Compost bins provide a great natural way to fertilize your plants, but they may also harbor a secret that could be a nuisance to you and your beautiful garden—the soil mites. Soil mites are everywhere, but you won’t notice them unless you lie down on the ground with a magnifying glass. So, should you get out the bug spray? Read on to find out!
Photo Credit Mites belong to the arachnid taxon Acari and are microscopic relatives of spiders and scorpions.
Decomposers like compost, and that’s why soil mites are such big fans of the stuff. They’ll find their way into any heap of dead plants or animals no matter what you do. So, if you see white spots moving around on your compost and the corners of your plant vessels, you have soil mites. But what exactly are soil mites, and should you get rid of them?
Smaller than a millimeter in length, soil mites are among the tiniest arthropods on earth. Since they avoid the plant’s healthy tissue in favor of the compost, soil mites pose no threat to plant life. In fact, their presence is usually a favorable omen, indicating excellent soil health. However, an excess of them might be distracting.
I mean, seeing tiny white or brown creatures scurrying over the ground isn’t exactly a beautiful sight. Is it? So, read on, and we will tell you everything you need to know about these beneficial but nuisance garden and potted-plant soil dwellers.
What Are Soil Mites?
Photo Credit Soil mites are nature’s recyclers, feasting on organic materials and releasing them back into the soil as nutrients.
Soil mites are microscopic arthropods related to spiders and other invertebrates with exoskeletons. There are around 20,000 different species of soil mites belonging to hundreds of different genera that are now recognized, with many more waiting to be found.
One to two millimeters in diameter, the soil mites are brown or white and are roughly the same size as the tip of a pen or the full stop that comes where this line ends. Therefore, you are going to need a magnifying glass in order to see a soil mite properly.
And, what do they eat? Even though some of them prey, most are beneficial arthropods that perform the vital duty of assisting in the decomposition of organic materials such as algae, leaf litter, fungi, and other naturally occurring components in the soil.
They have been present on earth in some form or another, at least since the Devonian period, which occurred approximately 400 million years ago. Moreover, they can survive in more environments than pretty much everything else except nematodes.
But their lives are complicated and obscured.
They are commonly found on the surface of the compost and potting soil. You can leave them alone if you choose, as they will find another home whenever they run out of food.
They are also occasionally referred to as “Turtle Mites” due to their extremely durable, shell-like exteriors. In addition, despite their small size, they have a lengthy lifespan and can survive for up to 7 years. However, most of them only live for about three to four years.
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Types Of Soil Mites
Photo Credit Oribatida, Mesostigmata, and Prostigmata are the three major families of soil mites.
It turns out that there are a plethora of different kinds of soil mites. However, to say that there are “many” soil mites would be an understatement, given that between 18,000 and 20,000 different species of soil mites have been discovered in this century alone.
Soil mites are maybe the most numerous creatures in the soil in some cases. To our relief, however, we can categorize them into the following broad categories:
Astigmatids are parasitic arthropods that feed on the bodies of other animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates. They are commonly found in agricultural soils that have a high nitrogen content, an abundance of organic matter, and ample moisture. These mites are typically white, have very soft bodies, and are incredibly tiny, only 0.2 to 0.5 mm in size.
These mites belong to a suborder of mites, and each member of the suborder feeds in a unique manner. For example, some feed on carrion, others are predators or scavengers, while others consume fungi, algae, and other decomposing plant matter.
They move very quickly and have a fast reproduction rate when the conditions are favorable. Moreover, this group also contains a large number of pest mites, such as velvet mites, spider mites, and the notorious pre-adult mites, chiggers.
These mites are carnivorous and consume other insects of a similar size. Some members of Mesostigmata are even put to use as biological controllers for insect pests that plague gardens. They are agile and effective hunters, and their diet consists of the eggs and nematodes of smaller arthropods as well as the arthropods themselves.
So, if you are in a region that is known to have potentially hazardous nematodes, then there is a good chance that you will also find Mesostigmata soil mites.
The majority of soil mites that are found in indoor environments are Oribatids, which feed on small organic matter (bark, etc.), fungi, algae, and rotten roots.
Their rate of reproduction is relatively modest, so populations take a long time to build. However, they have a very lengthy lifespan. Each individual oribatid mite has the potential to live for as long as seven years if the conditions are just right.
