Dreaming of a world without plant pests? So are we! Noticing bugs running around on your plants or in your soil can quickly strike terror into even the most experienced plant parents. Especially if those pests are root aphids!
However, identifying which type of pests you have roaming around isn’t as straightforward as you may hope, and what you think could be root aphids might actually be something harmless like beneficial soil mites!
The good news is that you’ve come to the right place. This article breaks down the differences between soil mites vs root aphids so that you can take swift action to eradicate any serious problems before they get out of control.
Table of Contents
What Are Soil Mites?
Soil mites are super tiny arthropods that are hard to see with the naked eye. They are closely related to spiders and other crawly creatures with exoskeletons, such as ticks. Numerous species of soil mites exist, with over 20,000 different kinds that live and breed in soils.
Oribatid mites are the most common types of soil mites and are sometimes called ‘Turtle Mites’ because of their tough, shell-like exteriors.
Are Soil Mites Pests?
Soil mites are pretty much harmless to humans and plants. They can even be considered beneficial insects to plants as they help to break down organic matter in the soil and keep the plant’s root system healthy.
As an added benefit, beneficial soil mites also eat other tiny bugs and pests, keeping your garden or indoor space free of continued worry.
The Different Types of Soil Mites
There are numerous different kinds of soil mites, but the four main types are Oribatei, Mesostigmata, Prostigmata, and Astigmata, with the most common being the Oribatid Mites.
Oribatid Mites are a type of harmless soil mite and are symbiotic friends to plants, not to be confused with leaf mites or leaf aphids that take up residence on the plant.
In contrast, plant-dwelling mites like spider mites can be dangerous enemies that will give nothing back to the plant except death and destruction!
Stratiolaelaps scimitus (formerly Hypoaspis miles) are tiny soil mites that live in the top 1/2 inch of soil. One of its favorite diets is the root aphid, which will feed on adults and eggs and act as a form of biological control on the pests.
What Are Root Aphids?
A near-cousin of aphids, the rice root aphid is from the family phylloxera and is an aphid species defined by their bad habit of feeding on the roots of plants during part of their lifecycle.
It is hard to spot them from the soil surface as they have small colonies underground and are minuscule; you’d need a magnifying glass to see their details.
As their name signifies, they live amongst the roots of your plant. The adult females are, on average, 2-3 mm long with a spindly body shape and have color variations of yellow, green, or brown.
Their color depends on the species, environmental conditions, and host plants they adopt.
Root Aphids have a white waxy appearance, and a root aphid can have a life cycle of 30 days or longer. Aphids tunnel into the root, creating scars that leave plants vulnerable to mildew and disease, causing your plant to become unhealthy and eventually die if left untreated.
An outdoor gardener’s worst nightmare when growing vegetables are the aphids that are attracted to their crops. Some of the most common and active vegetable-munching aphids are the Lettuce Root Aphid, Cabbage Root Aphid, and Carrot Root Aphid.
The last thing you want running around your crunchy carrot plants is root aphids!
Some flowers also attract this pesky insect, including the Rose Root Aphid, which can dull the flower color and cause stunted growth.
Many types of root aphids are more attracted to grasses (especially new grass) and weeds than houseplant soil.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t show up wherever they can – including in the soil of your culinary herbs like rosemary.
What Does Root Aphid Damage Look Like?
Root aphids can cause considerable damage to your house plants and outdoor plants by attaching themselves to the flowers and leaves.
In their wake of destruction, they leave damaged and discolored yellow-brown leaves on succulents and other plants, along with a trail of white mucus that looks like fungus or mold. Many times, you will also see ants roaming in the vicinity.
Aphids of any type ultimately cause a reduction in plant growth by consuming the roots, eventually killing the plant and then moving on to another victim.
What Are the First Signs Of Root Aphids?
The easiest way to stop the spread of a root aphid infestation is to notice the first signs when they appear. The following signs are often some of the first.
1. If you’re repotting your new plants and see a white powdery or waxy substance on the outside of the root ball, then this is most likely root aphids. Repotting can also be the best way to check for root aphids if you suspect they have moved into your houseplant.
