, because I have it handy). Put it in a big garden sprayer and spray every side of the leaves, once a week. This knocks some of the mites off, and disrupts the reproductive cycle of the rest. It won't kill them, and they will never go away completely, but it will reduce their numbers enough that they won't hurt a healthy plant. This helps control aphids, too.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   December 16, 2011 at 6:27PM
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Personally I think Neem Oil is the snake oil of pest control. I've tried it on thrips, aphids, mites and my neighbor. It just don't make a difference.

Except for my neighbor, insecticidal soap with a little Isopropyl alcohol added helped get and keep things under control.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2011 at 10:54PM
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Watch out with isoproyl alcohol.
If you use too much it kills your plant REAL fast.
I forget what percentage I tried (mixed with water)but within an hour leaves started falling off.
I think the plant can obsorb the stuff through its leaves.
ALSO at first the mites swimming in it looked dead but after a few min. they snapped out of it like the alcohol didn't faze them.Or at least not much.
One thing that I'm not sure of is whether the alcohol got sucked up by the roots or through the leaves.
Doesn't matter much,you can't spray the plant down without getting run off in the pot....

    Bookmark   December 18, 2011 at 12:13AM
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i tend to agree with ottawapepper on neem oil... it seems much less efective on living insects than many other things and the reproductive cycle of most bugs is so fast (such as mites 3-5 days) that you find yourself needing to spray every few days to make it effective in that fashion. i only use it in conjunction with soaps at this point.

no pest strips (if your plants are in an area where you can use them) kill mites 100%. i use them until plants start to produce flowers and then remove them from the area as i'm not real keen on eating fruit from around them.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2011 at 8:53AM
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I agree with everyone: MITES ARE HORRIBLE! And I have had no luck with Neem Oil. But I don't know if you guys have heard of Azamax? I would have to look it up, to be exact. But, I remember reading something like they isolated what worked in Neem Oil, and made it more powerful. It of course, worked for a little bit. But lately I have been worrying they are getting used to it. But, it would be something to check out. Especially in the primary stages of colonization. You have to get it at specialty stores or the internet. I have never seen it at local garden store or Home depot types.
I usually us that and Doctor Doom bug bombs. But I definitely agree the spider mites must get immune or something. They are freakn horrible little creatures!! Good Luck! -Camille

    Bookmark   January 2, 2012 at 7:56PM
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I think you guys have scared me enough that if I find mites on my plants my best option would be to burn the house down :)

But an update on my original situation -- a bad mite infestation on some winter squash stored in one room, which is next to my pepper growing area under lights in the next room. I asked how long mites can live without food because 10 days after I threw out the squash and anything else the mights could eat I was still finding healthy-looking mites in the squash storage room. It turns out that was the last day I found any mites crawling around. Whether that means they die after about 10 days, or just crawled away looking for greener pastures, I don't know. But the good news is that so far I don't see any indication that they found the pepper plants in the next room, and it has now been 23 days since I last found a live mite in the squash room. I'm hopeful, but I think it will be a few more weeks before I can say whether I truly dodged a bullet.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2012 at 12:22AM
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Good for you Don. Don: 1 Mites: 0

    Bookmark   January 3, 2012 at 1:12PM
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So far so good Don, I truly hope you dodged the mite bullet.

You may want to move a sacrificial plant (if you have one) into the area. If it's unscathed after a week or so you should be good to go.

Keep us posted.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2012 at 4:16PM
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Thanks. The good part is that the room where the squash were stored is a north-facing basement room so doesn't have good light and isn't used to grow plants. My worry was (is) that live mites would crawl from there into the next room down the hall and find my grow-light setup. If the mites have laid eggs in the room where the squash were stored and the eggs are waiting for a plant to show up that they can infest, the jokes on them!

    Bookmark   January 3, 2012 at 4:23PM
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Healthy plants are often the best defense. I had some mites and aphids on overwintering large pepper plants, which were obviously stressed due to lack of strong light. My healthy young plants under artificial lights have had no issues at all. When I finally gave up on overwintering mature pepper plants, as I didn't have enough light available for them to thrive, then sprayed everything with insecticidal soap, I have had no pest issues since.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2012 at 11:16AM
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It's now been 9.5 weeks since I threw out the squash that were infested with spider mites from the room next to the room where I have my peppers under growlights. And it's been 8 weeks since I last saw a live spider mite in the squash room. I looked over my pepper plants with a magnifying loupe today just to be sure, and I'm confident in saying that the mites never managed to infect my plants. Yay!

Getting back to my original question about how long spider mites can live without food... it's at least 10 days because that's how long I found crawling spider mites in the squash storage room after I had thrown out anything they could eat. If it's longer than that, my gut feeling is it's not too much longer, but I don't really have evidence to back up that gut feeling. So... at least 10 days.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 2:17AM
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That is some good information to have. But I hope I never have to really consider it personally.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 9:41AM
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Is Sevin dust effective vs spider mites?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 1:39PM
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Is Sevin dust effective vs spider mites?


Probably effective against humans too. Sorry, I just don't trust the big Chem/Pharma "safe" marketing claims.



    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 6:52PM
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OH I agree, it would probably kill you if you injest it...

But as pernicious as spider mites are, I'd hate to have to throw away a bunch of pepper plants if I end up having a problem...

Especially since I have a couple shaker bottles of the stuff that came with my house :P.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2012 at 9:25PM
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I have reasonable luck controlling the little fellas with dormant oil spray. The oil drowns them. Just be careful to mix the stuff up as per instructions because too strong a solution will nuke the plants.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2012 at 4:39PM
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