Glasshouse red spider mite

Glasshouse red spider mite is a common sap-feeding mite that can cause mottled leaves and early leaf loss on a wide range of greenhouse and garden plants. It is also known as two-spotted spider mite.

Glasshouse red spider mites on webbing.

Quick facts

Common name Glasshouse red spider mite or two-spotted spider mite
Scientific name Tetranychus urticae
Plants affected Many greenhouse and garden plants, and houseplants
Main symptoms Mottled foliage and early leaf fall
Most active March to October

What is glasshouse red spider mite?

Glasshouse red spider mite can be one of the most troublesome problems of greenhouse plants and houseplants. It can also attack garden plants during summer. It is a sap-sucking mite that attacks the foliage of plants, causing a mottled appearance, and in severe cases, leaf loss and plant death.

It attacks a wide range of houseplants and greenhouse plants, both ornamentals and edibles, including: vines, peach, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, Fuchsia, Pelargonium, poinsettias, orchids and Impatiens. The host range of this mite is so wide that few plants are completely immune.

Glasshouse red spider mite thrives in warm, dry conditions, and is usually only a problem from March to October, but damage can occur at other times in a heated greenhouse. It can also cause problems outdoors in summer, especially in hot, dry weather.

Symptoms

You may see the following symptoms:

  • On leaves: Plants infested with glasshouse red spider mite show a fine pale mottling on the upper leaf surface. The underside of the leaves have many tiny yellowish green mites and white cast skins and egg shells. These are more easily seen with the aid of a x10 hand lens
  • On plants: In heavy infestations, you may see fine silk webbing on the plants, and the leaves lose most of their green colour and dry up or fall off. Heavily infested plants are severely weakened and may die

    Plants infested with glasshouse red spider mite show a pale mottling and may dry up and fall off.

    Control

    Glasshouse red spider mite can be difficult to control as it breeds rapidly in warm conditions and some strains of the mite are resistant to some pesticides. Biological control is a viable alternative to using pesticides, it can give good control and as it avoids resistance problems and the risk of spray damage to plants.

    Non-chemical control

    Cultural
    Remove severely infested plants from glasshouses in late summer before lower temperatures and shorter days induce the females to seek sheltered places where they will remain dormant for the winter period.  To reduce overwintering mites to a minimum, clear out plant debris, old canes, stakes and plant-ties before the spring. Empty glasshouses can be cleaned thoroughly with a glasshouse disinfectant. Weeds in and around the glasshouse should be kept down as these can act as hosts for the mite. Plants grown at high temperatures in dry, overcrowded glasshouses are more liable to severe infestation. Regular syringing and spraying of plants with water and maintaining a high humidity reduce the danger of severe attacks, but will not, on its own control this pest.

    Biological
    There are several biological controls available for glasshouse red spider mite, which are now widely used in preference to pesticides. These include a predatory mites Phytoseiulus persimilis and Amblyseius, a predatory midge (Feltiella acrarsuga) and a rove beetle, Atheta coriaria. These biological controls are available via mail order - download a list of biological control suppliers

    Biological control and pesticides
    All the biological controls are susceptible to pesticides and cannot be used in conjunction with most chemical controls. The exceptions are those with very short persistence, which can be used with care up to a day before introduction of predators. These include plant oils or extracts (organic e.g. Vitax Organic Pest and Disease Control, BugClear for Fruit & Veg Gun!) or fatty acids (organic e.g. Bayer Bug Free, Doff Greenfly and Blackfly Killer) or a blend of surfactants and nutrients (e.g. SB Plant Invigorator, Neudorff Plant Invigorator, ecofective Plant Defender ), which can be used to keep mite numbers in check before it is time to introduce biological control.

    Phytoseiulus persimilis

    • Phytoseiulus persimilis is the most commonly used biological control for red spider mite and originaltes from Chile, is now widely used in preference to pesticides.
    • Phytoseiulus mites is about the same size as glasshouse red spider mite (0.5 mm), but they can be distinguished if examined with a hand lens
    • Phytoseiulus mites have orange-red pear-shaped bodies, are more active than the red spider mite, and can often be seen tapping the leaf surface with their front legs in search of prey
    • Glasshouse red spider mites are more lethargic than Phytoseiulus and their body shape is rectangular. Despite its common name, red spider mites are usually yellowish-green with two dark patches. They may be entirely dark, or in the autumn they may become reddish-orange
    • Phytoseiulus feed on all life stages of glasshouse red spider mite
    • Phytoseiulus is dispatched as nymphs and adults which should be released in sheltered positions on infested plants
    • Phytoseiulus does not control fruit tree red spider mite on apple and plum, but can be successful against glasshouse red spider mite on outdoor plants in the summer

