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Glasshouse red spider mite

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last updated Jan 14, 2014
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Glasshouse red spider mites on webbing. Image: RHS, Horticultural Science

Glasshouse red spider mite is a common sap-feeding pest causing mottled leaves and early leaf loss on greenhouse and garden plants. It is also known as the two-spotted spider mite.

What is glasshouse red spider mite? Back to top

Glasshouse red spider mite is one of the most troublesome pests of greenhouse plants, houseplants and it will also attack garden plants. It is a sap-sucking mite that attacks the foliage of plants, causing a mottled appearance, and in severe cases, leaf loss.

It attacks many common houseplants and greenhouse plants, both ornamentals and edibles, including: vines, peach, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers, Fuchsia, Pelargonium, poinsettias, orchids and Impatiens.

Glasshouse red spider mite thrives in warm, dry conditions, so is usually only a problem from March to October, but damage can occur at other times in a heated greenhouse. It will also cause problems outdoors in late summer, especially in hot, dry weather.

Symptoms Back to top

You may see the following symptoms:

  • On leaves: Plants infested with glasshouse red spider mite show a fine pale mottling on the upper leaf surface. The underside of the leaves have many tiny yellowish green mites and white cast skins and egg shells. These are more easliy seen with the aid of a x10 hand lens
  • On plants: In heavy infestations, you may see fine silk webbing on the plants, and the leaves lose most of their green colour and dry up or fall off. Heavily infested plants are severely weakened and may die
Glasshouse red spider mite on peach. Image: RHS, Horticultural Science

Plants infested with glasshouse red spider mite show a pale mottling and may dry up and fall off.

Control Back to top

Glasshouse red spider mite can be difficult to control as it breeds rapidly in warm conditions and some strains of the mite have developed resistance to some insecticides. Biological control is an attractive alternative to using insecticides as it avoids resistance problems and the risk of spray damage to the plants.

Non-chemical control

A predatory mite (Phytoseiulus persimilis) feeds on the eggs and active stages of glasshouse red spider mite. It needs good light and daytime temperatures of 21ºC (70ºF) or more on a regular basis if it is to breed faster than the pest. Its effective period of use is normally April to October in greenhouses; June to September outdoors.

As the predator is susceptible to insecticides, biological control cannot be used in conjunction with most chemical controls. The exceptions are those with very short persistence, such as plant oils or extracts (Vitax Organic 2 in 1 Pest and Disease Control, Growing Success Fruit & Veg Bug Killer, Scotts Bug Clear for Fruit & Veg) or fatty acids (Bayer Organic Pest Control, Doff Greenfly and Blackfly Killer or Greenfingers Organic Pest Spray) or urea/mineral lattice (SB Plant Invigorator), which can be used to keep mite numbers down before it is time to introduce the predator.

Note that Phytoseiulus persimilis will not control other species of red spider mite, such as fruit tree red spider mite, citrus red spider mite, box red spider mite and conifer red spider mite.

Phytoseiulus and compatible biological controls for most other greenhouse pests can be obtained by mail order from specialist suppliers.

Chemical control

  • Insecticides containing bifenthrin (Bayer Sprayday Greenfly Killer Plus, Scotts Bug Clear Gun or Doff All-In-One Garden Pest Killer) will control red spider mite, provided it has not gained resistance to this substance. Bifenthrin can be used on some edible plants, but see the label instructions. This pesticide is being withdrawn from sale on 31 May 2010 but can continue to be used until 31 May 2011
  • An alternative spray containing acetamiprid (Scotts Bug Clear Ultra Gun) is available for use on ornamental plants only
  • Edible plants can be sprayed with plant oils, plant extracts or fatty acids. The latter pesticides may require more frequent applications


Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)

Biology Back to top

Despite their common name, during the spring and summer these sap-sucking mites are yellowish-green with a pair of darker markings. Because of this, they are sometimes called the glasshouse two-spotted spider mite. They only become orange-red during the autumn and winter resting period.

They overwinter as non-feeding adult mites on plants or hide in crevices in greenhouse structures or the soil. They become active again during March in greenhouses but may not become a problem on outdoor plants until mid- to late summer.

The mites are small, up to 1mm (less than 1/16in) long, and are just visible to the naked eye, when they are present in large numbers. They are usually found on the lower leaf surface, along with their spherical eggs.

Quick facts

Common name Glasshouse red spider mite or two-spotted spider mite
Scientific name Tetranychus urticae
Plants affected Many greenhouse and garden plants, and houseplants
Main symptoms Mottled foliage and early leaf fall
Most active March to October