I guess the only downside of having plants are the occasional pests that appear “out of nowhere”. I’ve dealt with almost all of them – scale, aphids, mealy bugs, trips, fungus gnats, white flies, you name it. When it comes to my beloved Calathea plants, Spider mites seem to be the only one that gets them. In this article I’m going to show you how to spot them and get rid of them naturally.
What are Spider mites and how they look
Spider mites are extra small pests that are hard to spot until it’s almost too late. It’s like they come out of nowhere and slowly eat your plants until leaf by leaf gets all wrinkly and dry.
They live on the undersides of the leaves, where they create a spider looking web (thus the name Spider mites), where they lay their eggs. The eggs are actually what I firstly noticed, because their web is so thin, it’s hard to notice from afar.
Apparently eggs are initially transparent, but every time I’ve had spider mites on one of my Calathea plants, they were noticeably white. As the underside of Calathea leaves are purple, it’s easier to spot the eggs.
How I got rid of Spider mites naturally
The first sign of pests are yellowing leaves and dry spots. Calathea plants have really thin leaves that don’t last for long after a Spider mite invasion. From the time I first saw them on my Calathea (it was around 9pm), until the next morning, 3 leaves were completely shriveled and dried out. I was in panic mode, to say the least.
So, here’s what I did:
I immediately brought the plan to the shower and carefully showered it, leaf by leaf. The thing with these pests is that you can’t just wash them away, but I did it so that it would be easier to clean the plant, without all that web formed on leaves and stems.
After the shower I thoroughly cleaned the entire plant with cotton pads dipped in a light mixture of water and dish soap. You could see how the cotton pads turned brow, dirty, from the Spider mites.
After I carefully cleaned each leaf (bottom and top of the leaf, along with its stem), I went back to the shower and rinsed the leaves from the soap.
It seemed like this was enough, and it actually was. But, as a precaution, a week later, I cleaned the leaves with Neem oil. Just a drop of Neem oil onto a cotton pad and gently went through every leaf and stem. – big mistake!
Is Neem oil safe for Calathea?
In the beginning it was fine, a week has passed, even two weeks, and then a leaf on my Calathea started to yellow. And on another one, as well. It was completely trippy because it was just like the leaf literally just changed color from green to yellow. Besides the color shift it seemed healthy. Of course, after a few days it wasn’t looking happy anymore.
So, what I’m trying to say is that it’s not safe to use neem oil for Calathea. Calatheas are phototoxic. They are really sensitive and sunlight in combination with the neem oil gives catastrophic results.
I found that the Calathea Ornata was affected by the neem oil after two weeks (which is actually quite a lot). But other Calathea varieties like the Rattlesnake Calathea and Calathea Zebrina didn’t took the oil well, at all. Their leaves kind off faded in color in a matter of days.
So, as a precaution, I wouldn’t use neem oil on Calatheas, but just stick to soap and water, and use neem oil only to clean the stems of the plant.
The funny thing is – I actually got rid of spider mites, but two out of three Calatheas look really really sad. I had to clean the neem oil off the leaves and hope it will grow new, healthy leaves.
How to prevent Spider Mites infestation
Here’s why it’s good to regularly clean plant leaves. Not only to maintain the plant clean and help it to absorb as much sunlight as possible, but to also prevent pests from spreading and harming the plant.
I probably cleaned the leaves of my Calathea three or four weeks before this happened, had I done it more frequently, I’d probably prevent the Spider mites from spreading. Sometimes you can’t be on top of everything, especially if you have many plants, but whenever you have the time, a check up on your plant can be crucial.
I use a wet microfiber cloth to clean my plants. Just gently go through the leaves and clean both the top and underside of the leaf. Another thing you can do is to mix Neem oil and water (just a bit of oil, not too much), and clean the leaves with this mixture.