Are your plants invaded by tiny, persistent, fluffy-looking creatures? Don’t brush it off thinking that the infestation would die off in a few days. Soil mites can live for years!
But soil mites are not all bad – besides looking unsightly. They can be beneficial to house plants in California and don’t cause much damage. But it is easy to confuse them with the more dangerous root aphid. Let’s look at soil mites, how to identify them, and prevention strategies.
Soil mites, also known as oribatid mites, are small invertebrates belonging to the Sarcoptiformes order.
Soil mites are soft-bodied, wingless arachnids that live on the topsoil of most plants. Soil mites have several subspecies and are all closely linked to spiders and ticks.
Their size makes it incredibly difficult to spot soil mites until it is too late. They eat decaying organic materials and microorganisms that live on them.
Their strong exoskeleton has earned them many nicknames, such as turtle mites. They might appear as small white and brown dots moving along the surface of soils.
These microscopic arachnids are incredibly tiny and measure just a few millimeters long. They are so small that a tiny sample of soil can contain 500 soil mites.
Soil mites have several subspecies and are all closely linked to spiders and ticks. Their size makes it incredibly difficult to spot soil mites until it is too late.
Like most arachnids, soil mites begin life as eggs. Larvae emerge from eggs and mature into nymphs. The nymphs do not have a tough exoskeleton and are vulnerable to predators.
Soil mites have an average life span of two years. Some soil mites have been known to live for over seven years in colder climates.
Some growers make an argument in defense of soil mites. This is because they do not directly cause damage to house plants.
They can play a role in soil health by breaking down organic residue. Soil mites benefit the decomposition process and consume microorganisms in the soil.
They also eat various soil-dwelling creatures and process them into fecal pellets. All these activities are beneficial to the soil’s fertility and structure.
They continue to benefit the soil after their death in the form of organic matter. Growers believe that you should only get rid of soil mites if their populations soar.
Regardless of which side you are on, it’s beneficial to learn how to kill them.
Soil mites are often confused with root aphids. The latter is known for burrowing deep into the soil to damage stems and roots. Soil mites, on the other hand, can nourish plants.
Getting rid of root aphids is essential for plant safety. The table below will summarize key differences in appearance between the two.
|Measuring at 0.5 to 1.5 mm
|Measuring at 40 to 70 mm
|Usually, appear in white and brown colors. Other colors include orange, yellow, green, and even red.
|Usually white and brown but can appear in dark and gray color. Their color serves as camouflage that makes it harder to detect.
|They are arthropods with six legs.
|They are a type of insect.
|They don’t have antennae.
|They have two short antennae.
|They have an unsegmented, oval-shaped body.
|They have a tear-drop-shaped body with a narrow midsection.
|No tail on the body.
|They have small cornicles at the end of their abdomen. This makes it easy to distinguish them from soil mites.
|You won’t notice them unless you closely examine the plant.
|They leave honeydew as they feed on the plant.
|Live on topsoil.
|Can live in all areas of the soil, including the topsoil.
|It does not harm the plant and may be considered beneficial to the compost.
|Will kill the plant if given a chance.
Removing soil mites is only recommended if their population grows out of control. Soil mites can become a problem if they lure in predator insects.
It is worth noting that soil mites carry parasites, bacteria, and tapeworm eggs. This can be a problem if you or a pet accidentally swallow dirt.
It is recommended to wear gloves in the garden and always wash your hands after. The bugs themselves are not harmful to humans at all.
If their population is allowed to soar, they will make the plant look unsightly. This section will explore the different ways of getting rid of soil mites.
Replacing the plant only becomes necessary if the bugs are all over the soil. Another alternative is to pass the old dirt through a filter to clear organic matter.
This removes a food source for the bugs and eventually kills them. In any case, replacing the soil is a fool-proof strategy in cases of advanced infestations.
Here’s how to do it:
- Carefully remove the house plant from the pot.
- Pass the soil through a sifter to clear food sources such as organic matter.
- Repot the plant in its original container with clean soil.
- Don’t forget to cover the plant’s roots with the soil.
- Thoroughly water the plant after you have finished repotting it.
- Rinse the plant’s roots under a gentle stream of water.
- In case you decide to repot the plant, discard all of the old soil. It may still have remnants of bugs that could spread to your newly repotted plant.
- In case you decide to repot the plant, use fresh, clean soil.
A straightforward method of dealing with soil mites is to use pesticides. Make sure to use pesticides that are rated for indoor use.
Pesticides with harsher chemicals will damage the plant. For best results, choose a pesticide that contains pyrethrins. Mix the pesticide with water and gently mist the plant with it.
If you’re not fond of treating your plants with insecticides, you could use organic alternatives. A good solution is to use neem oil.
Oil is a natural deterrent against pesticides. It is derived from neem tree seeds and can clear out many pests.
