Last Updated on January 31, 2023 by Tony Manhart
Spider mites are, for want of a better word, a curse. If you have spider mites on a cat palm there are a few ways to control them, and the best way is to make your plant healthy enough to fight them. Let us take a look at how we achieve this.
What Are Spider Mites?
Spider mites are part of a big family of irritating but necessary creatures in the Tetranychidae family. There are about 1200 or so of these critters known to science and many of these are of concern from the perspective of the damage they do in agriculture.
When we refer to spider mites in the gardening sense, we refer to a handful of species with a pretty distinctive growth cycle. They reproduce and live under the leaves of plants and spin little fluffy webs of silk to protect themselves from predators and moisture. Spider mites thrive in dry weather, and they thrive on sick plants that cannot defend themselves. Spider mites on a cat palm are normally a symptom of an unhealthy plant, so let’s look at what we need to fix in our plants to enable them to fend off these irritating pests.
Read more about: Palm Spider Mites &; Get Rid Of Them In 4 Easy Steps
How Do Plants Defend Themselves Against Spider Mites?
Plants tend to have a fantastic tool kit of defenses that they can activate if they have the energy to do so. This is a bit like an army – without money to buy food, fuel, and ammunition, you can have the biggest army on Earth, but it will be ineffective. So now we know that money = ability to defend in the human sense, and in the plant sense money = sugar. Plants that are healthy and photosynthesizing strongly have the ability to mount a defense.
People are increasingly using a method of measuring the total dissolved content of the plants’ sap – this is often expressed as “Brix” units. Brix is basically % solutes. Hence if we look at honey, it has a Brix of 83% – that is 83% solutes (sugar in this case). In a plant, we would expect to have a Brix level in the sap of at least 12% or so. What this enables the plant to do is to have enough sugars to maintain and strengthen itself – it has enough sugars to run the basics of its existence, as well as to produce resins and terpenes (if it has the genes) to protect itself against pests. It can exude sugars into the space around its roots to feed fungi and bacteria that help it absorb salts from the soil. These salts in turn increase the Brix in the sap and make the plant even healthier.
All in all, the lower the Brix in leaves, the more attractive a plant is to spider mites. The higher the Brix, the more the plant can resist spider mites. If the Brix passes 13% or so, the spider mites actually find the sap they suck to be a bit unpleasant to their health.
Resins and Terpenes
Many plants will attempt to control pests that suck sap, such as spider mites, using resins and terpenes. In the cases of certain herbs, the production of terpenes can chase mites away – an example would be a herb like a rosemary or thyme – these plants produce high concentrations of strongly smelling terpenes that chase spider mites away. We can harvest these terpenes and use them on other plants that are unable to produce terpenes. Spider mites on a cat palm are an example of mites growing on a plant that produces few terpenes – but we can help the plant along.
Applying This Knowledge To Controlling Spider Mites On A Cat Palm
Get Rid Of The Mites First and Then Fix The Plant
If we have had a spider mite outbreak on a cat palm, we first need to control the outbreak. My favorite method with a potted plant is just to take the plant outside. As we mentioned earlier, certain plants produce terpenes that can either inhibit or kill mites. A mixture containing Neem oil will kill mites effectively. I normally spray the plant vigorously with a garden hose and a fine jet nozzle. This will actually remove a lot of the spider mite and the little webs and gunk that build up on the leaves.
The chances are that if you have Spider mites on a cat palm you will also have a bit of scale and other pests that have built up. This will help to control these as well. Use enough force of water that you blow the pests off, but not the actual leaves as well.
Once you have done this, you can then spray the leaves with neem preparation. Take the plant back into the house and allow it to dry and heal.
How To Strengthen Your Plant So That It Does Not Get Sick Again
A cat palm is a plant that grows in semi-shade in nature. This means it needs light, but not direct light. If it has enough light, it can produce enough sugars to keep the Brix in its leaves high enough to inhibit spider mites. Often, Spider mites on a cat palm are a symptom of a plant that is weakened by insufficient light. Correct the light problem, and your palm will thrive.
The cat palm receives about 12 hours of sunlight in its native environment. A supplemental light source such as this one will allow you to provide 12 hours of supplemental light in addition to what the plant receives from the diffuse light through the window.
If it got sick, the chances are it had insufficient light, hence running the lights to give it a full 12-hour day, in addition to whatever it scrounges from the window will make sense.
Nutrients and Moisture
Cat palms are heavy feeders and despise dry soil. You will remember from above, if a plant has enough light to produce abundant sugars, it can then feed the soil microbes around its roots and absorb more nutrient salts from the soil to further increase the Brix in the leaves. When it comes to controlling Spider mites on a cat palm, ensuring there are enough nutrient salts in the soil helps to enable the plant to keep its Brix levels high.
I tend to like to feed palm plants with fertilizer spikes. Palms have shallow roots generally and feed aggressively at the surface. Spikes such as these place the nutrients on the surface close to where the roots are and the plant absorbs these.
I tend to replace spikes every three or so months and this helps. This may also be advised that can get you in trouble domestically – but it will never hurt a palm tree if it were to be peed on once or twice a month (too often will kill it – trust me). This is one of the reasons why palm trees grow so well near bars…..
Ensure that the soil in your cat palms pot is constantly damp, but not waterlogged. Buy a middle-of-the-range moisture meter such as this one. The cheaper ones don’t work well. Keep the soil in the “moist” range.
No matter how hard you try, there will always be some little factor that knocks your plants down for a few weeks and they may get sick. My garden is a general disease magnet because it is shaded and a lot of the time the plants have lower Brix than is ideal. I introduce Phytoseiulus persimilis mites into my garden from time to time and this help to control blooms of spider mites. It is lovely to watch them running around and biting and eating spider mites!!
I hope this has helped you understand how to control Spider mites on a cat palm. Healthy plants are generally not affected by these, and if you apply the above systems to keep your plants healthy you will have years and years of beautiful greenery out of your plants. Please share if this article helped you.
How do you get rid of spider mites on a cat's palm?
My normal approach is to first remove the mites - I use a jet of water first followed by a spray with neem oil. You then want to feed you cat palm with fertilizer sticks, and make sure it has enough light and is warm enough. A healthy cat palm produces enough sugars in its leaves to maintain a concentration of sugars and salts in its sap that will not be attractive to spider mites.
Can spider mites live on humans?
No. They may crawl around on your skin for an hour or two, but they cannot survive on you! A spider mite can survive on plant sap, not animal blood.
How do you make spider mite spray?
I normally just buy a premixed neem spray. My friend collects his old cigarettes butts and boils them to make a tea, adds a bit of mineral oil and dishwashing soap and then adds some neem oil. This works, but it stinks.
What does a spider mite look like?
A spider mite looks like a very little spider. It is not a spider, but is a mite - it also has 8 legs and will normally dwell on the bottom of a leaf covering the leaf in a mesh of silk. You will need a magnifier of some sort to really see them properly.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.