In all fairness, we knew. Our friend told us he’d had spider mites and we took the clones anyway. It might have been Joe’s inclination to save and nurture each and every living thing, or just the desire to grow our own blotting out the negative implications of some healthy-looking seedlings. Regardless, we took the seedlings and sowed the seeds of destruction not just for every subsequent attempt to grow, but for the beautiful indoor wonderland we’d built of over 200 houseplants.
Spider mites usually don’t create massive destruction right away. If you think about the spider mites’ self-interest, it makes sense that they kill plants very slowly. Some plants tolerate them better than others, and you can’t tell they’re harboring mites. The subtlety and tininess of the mites works with the grower’s denial. The grower doesn’t want to sacrifice a plant that looks lackluster, but isn’t overtly dying. The grower isn’t eager to get into his plants with a magnifying glass to see the bad news. When I would notice webbing on the houseplants Joe would get annoyed at me: “You’re looking for problems!”
We tried everything. We sprayed plants down with poison, turned them upside down and sprayed them some more. We tried to create homemade teas with hot pepper and other pungent and/or toxic herbs. We bought predator mites over and over, even after we had lost the hope they would really work. Maybe the predator mites have the same self-restraint as the spider mites, and would never finish eating their meal to ensure a population to feed on later? For whatever reason, each purchase and application of the predators resulted in plants perking up for a while, then the inevitable slump back into the wilting, sad look of a plant harboring spider mites. We tried to do a couple more grows, but only the plants that were put outside ever reached adulthood and a decent yield.
Fall seems like a good time to assume my role as the household’s Grim Reaper and finally rid us of the scourge we took on about 2 years ago when we accepted those clones. The towering succulent I kidnapped from a Boston-area college back when it was a neglected seedling has been wasting away in the past few months leaf by leaf, and that’s the last straw for me. Plus, our house is a production facility and while mites only live on plants, it doesn’t seem right to produce the LST in a sad-looking jungle. Everything must go.
Many of the plants are in such poor health that their roots pull up easily and it seems like a mercy killing. Other plants have held up well, and it’s heartbreaking to snap them and stuff them in a bag. A few we love so much they’re going outside today, in the probably erroneous hope that we’ll find another home for them or that the plants will survive outside long enough to be rid of the mites.
Clones might be alright for people who don’t have any other vegetation in their house, who are willing to stake their current and future grow on the health of the clones they are receiving. Clones are alright if it’s your own plant you’re cloning off. But in general, a plant will develop almost as fast from a seed as from a small clone, and you bypass the risk of contracting a pest that could haunt you for years.