2. Slow growth is another sign of root aphids, often coinciding with plant wilting. However, plants like Snake Plants are naturally slow growers as a whole, so slow growth on these types of plants may not signify a root aphid problem. If you don’t see any aphids, this symptom could also be caused by nutrient deficiencies.
3. Yellow leaves are another common sign, or leaves may have damage symptoms and can be smaller than usual or wilting.
4. Aphids provide ants with honeydew which ants love to feast on, so most root aphid infestations give you the added bonus of ants – not really something you want marching around in your home.
Still, it’s much easier to spot ants than root aphids. For indoor growers, just leave a grain of sugar near your plants, and any ants in the soil should show up pretty quickly.
How Do Root Aphids Reproduce?
Adult aphids reproduce asexually during the growing season and lay eggs over colder months in the soil. In warm seasons, they attach root aphid eggs to leaves and stems above the soil line, where they hatch and fall to the ground.
Due to their easy, quick sexual reproduction, you can quickly end up with a root aphid infestation if you don’t get a handle on it which will soon deteriorate plant health.
What Are the Most Common Root Aphid Causes?
Unfortunately, root aphids sometimes just turn up uninvited. Quite often, however, they appear when things need to be corrected in the environment.
Some common causes of root aphids are:
- Drought: In periods of intense dryness, root aphids will be more attracted to your plant sap and moisture, honing in on a well-watered specimen. This is especially true for humidity-loving plants like the Dark Mystery Pilea.
- Weeds: To an aphid, a weed is another food source to cling to. Once aphids are finished feeding on the weed roots closest to them, they will likely move onto the roots of your precious plants if you have any nearby.
- Insecticides: Despite thinking insecticides always solve pest problems without consequence, this is simply not true with root aphids. Overuse of insecticide causes soil conditions to deteriorate. It can also kill other beneficial insects that eat root aphids, such as ladybugs, and insects that pollinate your flowers and keep a generally healthy garden.
Other Harmful Pests Associated with Root Aphids
Fungus gnats are commonly mistaken for root aphids. Fungus gnats are long and thin with a spindly appearance, whereas root aphids are short and “squat.”
Fungus gnat larvae also enjoy feeding on your plant roots when they have access to them – especially roots that have developed diseases like root rot.
Cannabis Aphids could be a big problem for hemp or cannabis growers. Cannabis aphids can stick to your plant’s stems, leaves of plants, and buds and occasionally poop on the cannabis flowers and leaves, eventually destroying the productivity of your plant.
When Do Root Aphid Infestations Occur?
During Seasonal Changes
Pests, like humans, have needs when the weather changes, such as a dry or warm place to live when there’s a cold snap or shade when it gets too hot outside. Many pests will seek this in a more protected part of your garden or cheekily move into your home.
To ensure you don’t invite unwanted pests into your garden or indoor space, just keep a keen eye out for signs of pests when the seasons start changing.
When Bringing New Plants Indoors
Whether purchasing a new plant from a gardening store or greenhouse or bringing in your outdoor plants for the winter, moving greenery indoors is one of the most common ways pests spread throughout gardens.
Before bringing any plant into your home or introducing it as a neighbor to other plants in your garden, inspect each plant carefully, including the soil, and give them a heavy soaking with water beforehand.
Soaking plants send spiders, aphids, and other pests running from what they think is an apocalyptic flood.
When there’s a Lack of Airflow
For vining plants or natural climbers, entanglement can cause a lack of airflow that can lead to pest infestations. If you notice your plants getting restricted by space, consider making a trellis for them to climb and air out the environment.
During Food and Water Shortages
When underwatered or low on nutrients, plants become far more susceptible to pests and diseases than they would while they are healthy.
Rotting roots, damaged leaves, and weak growth points all make easy targets for root aphids and other pests, so be sure to manage symptoms as soon as they present themselves.
11 Proven Methods for Root Aphid Control
Is your plant suffering from an aphid infestation? Even with early detection and prevention methods that keep the aphids from moving to other plants, it’s a challenging endeavor.
Sometimes, it’s better to get rid of an infested plant. Most often, though, you’ll want to save them.
You can try the following tricks to eliminate a root aphid infestation.
The good news is that most of the following methods will even go as far as clearing out root aphids, root mealybugs, shore flies, and other pests – which can give you a little extra peace of mind regarding your plants or garden.
