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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Tomatoes and Spider Mites

Question: I have a raised bed garden and have battled spider mites to no avail. They have ruined my tomatoes. I use cypress mulch in my garden as well as a weed block. Do I need to get rid of these things to start the garden this year, spray my soil with Kelthane or something else? Please help I want my garden back.

Answer: Spider mites do over winter in mulches and plant debris left over from the previous summer. But if you think that you will avoid mites by burning, scorching, "poisoning", or otherwise sterilizing your garden soil, you are mistaken. Spider mites have an admirable capacity to find tomatoes even if the tomatoes are planted on virgin soil. They apparently do this via wind transport, or some other means we haven't quite figured out.

Unfortunately, there are not many magic bullets on the market for spider mite control on vegetables. I recommend an integrated approach.

(1) Do not compost mite infested plant material (There's no use giving mites a head start. Unless your compost pile is uniformly hot enough to kill mites, I'm convinced this is another way mites can infest a garden.)

(2) Inspect your tomato seedlings for mites and choose only mite free plants (Again, let's not help the mites by giving them an early start). With a hand lens, check the undersides of a few leaves of every plant you purchase.

(3) At the first sign of infestation (assuming you do check your plants a couple of times a week for the first signs of spider mites on leaf undersides), do one of the following: try blasting mites off with a stiff stream of water directed at leaf undersides (this can significantly delay mite population buildups, if done thoroughly); apply horticultural oil or insecticide soap sprays; pick off and destroy any leaflets you find mites on.

(4) Apply Kelthane, if you have it. Kelthane is the last good miticide labeled for use on vegetables. It is difficult to find in stores any more, but old stocks can still be used for this purpose.

(5) Get your spring tomatoes started early, and remove plants when they become mite infested. Instead of battling the mites, give in and focus on a late summer planting of tomatoes. Sometimes the fall tomato crop is easier to grow without spider mites. Check with your local county recommendations for the best time to start a fall tomato garden. Michael Merchant, PhD, BCE; Urban Entomologist; Texas Cooperative Extension