If you’ve ever noticed tiny dots moving about the surface of the soil in your houseplants, you may have spotted a soil mite. Before you panic, however, this could be a good thing, depending on who you ask. This article talks about the purpose of soil mites and whether you should eliminate them from your soil.
What You'll Learn Today
How To Identify Soil Mites?
Simply put, soil mites are tiny, millimeters-long arthropods that live in the soil. Spiders and ticks are considered their closest relatives.
Soil mites are tricky for the average person to identify since they are so small. You might be able to see them if you look closely at the soil and see tiny white or brown specks moving around.
Many types of soil mites exist, but there are three in particular that are found the most:
- Oribatei: Also known as turtle mites, they are the most commonly found soil mite. Their bodies are shell-like and aren’t visible without a microscope. Oribatei feed on fungi, decaying matter, and algae in the soil.
- Astigmata: These mites are usually found on farms where the soil has higher nitrogen levels.
- Mesostigmata: These mites are predators who feed on other small animals.
Will Soil Mites Kill My Plant?
Soil mites will not harm your plant. They are a tiny part of a complex world of living organisms in most soil, and each type has a purpose.
Since many mites are microscopic, most plant owners that have them probably never even know that they’re there. A single square yard of soil could potentially contain up to 200,000 arthropods.
Here’s what arthropods like soil mites do for your soil:
- Break down organic material: Arthropods speed up the process of decomposition by feeding on decaying plant material in the soil.
- Stimulate the production of beneficial microbes: As arthropods feed on bacteria and fungi in the soil, they stimulate the growth of other valuable soil microbes.
- Distribute microbes: Arthropods carry beneficial nutrients through the soil, which aids in organic matter decomposition.
- Convert nutrients for plants: Arthropods excrete nutrients that benefit plants after feeding on bacteria and fungi.
- Aerate the soil: Some arthropods burrow in the soil, which helps to make the soil more porous and well-draining.
If you’re interested in seeing what these minuscule creatures do up close, check out this video of soil mites feasting under a microscope:
Should I Get Rid of Soil Mites?
While soil mites are unsettling, if you should happen to notice them, it’s not necessary to get rid of them. Your plants will be healthier overall if these beneficial mites exist and do their jobs.
For example, soil mites are not prolific reproducers like fungus gnats or spider mites. They reproduce slowly and only lay a few eggs at a time.
During the average 3-4 years that they live, soil mites contribute significantly to the health of your soil. Once they die, they further add to the health of the soil as they decompose.
Some experienced gardeners believe soil mites should be eradicated upon detection despite their benefits. This is due to the ability of mites to carry and spread disease to humans.
As soil mites move through the soil and eat harmful organisms, they can pick up and carry parasites like tapeworms. If soil mites manage to make their way into your indoor plants, there’s a chance that they might move on to other areas of your home.
Mites are attracted to all decaying matter, including rotting wood or food crumbs on the floor. If they carry a parasite like a tapeworm, which can lay thousands of eggs in the host’s intestinal tract, new hosts for the microscopic parasites could include any of your pets.
While harmful diseases spread by mites is a valid concern, it’s also extremely rare. The vast majority of the time, you will likely never notice whether you have mites in your soil.
Read also: How To Get Rid Of Mushrooms In Houseplants?
How Do You Get Rid of Dirt Mites in Houseplant Soil?
Although getting rid of soil mites is unnecessary, it’s understandable to feel uncomfortable about tiny microscopic bugs existing in your potted plants and traversing through your home. The good news is that if you do nothing, they will likely eventually go away once they run out of food.
If you prefer to be proactive about mites, there are several other ways to treat an infestation.
Here’s how to do it:
Remove the Top Layer of Soil
Most mites hang out in the top inch of soil. The least invasive way to eliminate mites or greatly diminish the population is to remove and replace the top layer of soil with a fresh potting mix.
The bonus of this method is that it should also help if you have fungus gnats, as they tend to lay eggs in the top layer of soil. If you have gnats, go slightly deeper and remove the top two inches of soil.
Repot and Refresh Soil
If you’re especially disturbed by a soil mite infestation, you should be able to take care of it by repotting your houseplants and placing fresh, sterile soil in the pots. The downside of this is the potential to damage roots or shock your plant in the process.
Many indoor plants don’t take kindly to being repotted too often since it can damage the tiny root hairs used to anchor the primary roots to the soil. Transplant shock can manifest in yellowing, dying leaves, wilting, and more.
Diluted Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen Peroxide is a powerful, naturally-occurring disinfectant that can benefit plants when used correctly. It can treat root rot, oxidize and aerate your soil, and eliminate pests, including mites.
Some plant owners regularly flush their plants with a diluted hydrogen peroxide mix to reap some of those benefits and as a preventative measure.
To use it, mix one part of 3% hydrogen peroxide with two parts of water in whatever you use to water your plants. Give your plant a thorough soak until it runs out of the bottom of the pot.
Don’t be alarmed if you notice some bubbling action – this means that the hydrogen peroxide is doing its job.
Are Soil Mites the Same as Spider Mites?
If you’ve never heard of soil mites before, you might confuse them with spider mites. However, the difference between the two is that spider mites can be very detrimental to your plant’s health and need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Spider mites are tiny white bugs that set up camp on your houseplants and make tiny webs in any nooks and crannies they can find in the foliage. A common place to spot them is the corner where a leaf meets a stem.
Spider mites eat plant tissue and sap and can eventually kill your plant if the infestation is not taken care of promptly.
To treat spider mites in houseplants, dip a q-tip in rubbing alcohol and manually remove any of the tiny white specks you see on your plant. For minor infestations, this spot treatment should be sufficient.
For more serious cases, use a spray of lukewarm water (as forceful as your plant can handle) to rinse the foliage. In the case of severe spider mite infestation, where most of the plant is covered with them, it’s best to discard the whole plant.
Finding anything moving in the soil of your beloved houseplants can be unsettling. But once you learn about the beneficial microscopic life that exists beneath the soil surface, you may want to consider letting mother nature do her thing.
Contact your local university cooperative extension service to speak to a gardening expert when in doubt.