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So I am currently dealing with essentially a houseplant massacre:

  • boston fern is infested with (I believe) mealybugs
  • bonsai cape mallow is infested with (confirmed) mealybugs
  • bonsai south african ficus is infested with (I believe) spider mites
  • succulents are infested with (confirmed) spider mites
  • spider plant is infested with (I believe) mealybugs
  • cat palm is infested with (confirmed) spider mites
  • chinese basil is infested with (I believe) spider mites
  • string of bananas is infested with spider mites, as well as its cuttings

What is the best way to get rid of all of these? I just realized today that the infestation is as bad as it is. What I've done so far:

  • I noticed the cat palm first. I think this may have been where the spider mites came from. I gave that a good wash and shower last week.
    • Two days ago I gave the cat palm another shower, this time with dish soap/water mixture (it has been quarantined away from other plants since I noticed the spider mites)
    • Today after inspecting other plants, I noticed the string of bananas was in really bad shape. I washed that down with dish soap water. I've done the same with all of the other plants, of course disinfecting the areas where they were with lysol as well as the sink/surrounding area after treating them.

My question is: what is the best way to save my plants?

  • I don't care if the treatment is food or pet safe (I don't have pets, these plants are purely for decoration besides the chinese basil)
  • I will do ANYTHING. I will fog my whole apartment multiple times, I don't care!
  • Given the global quarantine, I want to pick the most effective (not necessarily the safest for me) treatment, since shipment times will take a while. I am definitely going to invest in neem oil for the showers/washes, which I will continue.

    • Related to showers/spraying: how often should I shower the plants? And how do I avoid overwatering when doing so, especially with the succulents?

    • FINAL QUESTION: I just ordered some baskets to set the plastic pots that hold my plants in. Will these potentially exacerbate the problem of both pests (since there's lots of nooks and crannies?) How can I prevent them from becoming a breeding/hiding ground?

Thank you so much for any help or input. For reference: I live in the northeast (PA) in a highrise with south-facing windows. I get direct sunlight through them ~6 hours a day.

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I realise this is a late response, but I am leaving this behind for anyone who might come to this question later on.

[EDIT: In addition the advice listed below, it is a good idea to look at this, more thorough answer - How do I identify and control spider mites

I am not a plant expert by any standards whatsoever, but I have dealt with spider mites on my plants. What your approach to spider mites should be, depends on how far gone the infestation is. I have used three different approaches on my plants so far.

When the infestation is minor, i.e. you see the mites on the backs of the leaves and you see some webbing but the webbing has not completely covered your plant: Option 1. Take the plant into the bathroom and give it a good shower using the shower head. It helps to lay the plant down on its side , so the spider mites from the leaves and the stalks don't flow back into the soil when you shower it. Once you have done that, also shower the lower parts of the stem and the soil. This is the least invasive method, as you only use water. This option can also be tried for a major infestation, but you should be more prepared in that case to throw out the plant, as this might not work.

Option 2. Also applies to a lower amount of infestation. Take a solution of neem oil and castille soap (or a mild dish soap). Take a cloth dipped in this solution and wipe the leaves and stalks and stems with this solution. If you are also employing the method of using beneficial insects, the neem oil will likely keep away your beneficial insects from the plants. So, do not use this in combination with the beneficial insects method.

Option 3. Throw out your plant. This applies to cases where the spider mites have completely taken over your plant so that there is a lot of webbing covering your plant.

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I don’t think individually treating each plant is the best approach - that would need a lot of time and persistence and with a bit of bad luck get you into a cycle of re-infestation where the mites and mealybugs jump from one plant to the next.

There are two approaches you should consider when you have an infestation in all your plants and throwing them out isn’t an option.

  1. Predators.
    For both of your unwanted cohabitants there are insects available that will happily munch on your pests, predatory mites against the spider mites and lacewings or ladybugs (or relatives) against the mealybugs. A certain identification is a prerequisite, as you will want to match the predators to their future victims. There are online vendors that will ship your armed forces straight to your home and they will also supply you with specific instructions how to release them.

  2. Systemic pesticides.
    As you don’t mind “poisoning” the plants, a systemic pesticide, i.e. something that’s taken up by the plants and then kills the pests when they suck the plants’ sap, is way easier than treating the plant individually with either a topical insecticide or by manually removing them. It will save you the multiple rounds of treatments that are almost guaranteed when your miss a few insects or their eggs hatch. Which product to choose will depend on the pests (as said before: ID is crucial) and your local laws and regulations. Either contact your local garden store or check out the website of a reputable plant chemicals company. Most products should be available online.

There’s one important thing that should always be considered when a major infestation happens: “Where did it come from and what made the plants susceptible?” You don’t want a repeat scenario a few months down the line. So check your plants needs and what may have made them less resilient. Typical points are humidity (spider mites thrive in dry air) or fertilizer - more isn’t always a good idea, it makes plants “soft”. It can also be clever move to keep new arrivals “quarantined” a bit, so that in case of unwanted hitchhikers you don’t get a “global pandemic”.

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I am no expert and I have never done any plant pest control. But I have some plant groups that I see talk about Neem oil, a rubbing alcohol solution and something with cinnamon to get rid of certain pests. I would look into which of these might help.

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