On average, however, an oribatid mite lives for three or four years. They are also known as turtle mites due to the form of their bodies and box mites because of the protective flaps that are located on their bodies and have the ability to close tightly.
The capacity of many of these mites to tuck their legs inside their protective armor, known as ptychoidy, is another of their many abilities. Because of this, they are protected from the majority of predators, with the exception of being eaten whole.
They are particularly interested in decomposing organic debris, such as leaf litter, bark, grass clippings, dead plant parts, dead insects, and nematodes.
Soil Mites | Identification & Symptoms
Photo Credit Due to their diminutive size, soil mites are notoriously difficult for the typical person to identify.
Soil mites are really, REALLY tiny. So, if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of them at all, all you will see are very small dots scurrying across the soil. Since soil mites are so tiny, distinguishing between different types can be very difficult.
Also, in the event that your plants are infested, you won’t notice any wilts, spots, holes, webs, or yellowing on them, which makes identifying them even more challenging.
Furthermore, soil mites spend their entire lives in the soil; they never go onto the plant itself, so you won’t find them hiding among the leaves like you would other kinds of bugs.
However, in rare instances, when the population has had sufficient time to expand to a sizable number, you might be able to detect very tiny brown or white specks moving on the surface of the plants and the soil surrounding your plants.
Nevertheless, if you aren’t entirely content with only searching its surface, make sure to carefully remove the plant from the pot and inspect the soil around its roots.
However, take care not to disturb the root system too much or rip dirt away from the plants since this can lead to “transplant shock” and even the plant’s death.
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Are Soil Mites Harmful?
Photo Credit Soil mites, for the most part, do not cause any harm to plants and remain confined to the soil.
The presence of tiny bugs in fertile soil contributes to the development and upkeep of a thriving ecosystem that is beneficial to both plants and animals.
And soil mites are an essential component of the food web and mesofauna of the soil. They also play a significant part in the breakdown of organic matter, the cycle of nutrients, the dissemination of beneficial bacteria and spores, and the improvement of soil fertility.
Many gardening websites, however, will frequently feature clickbait articles that describe soil mites as “fast-moving white bugs,” even though this is not an accurate description.
These websites will also provide solutions to rid your soil of mites completely. However, getting rid of mites in your soil is a poor idea that you should never follow.
However, soil mites are not all good. They have been known to contain and transmit bacteria as well as parasites such as tapeworms. This is something that can, in extremely unusual circumstances, be passed on to either humans or animals.
You certainly aren’t going to put those mites in your mouth, are you? You might, but only if you don’t wash your hands before lunch and don’t use gloves.
Nevertheless, others still believe that soil mites are unpleasant, particularly if the number of mites has grown to the point that they can be observed creeping. So, should you choose to get rid of them, it is pretty easy, and that is what the next part of the article is focused on.
Susceptible Plants & Parts
Photo Credit Soil mites can affect any plant, including those that thrive in wet conditions.
Since soil mites are most successful in dry environments, arid-dwelling plants such as cacti and succulents are more likely to be susceptible to an attack due to the drier climates, which can support a significant infestation. However, even plants that require wet soil might fall prey to soil mites, and these pests are capable of infesting every species.
Therefore, if you discover itty-bitty white insects scurrying over the leaves of your houseplant, you might be dealing with an infestation of soil mites. However, the only place where soil mites will be found is along and beneath the compost line.
How To Eliminate Soil Mites?
Photo Credit To get rid of soil mites, repot your plant in fresh soil and use a pesticide spray.
Doing nothing at all is the most effective course of action to follow when dealing with a soil mite infestation. It has been observed that these arthropods will leave the area once they have exhausted all possible food sources. So, they will eventually leave even if you do nothing more than let them be.
If, however, you’re the type of person who doesn’t like to sit around and wait for things to happen, there are actions you can take to move closer to your goal.
Check The Soil
Eliminating the infested soil and replacing it with new soil is the quickest and easiest method available for eradicating soil mites. Therefore, take the afflicted plant from its container with care and gently shake the soil off of it. Be certain, however, that you have mites.
