I noticed today that when I water Mr. Planty, tiny white jumping mite
start to crawl up to the surface of the soil (presumably to escap
drowning). They are really minute and just hop all over the place. No
only am I worried that they are harming Mr. Planty, but it's rathe
gross to have those small mite-like things jumping around my apartment
I'd appreciate it if anyone could help me out with how to get rid o
these little insects.
Not only are springtails harmless to the garden, but their presence
indicates good soil health. Their diet consists of decaying matter,
fungus, & bacteria, & their activity helps keep nitrogen in the soil. A
radical explosion in their population might be an indicator that something
in the organic balance is out of wack, though it probably means only that
there are excesses of mushroom spoors which can increase springtail
populations since springtails go after the mushroom spoors like kids after
halloween candy, & a black springtail called "snowflea" even hops around
after snowfall gathering up fungal spoors from the surface of the snow. If
springtails vanish that means the microflora is probably also missing or
that soil is never sufficiently moist to support either springtails or
microflora. In which case the plants will be at great risk too.
Attempting to get rid of them by drying out the garden would be equally
harmful to microflora, only the springtails would weather the drought
better by moving to moist areas & estivating, or in unusual cases "heading
for cool shelter" which will mean the house, where they will accumulate in
bathrooms & kitchens, & not leave until it's moist outdoors again. A large
indoor infestation without an outdoor drought can be a warning-sign of
mold problems inside the structure or leaky plumbing somewhere undetected.
Insecticides won't get rid of them if there are condensation or moisture
problems in the house, but correcting leaks & moisture problems or
installing a dehumidifier gets rid of them.
Some springtails are so small they will never be seen by the even
moderately farsighted. Tinier-than-average varieties are encountered in
potted indoor plants, but they restrict their activity to the soil & don't
spread elsewhere in the house, & are not harming houseplants.
There is ONE North American exception to the general harmlessness of the
genus. A rounded stumpy flea-like springtail (Bourletiella hortensis) eats
the delicate roots of evergreen tree seedlings, so if you are growing
evergreen seedlings & had a population explosion of this flealike pest,
that could be bad news. Few are the gardeners with lots of tree seedlings,
so the primary bad history for this critter is in tree farms & ornamental
tree nurseries of the Pacific Northwest, where their feeding habits reduce
emergence or cause deformities of western hemlock, sitka spruce, & other
evergreens, & cause lesions in developing bark where harmful fungus can be
established. They are most active in summer & would be dormant now. When
present & active they are easily detected by laying a white piece of paper
on the soil & then blowing on or fanning the soil around the edges of the
paper; if they are present in sufficient numbers to be harmful to
evergreen seedlings, several will jump onto the white surface of the
paper. But if what one sees are ELONGATED springtails (& most of the
numerous species are elongated) then these are invariably harmless.
A similarly primitive insect (far older than true insects) is the jumping
bristletail. They're very nocturnal & feed primarily on the types of algae
& lichens that grow on forest floors in leaf & needle litter. They can be
very common in moist coastal forests where fallen leaves & debris are
thick, which material jumping bristletails help turn into topsoil. They
are rarely numerous in gardens. If there were many, you'd see them by
turning over a piece of lumber or flat piece of bark. As with springtails,
bristletails are harmless, & though they do eat living plant matter, it's
only algae & lichens, not higher plants.
Although springtails are a sign of good healthy soil & ideal plant
conditions, many vendors of various pesticides recommend getting rid of
them. Because chemical vendors don't care to distinguish between what is
helpful & what is harmful, they just want to sell more of their products.
Even if there were an imaginary reason to control them, the method would
be to clean up the leaflitter from the garden. I'd never do this because
springtail activity in leaflitter is a great source of garden nutrients
that helps do away with the need to artificially fertilize. But if I had a
phobia about springtails I'd sweep up all the leaves & that would
automatically lower the springtail population.
-paghat the ratgirl
"Of what are you afraid, my child?" inquired the kindly teacher.
"Oh, sir! The flowers, they are wild," replied the timid creature.
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