Have you ever watered your soil in your seed starting room when all of the sudden your worst nightmares come true? The soil starts to come to life and dozens or even several hundred tiny little creepy crawly little bugs start to vacate the soil as the water moves through the pot. Or maybe you see them actively roaming the soil surface and you feel as if you are being taken over by an outbreak of pests.
What are these? And what does it mean if you have them? Well, you have soil mites.
What are soil mites?
Soil mites are a diverse group of small arthropods that. They are typically found in soil, leaf litter, and other organic matter. Soil mites are important decomposers, helping to break down organic matter and recycle nutrients in the soil. They play a key role in the soil food web, as they are a food source for other soil organisms, such as springtails, nematodes, and predatory mites.
Soil mites come in many different shapes and sizes, ranging from less than 0.2 mm to over 2 mm in length. They have eight legs and a soft body covered in fine hairs, which help them move through soil and cling to surfaces. Some soil mites are predatory, feeding on other small soil animals, while others are detritivores, feeding on only decaying organic matter. Some soil mites are also known to feed on plant roots, and can be harmful to plants in large numbers. Soil mites can be grey, brown, tan, white, or even red in color.
What does it mean if you have soil mites indoors?
Soil mites are present in most soils. Particularly soil that has not been sterilized, has been left outside for some time, potting soil or seed starting mix with compost, or soil that has been transplanted with plants from outdoors.
Soil mites need specific conditions to reproduce and thrive. It is generally found that soil mites are present in soil that is damp, rich in organic matter, warm, un-compressed, and lacking natural predators.
This is why seed starting mixes are so prime for soil mites. Seed starting mixes hold on to water well, they are loose, you generally start seeds in warm locations, and there is generally very few if any natural predators indoors when seed starting occurs.
What can be done if you have soil mites?
1. Diatomaceous earth - DE as it is called for short, is made from crushed diatoms is 100% naturally occuring. The crushing creates tremendous surface area creating a microscopic abrasive surface which irritates the mites and causes them to shed their coat and die. Mixing DE into the soil or dusting it on the surface will help prevent them from getting out of control. I find the best brand is this one.
2. Reducing watering - Soil mites can survive in dry soil for quite some time, however dry soil regulates their ability to reproduce. causing them to be reduced in numbers and regulating them until plants can be moved outdoors where they will not be a problem. Soil mites are decomposers, and they require water to help digest plant material.
Also, consider putting a fan by the seedlings. Not only will this help with airflow which is vital to healthy seedlings, it will also reduce soil moisture from sticking around and welcoming soil mites.
3. Go soilless - Soilless mixes will not have as much decomposing organic material which is what they use as a food source. Mixes that contain peat moss or coco coir will be better than soil that contains lots of compost, manure, or top soil.
4. Sterilize the soil - If you haven't planted yet, try heating your soil. Simply put it in an oven safe pan, at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Soil once heated will kill any mites or even other bacteria and mold spores resulting in better soil for your plants in an indoor environment.
One final note!
Soil mites are NOT the same thing a spider mites. Yes, they are in the same family but not the same insect. They should not be treated the same in the control methods either.
I hope you enjoyed, and hopefully you learned something that you can apply to your garden. Grow bigger, - Luke