    Amblyseius mites

    • Amblyseius californicus is the most commonly supplied Amblyseius species for red spider mite control
    • Amblyseius is not as an efficient predator of glasshouse red spider mite as Phytoseiulus and is less likely to control heavy infestations but can be used as a preventatative out of season control
    • Amblyseius is about the same size as glasshouse red spider mite (0.5 mm), but they can be distinguished if examined with a hand lens, they are more elongate than red spider mite variable in colour but always lack two black spots
    • Unlike Phytoseiulus, Amblyseius a predator of various species of spider mite, and can also feed and reproduce on other prey and even pollen
    • Amblyseius can survive when glasshouse red spider mite activity is low and is more likley to survive winter in glasshouse than Phytoseiulus

    Predatory midge (Feltiella acarisuga)

    • Feltiella acarisuga is a native to the UK. The adults are a small black fly, the larvae (maggots) are predatory and will eat red spider mite as well as other mites and insects on plants
    • Feltiella acarisuga can be used in spring before heavy red spider mite infestations develop, but should only be introduced if it is suspected that red spider mite has overwintered
    • Feltiella acarisuga is less likley to work in hot dry conditions during the summer

    Atheta (sometimes called Dalotia) coriaria

    • Atheta coriaria is a 3-4mm long dark brown rove beetle, like all rove beetles it is a predatory insect as an adult and larvae
    • Atheta coriaria will feed on a wide range of invertebrate problems including fungus gnats, thrips and is sometimes sold for control of red spider mite

    Chemical control

    • Edible plants can be sprayed with plant oils, plant extracts or fatty acids. These pesticides may require frequent applications to control the mite
    • The systemic neonicotinoid pesticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is available for use on ornamental plants and some listed edible plants. Check the label for details and ensure that instructions are followed regarding maximum number of applications and harvest interval
    • Plants in flower should not be sprayed due to the danger to pollinating insects
    • Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener 

    Downloads

    Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document)

    Biological control suppliers (Adobe Acrobat pdf document)

    Biology

    Despite their common name, during the spring and summer glasshouse red spider mites are yellowish-green with a pair of darker markings. Because of this, they are sometimes called the glasshouse two-spotted spider mite. They only become orange-red during the autumn and winter resting period. The mites are small, up to 1mm (less than 1/16in) long, and are just visible to the naked eye, when present in large numbers. They are usually found on the lower leaf surface, along with their spherical eggs.

    Orange-red, mature female mites spend the winter months resting in cracks and crevices for example in brick walls, glasshouse frames, stakes, canes, soil and plant debris. From late March onwards they leave their resting places and start feeding and laying eggs.

    The length of the life cycle depends on the temperature, but breeding can be continuous from March to October. At 10°C (50°F) the life cycle takes about 55 days, but this is reduced with increasing temperatures and at 21°C (70°F) development is completed in 12 days. Both immature and adult mites pierce plant tissues with their mouthparts and feed on cell contents. Severe damage can quickly develop in warm dry conditions which favours rapid reproduction by the mites.

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    • Julia99gf avatar

      By Julia99gf on 20/05/2014

      Hi I have a hydrangea in my garden which has red spider mite (pretty confident). Many of the leaves are brown, disintegrating and there are very small red bugs on the leaf underside as well as webs. I have red the advice on glasshouse red spider mite but still have the following questions: 1) if the female spiders (the red ones) are already active is it too late to save the plant (which looks pretty bad at the moment)? I suspect it may not flower as the flower buds look damaged and brown too. 2) Should I just get rid of it to stop the mite spreading to the cosmos and salvia that are next to it (only put them in recently)? 3) If I can save it and should treat it, I am not keen to use chemicals. The RHS website recommends "plant oils or extracts (e.g. Vitax Organic 2 in 1 Pest and Disease Control, Bug Clear for Fruit & Veg) or fatty acids (e.g. Bayer Organic Pest Free, Doff Greenfly and Blackfly Killer, Bayer Natria Bug Control) or urea/mineral lattice (SB Plant Invigorator), which can be used to keep mite numbers down before it is time to introduce the predator." Any advice on where to get these//what is best/what to do with them/if I have to introduce a predator too?!?! Thank you. I am a new but keen gardener and have never treated pests on plants before.


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