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March 30, 2005 10:34 PM   Subscribe

Some sort of mite is attacking my houseplants, tiny, tiny white specs all over the leaves, how do I stop them and save my plants?
posted by Cosine to Home & Garden (26 answers total)
Spider Mites are almost too small to see. Plants infested with spider mites will demonstrate tiny white specks on the underside of their leaves, especially near leaf mid-ribs. Later, fine silky webs are formed which are most obvious if plants are misted with water. Spider mites feed by sucking sap from the plant tissue causing a speckled leaf appearance. Spider mites are actually spiders, not true insects, so a specific mite killer is effective at killing them. Spray the undersides of the leaves twice a week for a month . Mist the plant with a strong spray of water before spraying as spider mites do not like moist, humid conditions. source

See also : Google white specks mite houseplant
posted by crunchland at 11:02 PM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

Alternately, mealy bugs:
Look for individual insects near the upper part of a plant. Inspect the upper and under sides of the foliage along with the stems. Severe infestations will resemble patches of cotton dispersed any where on the plant. Also keep any eye out for a sticky substance called "Honey Dew".
Regardless, good luck ... my indoor basil plants currently have furry white specks and an aphid problem so bad I think I have to give up and get rid of the plant, so I hope yours, whatever they are, are easier to fix!
posted by librarina at 12:28 AM on March 31, 2005

I've heard that boiling a cigarette in water, filtering out the gunk will kill a lot of those pesky bugs.

Never tried it but only heard about it.
posted by Dagobert at 12:30 AM on March 31, 2005

Couldn't be whitefly could it? I had an infestation on an umbrella plant a few years back, and really they're so teeny-tiny that the naked eye can't really make out that they have wings and heads and things.

They're persistent, but atomiser pesticides will do the trick eventually.
posted by bifter at 1:22 AM on March 31, 2005

pyrethrum is a natural product made from chrysanthemums and attacks all insects, but breaks down easily. It is widely available (and should be differentiated from the synthetic, more toxic clones). Ask at your local plant shop.
I used it on some sweet basil a couple of weeks ago and it did the trick (different infestation to yours, admittedly).
posted by peacay at 1:37 AM on March 31, 2005

I doubt it's mealy bugs. My jade plant gets those, and they look like white cotton batting. But if it should be, try swabbing them away a q-tip or cotton ball dipped in rubbing alcohol.

If it's mildew, try misting with a spray of one part mouthwash (which is mostly alcohol) and three parts water.
posted by orange swan at 5:02 AM on March 31, 2005

Sounds like some variety of mite to me.

Why not visit the garden area of your local hardware store or nursery and find a spray pesticide against mites? I remember using such a thing, made by Ortho, on my bonsai trees, and it eliminated the mites in less than a week.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:26 AM on March 31, 2005

Burn the bastards out. This is a bug hunt.
posted by jackofsaxons at 6:15 AM on March 31, 2005

I echo the pyrethrum recommendation. It works on most bugs; hit them with it on alternate days and mist with straight water on the other days and you should probably be able to control all but the worst infestations within a week or two.

And it's also non toxic for your edible (and otherwise consumable *wink*) plants.
posted by norm at 6:18 AM on March 31, 2005

My experience is that if you have spider mites, then quarantine those plants in a separate room and start treating them. If they are in the same room as healthy plants it wont take long for the healthy ones to get them too. And from my experience in treating them I've only had a 1 in 3 success rate.
posted by furtive at 7:14 AM on March 31, 2005

I have successfully fought off other bugs with just a solution of tepid water and dish detergent 10:1. This suffocates them in ~10 minutes.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:31 AM on March 31, 2005

Spider mites are horrible. They were dormant in my bamboo palm when I bought it and when it was moved into the new environment/my home, they all emerged to choke it to death.

Palms get these beautiful flowers of which I have had many many start growing, but all are eaten to death by the bugs. Spider mites leave soft, mushy, sticky chunks as well as their webs, in the areas they attack. The mites themselves bunch together in groups and are really gross.

I have been using a borax solution, however I have read many an arguement against pesticides since it kills off the mites' natural predators. I don't know if i want a war of bugs going on in my living room so I use the borax. Only recently it has been warm enough, so I will be taking my palm outside spraying the whole thing, leaving it on for an hour, and then rinsing it with water. I was told to wipe every individual leaf down. If you leave the borax on, it just kills the leaves as well.

In terms of it contagiousness, I also have aloes and a zeze (both of which I reccommend as houseplants, I love them) and they have not contracted the bugs. I think it is passed to specific kinds of plants, mostly leafy houseplants. But that's just speculation.
posted by scazza at 7:49 AM on March 31, 2005

Oh and if you don't have webs then you're dealing with something else. Probably whiteflies which are v common.
posted by scazza at 7:53 AM on March 31, 2005

You may be able to use a solution of soap and water to stop it.
posted by thomcatspike at 8:02 AM on March 31, 2005

Thanks for all the ideas, I still cannot identify the infestation, it's not spider mites, no webbing and no mites, it's not white fly, nothing flys up when I smack the plants.... just looks like little white slightly furry bits, really reallly small but larger than a mite would be....
posted by Cosine at 8:13 AM on March 31, 2005

fungus perhaps? Talk to your local plant nursery. Take a plant along if transportable.
posted by peacay at 8:43 AM on March 31, 2005

Despite what it said in the link I posted - they didn't visibly fly around when I had them either. Have you got a magnifying glass or something that you can use to get a closer look at them?
posted by bifter at 8:54 AM on March 31, 2005

just looks like little white slightly furry bits, really reallly small but larger than a mite would be....

Could be scale. I'd still say hit it with Pyrethrum.
posted by norm at 9:05 AM on March 31, 2005

Talk to your local plant nursery. Take a plant along if transportable.

Also, I sure would bet that the local plant nursery doesn't want you bringing your parasites to their location.
posted by norm at 9:07 AM on March 31, 2005

Safer Soap. That link gives you the basics. They don't seem to have their own website. Here's the Google search.

You can also make your own mix as kc0dxh mentions above.
posted by deborah at 9:09 AM on March 31, 2005

the local plant nursery doesn't want you bringing your parasites to their location
...sure, sure - but someone could come out to the car !
posted by peacay at 9:12 AM on March 31, 2005

Wow, it's not scale insects either, I've checked out so many and it's not any of them... guess I can just try some generic chemical...
posted by Cosine at 9:26 AM on March 31, 2005

Don't be so sure that it isn't scale. There are a lot of species of them, and I have seen scale that are 'white and furry'. You'll need to be diligent picking them off, though, because their adult forms are pretty resistent to insecticides.
posted by norm at 9:40 AM on March 31, 2005

No, it's not scale, I don't think, I've checked out about 30 species and it's smaller and looks more like little puffs... no idea still....
posted by Cosine at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2005

Can you take a picture and post it somewhere?
posted by wezelboy at 12:43 PM on March 31, 2005

Thanks what I was thinking... I'll try to do that after work tonight.
posted by Cosine at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2005

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