Cooking The Plant’s Soil
Cooking the soil can be an easy cheap way to treat the aphids, but you may need to repeat it if not performed correctly.
- Very carefully remove the plant from the pot or garden and avoid shaking it so that you don’t send the aphids or eggs flying around.
- Once contained, gently remove all the soil from the plant roots by hand, finishing the removal under a water tap.
- Place all the soil from the pot on a baking sheet (about 2-4 inches deep) and bring it to temperature in the oven and bake at 190 F for 45-60 minutes.
- You should also consider baking the soil from your reserves if you aren’t sure about the source of your root aphid infestation. You don’t want repeat problems with new plants you pot with the same soil.
- If the infestation occurred outdoors, you can cover the area where the plant was with a black bin bag and leave it in the sun to heat up. For best results, leave for a full day or two in the heat of summer.
Neem oil can be used in various ways in the garden and is a natural way to preserve soil quality while keeping harmful chemicals out of the garden.
- Add two tablespoons of pure neem oil to a spray bottle filled with warm water.
- Mix and spray the plants thoroughly, including the undersides of the leaves.
- Check your plants often and respray until the infestation is eradicated.
Yellow Sticky Traps
The yellow of these traps can attract aphids, but be aware that they can also attract less harmful other creatures such as ladybugs and butterflies. Traps can be bought online or in your local garden store.
- Remove all packaging and check the instructions for use.
- Place the traps around the stems of plants near the soil for best results.
- Check your traps often to monitor the infestation control.
You can buy insecticidal soaps from your local garden center, but they are also easy to make at home.
- Mix 2.5 tablespoons of vegetable oil and 2.5 tablespoons of pure liquid soap with 1 gallon of distilled water.
- Put it in a watering can and water the affected plant around the base to cover the root zone.
- Repeat as necessary.
Hydrogen peroxide not only helps kill aphids but also keeps roots healthy by supplying them with extra oxygen that allows them to absorb more nutrients from the soil.
- Add a quarter cup of 3% hydrogen peroxide mixture to 1 tbs of water.
- Bottom water the plant using the drainage holes or flood the soil from the top, ensuring all of the soil is saturated with the solution.
- Monitor the issue in the following days, and repeat as needed if you don’t see progress.
Systemic insecticides allow the plant to absorb the active ingredient, which is basically a poison, thus killing anything that then tries to feed from the plant.
Be aware; even pollinators will suffer and die from systemic insecticides, so use wisely and keep the local bee population thriving! This has been linked to serious effects on ecosystems and is known for being detrimental to bees and other insects.
This type of treatment is not advised unless restricted to indoor plants, and certain chemicals are gradually being banned for the benefit of people and the environment.
Diatomite, or kieselgur/kieselguhr, is a naturally occurring, soft, crumbly rock that you can break down into a fine white powder. Similar in appearance to chalk, this powder has lethal sharp edges that are devastating for insects.
Once sprinkled onto the affected area, it will begin to absorb the natural oils and fats of bugs crawling over it, which will eventually dehydrate and die from the extraction.
Rove Beetle – Dalotia Coriaria
This soil-dwelling beetle will feed on root aphids for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! It’s one of the best natural predators of this pest. Consult with your local garden center for access to these natural predators.
Parasitoid wasps are a large group of wasps that use a primary host to lay their eggs and help control all other pests, including root aphids. They are natural enemies to root aphids, which work like a charm.
These microscopic predatory nematodes wiggle around in the soil, searching for a suitable host, including regular aphids. They then release a toxic chemical which will gradually turn the host into a mushy meal that it can eat, and within a few days, the host will die, but none of the plant tissue will be affected.
Alternative Growing Medium
An adult root aphid will burrow through the surface of the soil to reach the roots causing significant damage. These soft-bodied insects will eat into the plant’s roots, causing an escalating problem and making a home in the soil’s damp, dark environmental conditions for a long time to come.
Soil Mites vs Root Aphids: Final Words
While any type of bug running around your soil is a potential cause for concern, soil mites are not something to stress over. With the correct identification of what type of bugs are in your soil, you can either put your mind at ease or quickly begin treatment so that a root aphid infestation is kept at bay.