Your garden is full of mites!
While you may think this is a good reason to whip out the pesticide and go to work, think again.
When it comes to mites, you can’t tell the players without a program.
There are bad mites, and there are good mites.
In this article, we discuss predatory mites and their important role as the gardener’s ally. Read on to learn more.
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How Can You Tell The Good Mites From The Bad Mites?
All are wingless, have one-part bodies, and do not have antennae.
With the help of a magnifying glass, you will recognize predatory mites because they are usually solid colored, shiny, and they have a pear-shaped body.
Additionally, they move around quickly, devouring spider mites and other tiny pests.
Mites are members of the arachnid family, so they are very like spiders and ticks.
While most garden mites live by sucking the juices out of your plants, predatory mites thrive on cannibalism.
They make short work of their plant-eating cousins (e.g., spider mites, rust mites, bulb mites, and thrips) because they are longer-legged and faster.
Predatory mites are so good at gobbling up other mites and some tiny pest insects, and they are available to purchase from garden supply stores and websites.
Furthermore, they are often used in large scale agricultural operations as natural pest control.
TIP: If you find a multitude of mites on the undersides of your plant leaves, examine them closely through a magnifying glass.
Blow on them gently.
The ones scurrying around are predatory mites. The others are prey!
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Predatory Mites Control Pests At All Life Stages
In addition to feeding on adult pest mites, predatory mites also consume mite eggs and nymphs.
Furthermore, they eat the eggs and immature stages of pests such as scale insects and whiteflies.
There are several different kinds of predatory mites.
Each variety has a preference for food sources.
Some of them eat the honeydew left by various plant pests.
If they run out of pests to eat, some predatory mites will also eat pollen and nectar.
Some types will resort to sucking plant sap if there is nothing else to eat.
Most of the time, they simply disperse when the prey has been completely eradicated, so reversion to sap-sucking is not usually a problem.
How Can You Identify Predatory Mites At Each Life Stage?
Predatory mites go through the same life stages as their pest cousins.
The eggs of predatory mites are a translucent white color.
They are very small and elongated, and you will find them laid individually along the veins on the undersides of leaves.
This is quite different from the eggs of pest mites, which are spherical, opaque, and come in several colors.
Predatory mite larvae are shiny, translucent, and extremely tiny.
They are always either clear white, or clear tan.
At this stage, they have only six legs.
When they become nymphs, they are a little bigger and have eight legs but otherwise look like larvae.
Nymphs are not quite as large as adults.
Adult predatory mites are a little bigger than pest mites.
They start as shiny, translucent white, but they transition to shades of tan, orange, red, or even green after they have eaten.
Adults are pear-shaped, wingless, and eight-legged.
How Do You Use Predatory Mites In The Garden?
Begin by determining what sort of pests you are dealing with.
Examine your plants carefully with the aid of a magnifying glass to choose the right sort of predatory mite to attack your enemies.
You are likely to find you already have predatory mites in place, in which case you’ll need to take steps to encourage them.
You are most likely to find you have Phytoseiidae on board already because they are very common predatory mites.
They can overwinter in trees, so they can establish a stable presence in gardens not drenched in pesticides.
If your pests are two-spotted mites or spider mites, you will want to introduce Western mites.
If your pests are European Red Mites, you will want to counter them with Yellow (Stigmaeidae) Mites.
Where Can You Get Predatory Mites?
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If you find you already have predatory mites in your yard or garden, “seed” them into a new location to get them exactly where you need them.
Say you have a solid presence of Phytoseiidae in a nearby tree, but you want them in your vegetable garden.
Just prune the tree a bit and place the limbs close to the plants needing a little help.
The predatory mites will hop off of their own accord and get to work.
TIP: Look for predatory mites around your yard and garden in the springtime.
This is the active time of year for mites of all sorts.
If you aren’t able to locate helpful mites in your yard, purchase them at your local garden center, through garden catalogs or online.
How Do You Encourage Predatory Mites To Live In Your Garden?
Always choose the least toxic method of pest control.
Broad-spectrum pesticides will kill off predatory mites, as well as other beneficial garden fauna.
If you must treat for pests, use horticultural oil, and apply it before plants bloom to avoid negatively impacting your garden helpers.
When you apply horticultural oil early in the growing season, suppress pest mites without impacting Phytoseiid mites, which will still be in the trees where they have overwintered.
Be sure to keep some areas of your yard and garden completely natural with no application of horticultural oils, pesticides, or other chemicals.
When you do this, you will have a good source for predatory mites when you need them.
Simply prune the vegetation of these natural areas and “seed” the mites into your garden.