They are found in the uppermost layers, so remove roughly a teaspoon’s worth and scatter it. Next, look for brown or white moving specks using a magnifying glass. In addition, the plant must be hydrated first before you can move on to the next stage of sifting through the soil. The plant may suffer damage if you touch the dry roots with your fingers.
Nevertheless, as soon as you are certain of their presence, take out the entire plant and scrape off all of the soil from the pot. When removing the plants from the container, be careful not to damage the roots by exerting too much force, and make sure to handle the plants with care. They are readily damaged and could result in the death of your plant.
If you are short on time, another option is to simply remove the few inches of soil that are located on the surface. Since mites are known to remain on the topsoil, there is no requirement to dig any further. You may either put this old dirt in the compost, where the organisms will be extremely pleased, or you can put it directly in your garden.
Wash The Pot
Conduct a thorough inspection of the pot and the plant before repotting it in its old pot. Even the nooks and crannies on the pot’s interior can become infested with soil mites, potentially restarting the infestation. So, thoroughly wash the container with hot water and liquid soap to eradicate any lingering residents. You might even use a fresh pot if you like.
Repot The Plant
Before you repot your houseplant, give its roots a light rinsing to eliminate any soil that may be stuck to them. You can utilize the old dirt to refill the pot, but new, sterile soil is preferable.
However, if you do not want fresh soil, you can simply sift through the potting medium you already have, eliminating any plant waste and debris.
When the plant has been replanted in its container, you shouldn’t touch the roots of the plant again unless the symptoms continue to get worse. In addition, sprinkle some compost over the top in order to get things moving again.
Spray The Soil & Plant
The last thing you need to do is spray the ground and the plants. This acts as a technique of last assurance to get rid of any mites that we could have missed, and it also prevents a recurrence!
You have the option of using organic sprays that you make yourself or using chemical insecticides that contain pyrethrins. Below are some suggestions!
Pesticide Sprays For Soil Mites
Photo Credit When spraying for soil mites, always follow the manufacturer’s recommended dosages.
Here are some effective pesticides that you can use against soil mites:
Photo Credit You can use diatomaceous earth around infected plants to get rid of soil mites.
Every indoor gardener needs to have diatomaceous earth as part of their arsenal of environmentally friendly tools, materials, and products. If you have never heard of diatomaceous earth before, then you are losing out on an all-natural and risk-free method of getting rid of unpleasant garden pests such as soil mites.
Diatomaceous earth is the petrified remains of diatoms, which are small creatures. These remnants can be found at the bottom of rivers, streams, and ocean floors.
However, you must make sure to use diatomaceous earth that is safe for consumption and won’t hurt humans or animals. When touched by human hands, diatomaceous earth seems like baby powder; nevertheless, the tiny granules of the substance really have jagged edges that are highly harmful to insects. The abrasive particles puncture the body of the insects, which ultimately leads to their death from dehydration.
Different uses call for different methods of applying diatomaceous earth. Therefore, when using diatomaceous earth in or around your house or garden, the following application methods are advised for your consideration.
If you are in a garden, spread a fine layer of the substance over the soil in the region immediately surrounding the plants that are being impacted. Be sure only to use it while the weather is dry, as damp DE is ineffective against insects.
However, a suitable applicator or duster should be used within the home. Repeat the process every few weeks or until the insect problem is resolved, whichever comes first.
Photo Credit One major benefit of insecticidal soaps over pesticides is that they don’t leave behind any unwanted residue.
Horticultural Soap, often known as Insecticidal Soap, is a well-known organic pesticide that can be purchased in gardening stores. You may even make your own insecticidal soap at home. Nevertheless, buying one is almost always the preferable choice.
However, in order to make your own insecticidal soap, you will need three components: oil derived from a vegetable, tree, or nut; dishwashing liquid that does not include any fragrance; and clean water. Insecticidal soaps kill through suffocation.
They remove the insect’s protective waxes, leaving it dehydrated, and they appear to disturb the insect’s cellular membranes. Also, since it is not a systemic pesticide that is absorbed into the plant, it will only be effective against insects when it comes into direct contact with them. However, spraying it onto fruits and vegetables is perfectly safe as it is completely eco-friendly.
But keep in mind that spraying insecticidal soap on your plants on days when the temperature is high and the sun is shining might put your plants under stress and cause leaf burn. Instead, spray first thing in the morning on days with cloud cover. If used correctly, insecticidal soap will not be harmful to pets, birds, or other wildlife in any way.
