Thank You, Spider Mites!

Two years ago, sitting in a garden design class, I was shocked to see a photo of my house on the presenter’s Power Point as an example of the totally boring landscape. No, the presenter hadn’t come to my house to snap a photo. It just looked exactly like my front yard. Here’s that yawn-producing line of yews.

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And here, the Alberta Spruce trees bank the yews along the front walk.

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After the presentation, I went up to discuss my outrage with the design expert. And was shot down. Yews and spruce, in a straight line in front of the house? Boring. Her solution? Just yank them out and start all over.

Jim’s reaction when I told him this story was predictable. “I suppose you want to take out those perfectly healthy bushes,” he said. And then put an end to discussion by adding: “I like them.”

Indeed, I have a problem with ‘yanking’ a perfectly healthy plant out of the ground. But while discussing my front design with Master Gardener friends, I found the verdict was unanimous. “Always thought your front yard was boring.” “Those yews are nothing more than weeds.”

And the final prediction. “You’ll get spider mites one day on those Alberta Spruce and then you’ll want to take them out!”

Spider mites? As an aside, I am an avid African Violet hobbyist. I live in dread of spider mites, so much so that I won’t bring flowers from the outside inside my house.

Time passed, as it does, until yesterday, getting in the car to go somewhere, I spotted this.

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“We’ve got spider mites,” I told Jim. “Now those bushes have to come out.”

So what are spider mites? My research shows that they aren’t ‘spiders’ but more like ticks. They can spin silk, and I should have guessed what was up earlier this spring. Tiny white webs bloomed all over he Alberta Spruce. I just thought we had spiders. Mark Shour of the Iowa State University Extension has this to say about the spider mite:

“The spruce spider mite and the twospotted spider mite feed on many of the evergreens. The spruce spider mite Is active during spring and late fall when temperatures are cool. This pest generally restricts its feeding to evergreens, with the exception of yews. Feeding damage often goes unnoticed until the hot, dry summer when spruce spider mites leave the needles and enter a resting period (called aestivation). “

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what happened. The damage can be seen in these rust colored spots on the south side of the bush. Here’s the close-up.

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The State University of Iowa article goes on to talk about solutions, as if I wanted to keep those ‘boring’ Alberta Spruce. For those wanting to know:

“Spraying a forceful stream of water (syringing) on plants can be effective in controlling spider mite populations in the home landscape. This method requires persistence and dedication. The use of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (1 to 2 percent) applications also decreases or eliminates spider mite populations. Pesticides are available that are specific to mites (e.g., Hexygon, Mavrik Aquaflow, Ornamite, Morestan), long-lasting, and kill eggs, but these miticides are available only through a professional applicator. Most products available to the homeowner are broad spectrum (e.g., malathion) and kill mites as well as many types of insects.”

Advice I’m not planning to take. This fall, we’ll remove the three Alberta Spruce (one on the south side) and with them, three yews along my front walk. I have a hydrangea that will stay.

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I’m thinking a North American Fringe Tree at the corner by the drive, flanked by hydrangeas. On the south, a black Elderberry. Maybe some daylilies. Or iris. A sedum carpet ground cover.

But these are just ideas. Thoughts anyone?

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4 thoughts on “Thank You, Spider Mites!

  1. My house in NC had a line of holly and people thought it was boring but I loved it. I also loved the camellias in front of the porch. I didn’t plant any of them, they came with the place. And I left them as I found them. Saw a picture of the place a couple years ago and they are still there!

    • First house I fell in love with was surrounded by holly bushes. I always thought it was a great witch’s house – I remember it had a star (pentagram?) on the chimney. I guess holly bushes are less boring than yews!

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