Here are the ingredients you will need:
- One tablespoon of neem oil
- Some castile soap
- 1 liter of water
- A container to mix all the ingredients
Toss the ingredients into the container and thoroughly mix them. Soak the soil with the newly prepared mixture.
Use this mixture weekly instead of regular water until the pests are cleared off. Neem oil is also great at eliminating various bugs such as flying termites.
Another popular alternative is to use a cinnamon mixture to kill soil mites. This method effectively removes most insects from the soil without harming the plant.
A benefit of using cinnamon is the pleasant aroma that lingers around. Here’s how to prepare the cinnamon mixture:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of cinnamon with 4 cups of water.
- Toss the mixture into a spray bottle.
- Shake the spray bottle until the cinnamon dissolves in the water.
Now spray the topsoil and the base of the plant with the mixture. Use the mixture as many times as possible until the pests die.
You can also use cinnamon essential oil in place of cinnamon powder. The solution works the same.
Soil mites have a powerful sense of smell and are averse to strong odors. This is where coffee grounds come in.
Coffee grounds are extremely potent, especially when they are burned. Moreover, you don’t have to prepare a mixture to spray your plants with.
Place the coffee grounds near to plants and burn them. The strong odors will drive the pests away.
You can also make a DIY coffee candle to keep the odor around for weeks. You will need four ingredients:
- Coffee grounds
- A container of your choice
Place the scented coffee candle near your plants and watch the bugs run away. The intoxicating smell of coffee candles will also make your room smell amazing.
When in doubt, use a hydrogen peroxide mixture. In high doses, hydrogen peroxide is extremely harmful to both pests and plants.
Make sure to use the mixture in moderation. Make sure to dilute the hydrogen peroxide in water before using it.
Hydrogen peroxide also encourages healthy root growth because of its oxygen molecule. It helps plants absorb nutrients from the soil and result in vigorous growth.
All the while, it kills off unwanted bacteria and pests that may be lurking around.
Here’s how you can prepare the hydrogen peroxide mixture:
- Mix 1 tablespoon of 3% hydrogen peroxide with 1 cup of water
- Carefully mix the solution until the hydrogen peroxide gets diluted
- Toss the mixture into a spray bottle
- Mist your plant with the newly prepared mixture
You can prepare the solution in large batches for later use. Just make sure to store keep it away from sunlight to maintain its potency.
Diatomaceous Earth is a pesticide that can kill pests without harming the plant. It is derived from the remains of tiny organisms known as diatoms.
The particulate size of Diatomaceous Earth (DE) ranges from 3µm to 100µm. Make sure to buy food-grade DE because it is not calcined.
Food grade DE is composed of amorphousca and can be safely used with houseplants. Sprinkle a small amount of diatomaceous earth on the topsoil.
The particulate matter has sharp tooth-like fangs that are highly abrasive to fragile mites. It cuts into the soil mites as they go about their business.
The infestation will begin to decrease after a few days. Soil mites won’t be able to hatch their eggs and the population will die.
The entire process will take anywhere from four weeks to two months. You can remove the particulate matter once the pest infestation has been taken care of.
Garlic is an organic solution that does not pose a severe risk to plants. It works by releasing a pungent odor that makes houseplants undesirable to soil mites.
Although it doesn’t outright kill the bugs, it makes it challenging to lay eggs. Here’s how you can prepare garlic spray:
- Crush six cloves of garlic
- Mix the garlic into 1 gallon of water
- Toss the mixture into a spray bottle
This will provide you with a one-week supply of garlic spray.
You can use two bulbs of garlic into 100ml water for a more potent mixture. You can also add hot pepper and liquid soap for a more robust solution.
Liquid soap is especially effective against larvae and eggs by smothering them.
Pro tip: Strain the garlic mixture before you spray it. This will filter out garlic pieces that could clog the spray bottle.
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Soil mites will eventually try to return after you have removed them.
There are a few things you can do to keep them at bay. Start by quarantining any plants that have soil mite infestation. Keep them isolated from other plants.
Do this for all new house plants you get from nurseries. There’s no telling what may be lurking inside the soil.
You should regularly clean the soil. Clear away any decaying organic material that soil mites could feed upon.
Use natural insecticides such as cinnamon spray to keep the soil clean.
You don’t always have to get rid of soil mites. They can be beneficial to your house plants by making them healthier. They are capable of carrying bacteria and look unsightly in large numbers. In this case, you might want to keep them at bay. Let us know if you like keeping soil mites or a zero-tolerance policy.
You may like the following houseplant articles:
- Why is My House Plant’s Soil Growing Mushrooms?
- Leaf Spot Disease on Houseplants
- Why Your House Plant is Sticky
- How to Get Rid of White Worms in House Plants
- What to do if a House Plant Gets Frozen?
- How to Kill Fruit Flys in House Plant
Hi! I’m Sophia, and I love plants – especially an expert in growing house plants. I stay in Chicago, United States of America, and through my blog and social media platforms, provide tips and tricks on how to grow healthy, vibrant plants indoors. Check out more here.