Having said that, there is a remote possibility that it could be toxic to fish; consequently, treating aquatic plants or plants located in close proximity to fish ponds is not recommended.
Nevertheless, all you need to do is combine a gallon of distilled water with 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2.5 tablespoons of pure liquid soap. If you follow these steps, you will now have a full gallon of soap to use in your yard or on your houseplants.
Neem oil is highly effective against soil mites and other pests that plague indoor plants.
Neem oil, which comes from the Azadirachta indica tree, is a safe and effective natural pesticide. It’s non-toxic to plants yet will drive away pests effectively.
It suffocates them by attaching to their exoskeletons. In addition, if it is regularly sprayed on a plant, it will cause any hungry insects that eat the plant to starve to death gradually and will also disrupt the maturation and reproductive cycles of the insects.
An additional perk is that spraying plants with the oil will give them a natural-looking leaf shine. The oil is taken from neem tree seeds through a pressing process, supplying us with strong, natural compounds that are great for safely removing plant pests and disease.
The oil of the neem tree is a very concentrated liquid. Therefore, before applying it to your plants, you will need to combine it and make sure that it has been appropriately prepared.
The most common recipe for neem oil solutions includes half a teaspoon of 100% neem oil, 16 ounces of warm water, and a few drops of Dawn dish soap in a spray bottle.
Photo Credit Hydrogen peroxide is a less harmful alternative to pesticides and fungicides.
The use of hydrogen peroxide as a treatment for soil-borne pests is quite effective. There is no risk to your plants, and it is effective against adults, juveniles, and eggs.
This non-toxic pesticide is not only better for the environment, but it also inhibits the growth of plant pathogens and provides a beneficial increase in oxygen levels for the plants.
If you want the best results, you should repeat this treatment a total of two more times over the course of a few weeks. However, you should not include hydrogen peroxide as part of your usual watering regimen because excessive use can be harmful to plants.
Photo Credit Cinnamon is not an alternative insecticide but an inexpensive repellent for soil mites.
Although cinnamon’s primary effect on pests is as a repellent, it can also be used to kill bugs and stop them from laying eggs when consumed in large enough quantities.
It has been demonstrated that cinnamon is more effective than many of the commercial products that are already on the market. When sprinkled on a garden bed, the cinnamon powder will prevent soil mites from appearing. This strategy is highly effective since the aromatic powder can disrupt the mites’ reproductive cycle.
You can create your own cinnamon solution too. Simply add four tablespoons to a half gallon of water and mix well. After that, give it a good vigorous shake and then set it alone for a few hours. After that, pour the liquid through a strainer or a coffee filter to remove any solids. Finally, transfer any liquid that is still left over into a spray bottle.
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If you grow plants in containers, you may notice that the soil contains soil mites at some point. These brown and white beetles are natural decomposers, making them beneficial for plants grown outside but not so fantastic for people. They are known to transmit bacteria that can cause infections; thus, it is recommended that you get rid of them as soon as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do I get rid of soil mites?
Spraying a solution of dish soap and starch on the soil is one natural method for eradicating mites. Just mix three drops of dishwashing detergent and three to four teaspoons of starch with five cups of water. After that, apply the mixture by sprinkling it onto the ground.
Are soil mites beneficial?
Soil mites, to put it briefly, are beneficial arthropods that undertake the crucial role of aiding in the decomposition of organic materials. As a result, you shouldn’t be concerned about removing them from the site. In fact, they usually leave on their own when there is no more organic matter in the soil for them to consume.
What do mites look like in soil?
These tiny critters are approximately the size of a pinpoint, making it extremely simple to miss them. However, if the infestation is on a large scale, they might look like tiny white dots moving along the surface of the soil or a plant container as they move.
Are white soil mites harmful to humans?
Although soil mites are not hostile and do not attack or bite people or animals, it is known that they transmit several potentially hazardous infections and parasites like tapeworms. So, there is no need to let them move freely in your home.
Why do I keep getting soil mites?
Compost carried in from the outdoors that is polluted can introduce soil mites into the house, but once inside, the mites will only infest one particular container.
Common places where you might find them include compost piles that don’t dry out and areas of the home that get little to no natural light.
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