Spider Mites on Conifers

Need to know

  • Mites feed on conifer tree needles by puncturing the plant tissue and sucking out the contents.
  • The needles will be discolored with yellowish-green speckles from their feeding.
  • There are two types of spider mites commonly associated with conifers in Iowa: twospotted spider mite and spruce spider mite.
  • Miticides are available to manage mites, but it is important to determine what type of mite is feeding on your trees.

Description of conifer spider mites

Mites feed externally on conifer tree needles. They use piercing-sucking mouthparts to puncture the plant tissue and feed on the liquid within the cells. Feeding injury causes the foliage to be discolored with very tiny yellowish-green speckles. Severe damage causes “bronzing” eventual browning and needle drop. Close examination of infested foliage may reveal very fine webbing on the stems at the base of the needles.

Spider mites are tiny and difficult to see with the naked eye. A convenient detection technique is to hold a sheet of white paper under a branch and then shake or tap the branch against the paper. The mites, if present, will show up as tiny, slow-moving specks on the paper.

Twospotted spider mite

The twospotted spider mite is a “warm season” mite favored by hot, dry weather and drought conditions. Adults and nymphs are white with two dark greenish spots (summer coloration). This mite has been reported from over 180 different plants including field crops, lawn, garden and landscape plants, houseplants and weeds. Mites become active in April and May and are active the rest of the summer. Severe damage usually appears in late summer after a period of hot, dry weather.

Spruce spider mite

The spruce spider mite is a common “cool season” mite found on all types of conifers (spruces, pines, junipers and arborvitae). Spruce spider mites are active in the spring and fall. They become dormant during the heat of the summer and survive as “resting” eggs. These eggs and adults resume activity in the fall when cooler temperatures return. Conifers often react slowly to the spruce spider mite feeding. Yellowing and bronzing of the needles may not become apparent until mid-summer, even though the damage occurred the previous fall or spring.

Conifer spider mite management

Several miticides (pesticides that control mites) are available for mite control. Spraying to reduce mite numbers is advised when plants show the characteristic speckling and the white sheet of paper technique turns up a large number of mites (a dozen or more on each sheet). Sprays available to homeowners include insecticidal soap, horticulture oil (summer rate), malathion, permethrin, and others available at your garden supply store. Soap and oil sprays have no residual activity and only control mites and insects that are contacted directly. Thorough spraying is important for control.

On smaller trees and shrubs it may be possible to reduce light mite populations with periodic “hosings.” Use the garden hose to apply a forceful stream of water to dislodge mites from an infested plant. Repeat 3 or 4 times on consecutive days. Keep plants watered and mulched to promote health and vigor and to reduce the impact of mite feeding.

Do you live in Iowa and have an insect you would like identified?

The Iowa State University Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic will identify your insect, provide information on what it eats, life cycle, and if it is a pest the best ways to manage them.  Please see our website for current forms, fees, and instructions on preserving and mailing insects.   

Contact information for each states diagnostic laboratory for U.S. residents.  If you live outside of Iowa please do not submit a sample without contacting the Plant & Insect Diagnostic Clinic.  

Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Yard and Garden, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on September 12, 2016. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.