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How to fight the pesky spider mite

Spider mite damage is so disheartening, it's already been sung about in a country song. You know, "the damage is done." The chewing, the sucking, the defacing. Spider mites are sneaky, and many times, they're killers.

Tiny and effective at their livelihood, they thrive in drought conditions. You won't know they're thriving till the damage is done, and the country song becomes the blues. Spider mites choose the undersides of leaves to eat, live and reproduce.

You'll walk in your garden one evening and everything will be fine, but the next morning you'll notice leaves all-of-a-sudden turned to a yellow hue with a hint of fall russet.

Of course, it isn't all-of-a-sudden. Spider mites are tiny and wouldn't be seen even if they were on the top side of leaves instead of the bottom. It's regrettable spider mites don't make noise while creating so much murderous havoc, or that leaves cannot shout out they are under attack.

In addition to food, healthy spider mites need environments that allow them to evaporate moisture easily from their bodies. Hence, their love of drought conditions. Since we've become more accustomed to using drip irrigation, spider mites don't worry about overhead watering during drought conditions.

But, what to do about spider mites? My method has been to watch susceptible plants, typically hydrangeas, and water from above at the first sign of infestation. You'll notice my first plan of attack is organic.

In my garden, only one area of hydrangeas is regularly watered from overhead. The rest are on drip irrigation in my garden. Performing as scripted, the hydrangeas watered from above are spider-mite free, while the others have been chewed, sucked and made ugly by my little foes.

With the planting configuration, sprinkling from above is not an option for the infested plants. So, what is plan B, and is it organic? Well, I forgot to mention freezing temperatures are great at killing spider mites, but that's not an option during summer.

Thankfully, there is an organic solution still left in the arsenal to battle spider mites - Ultra-Fine, a year-round pesticidal oil. While most killing oils are dormant oils applied in winter, while plants are not actively growing, Ultra-Fine is labeled for use year-round. It is also labeled for use on fruit trees and in vegetable gardens.

Apply in the cool of morning, to dry leaves, making sure to coat the top and bottom surfaces. Ultra-Fine is manufactured by Security products and is easy to apply - just attach the hose, turn on the water and spray.

This makes me want to write my own country song, about coating the dreadful little spider mites with oil, choking off their oxygen supply and watching their tiny, dead carcasses fall to the soil, quickly becoming enriching humus for the plant it once attacked.

You know, this story might be better told through a video game. I can hear the sounds, already, of dying spider mites.

Stone Mountain resident Tara Dillard designs, installs and writes about gardens. E-mail her at TaraDillard@agardenview.biz or visit www.agardenview.biz.