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.
Plants grown at high temperatures in dry, overcrowded glasshouses are more liable to damage and severe infestation. Regular syringing and spraying of plants with water and maintaining a high humidity reduce the risk, but will not, on its own control this mite.
Remove severely infested plants from glasshouses, especially 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 can be kept in check as these may act as hosts for the mite.
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 so cannot be used in conjunction with most pesticidal controls. The exceptions are those with very short persistence, which can be used with care up to a day before introduction of biological control predators. These include plant oils or extracts (organic e.g. Vitax Plant Guard Pest and Disease Control, Bug Clear Fruit and Veg) or fatty acids (organic e.g. Solabiol Bug Free, Doff Greenfly and Blackfly bug 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.
Predatory mite Phytoseiulus persimilis
- Phytoseiulus persimilis is the most commonly used biological control for red spider mite and is now widely used in preference to pesticides
- Phytoseiulus mites are about the same size as glasshouse red spider mite (0.5 mm), 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 less active than Phytoseiulus and their body shape is rectangular. Despite the 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 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 preventative 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 likely to survive winter in glasshouse than Phytoseiulus
Predatory midge (Feltiella acarisuga)
- Feltiella acarisuga is 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 likely 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
- 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
Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document)
Biological control suppliers (Adobe Acrobat pdf document)