If you’ve seen tiny bugs running around in your potted plant’s soil or in your outdoor flower bed, you need to find out if these are beneficial soil mites or plant-killing root aphids. But how do you tell the difference?
Soil mites are so small that you need a microscope to see one but root aphids are visible when you look closely. Root aphids live near the top of soil and crawl onto lower leaves and stems, slowly damaging plants. Soil mites live in soil only, and they nourish the soil with no damage to plants.
Below you will find 17 ways to tell the difference between these creatures, so you know what you’re up against.
Differences between soil mites and root aphids
The table below gives a list of all the ways to identify soil mites from root aphids:
|Tiny at 0.01 – 0.06 inches (0.25 – 1.5 mm) long. It’s extremely difficult to see a soil mite with the naked eye – you’ll need to use a digital microscope like this one
|Small at 1.5 – 2.5 inches (38 – 64 mm), but single root aphids can be seen if you look closely
|Soil mites are usually white or brown, but can also be black, orange, yellow, green, pink, or red
|Usually white or brown, but can be dark green, gray, yellow, or pink. Root aphids are colors that help them blend in with soil and roots
|Not an insect but an arachnid (cousin of spiders, ticks, and scorpions)
|8 legs as adults
|2 antennae (shorter than normal aphids’ antennae)
|No defined waist between the thorax and abdomen. Soil mites have what looks like an oval-shaped, unsegmented body, with no obvious head and only mouthparts
|Pear- or teardrop-shaped, with the head and midsection narrower than the abdomen
|No tail or tubes on the body
|A small tail, with 2 tail pipes sticking out on either side at the end of the abdomen
|Might be seen walking on the soil’s surface, but spend most of their time below the soil’s surface.
Soil mites do not climb onto plants (if you see what looks like mites on the leaves, you could have spider mites or aphids)
|Found on or just above the soil line of indoor and outdoor plants. Crawlers (wingless root aphids) may crawl onto the lower stem and leaves of the plant to feed and live
|No obvious signs you have soil mites, unless you see them walking on top of the soil
|Drop white, chalky honeydew as they feed on the plant’s roots and stem
|Ants eat soil mites
|Ants are often found near outdoor root aphids. These ants take care of aphids because they enjoy eating the honeydew that aphids drop
|Lay very few eggs at a time on the surface of the soil, but some soil mites carry their eggs on their backs
|Lay many eggs in the soil in fall to survive the winter. In spring and summer, root aphids lay eggs on plants’ lower leaves and stems. The eggs hatch and baby nymphs drop to the soil
|Larvae that hatch from eggs have 6 legs (2 less than adult soil mites)
|Nymphs are smaller versions of adult root aphids
|Soil mites can’t fly or jump. Most are slow moving or spend a lot of time sitting still
|When seasons change or the plant becomes overcrowded, winged root aphids are born. They fly away to start new colonies
|Soil mites are good for plants and soil, so you won’t see any signs of damage to your plants. The mites break down organic materials in the soil and eat fungi and bacteria to keep the soil healthy. The only way to know if you have soil mites is to carefully inspect the soil and look for them with a microscope
|Root aphids pierce and suck nutrients out of a plant’s roots, bulbs or rhizomes, making the plant vulnerable to infections, root rot, and mildew. The plant often grows galls on its roots. As the aphid colony gets bigger, crawlers start sucking on the plant’s lower stem. The plant’s growth is stunted and it never grows as big as it should. The leaves turn yellow and fall off. Flowers and fruits stay small, don’t grow properly, and fall off early.
|Soil mites prefer moist compost and shady or darker areas of soil, where there isn’t much direct sunlight. Most active at temperatures between 55 and 63 °F (13 – 17 °C)
|Most active when it’s warm, between 68 and 80 °F (20 – 27 °C)
|Found in soil
|Infest both soil and hydroponic systems
|Soil mites are beneficial insects – it’s best not to try to get rid of them or harm them
|Harmful pests. Insecticide is the most effective root aphid killer
Pictures and videos showing the differences between soil mites and root aphids
The following pictures and video will give you more clues on how to tell the difference between soil mites and root aphids.
Video of soil mites walking in soil
Because soil mites are so small, it’s easier to watch a video of how these mites move around in the soil under a microscope. To get an idea of what white soil mites look like, check out the following video:
If you see signs of mite damage on the leaves of the plant or tree, you probably have spider mites not soil mites. Click here for a list of signs that tell you there are spider mites present.
Pictures of root aphids and the damage they cause
How to get rid of soil mites
Soil mites are good for your plants and you shouldn’t worry about getting rid of them. They break down organic waste in the soil and eat fungi and bacteria, keeping the soil full of goodness for your plants.
It’s easier to get rid of soil mites in potted plants than in your yard, if you really want to get rid of them. Here are some tips and tricks from fellow gardeners to prevent or get rid of these little mites with products available on Amazon:
- Get a dog collar that repels mites, like this one. Cut it into three or four pieces, and place the pieces around the base of your plants infested with soil mites. One gardener swears that this kills and keeps soil mites away from their plants.
- Sprinkle food-grade diatomaceous earth on top of the soil when it’s dry. This natural product is made from fossils, and although it does nothing to us, it cuts and kills soil mites when they walk over it. You’ll need to reapply the diatomaceous earth after each watering as it dissolves.
- Try watering the plant with this miticidal soap from Amazon or this killing soap concentrate once every two weeks for at least three weeks. The soap will need to come into direct contact with the soil mites to kill them. But be warned: if your plant is weak or sensitive it could die from the soapy waterings, so keep an eye on it to see how it reacts or start with a weak concentration.
Best products to get rid of root aphids
Root aphids can be very difficult to get rid of, especially if the colony is established. Here are some top tips and products from Amazon to tackle your root aphid infestation:
- Release these beneficial nematodes into the soil of your infested plant(s). Nematodes are safe for pets and plants, and can be used with potted plants or outdoors. These good nematodes hunt down larvae in soil. Once they get inside the larvae, the nematodes release bacteria that kill the larvae within days. Make sure you get the SF soil pest exterminator if you are dealing with root aphids. The good news is that these nematodes will also kill black cutworms, weevils, maggots, June bugs, gypsy moths and many other pests in the soil for you. Once the pests are gone, the nematodes will naturally die off. Use the chart on the Amazon page to see how much you will need and how to release the nematodes for the best results.
- Water these granules into the soil of your infested indoor potted plants. It’s best not to use this product outside as it could harm hummingbirds, bees, and other beneficial insects that eat the poisoned aphids or feed off the plant. The roots absorb the insecticide and it moves through the plant, killing whatever bugs feed off the plant for the next two months, including root aphids. Don’t use this product on any herbs or edible plants that you plan to eat.
- Another great product to try is BotaniGrad concentrate for large areas or this BotaniGard Insecticide powder for small yards or potted plants. The product is made from the spores of a fungus that attacks root aphids, and can be used as a soil drench to drown root aphids. For the best results, use the highest dose recommended for the area you are applying the product to.
- Food-grade diatomaceous earth kills root aphids when they walk on it. Sprinkle this earth on top of dry soil and reapply after rainfall or after every watering.