For many Aussie dads, there's probably few things in life that receive as much tender loving care as their lawn. That might even be true for single father of three John-Michiel Koens.
The Queensland plant enthusiast noticed a brown patch on his front lawn earlier this month, which soon began to expand outwards in an almost perfect circle. His front lawn seemed to be dying from something that was radiating outward.
"I noticed the lawn damage first but I thought nothing of it. I originally assumed it to be a fairy ring caused by fungal mycelium given the wet weather we had recently," he told Yahoo News Australia.
Mr Koens collects and grows unusual and exotic plants and soon noticed an unwanted visitor on some of his indoor plants – spider mites. Taking a closer look at the patch of lawn, "I noticed the webbing on the grass," he recalled, realising he had likely found the culprit.
"I can't be sure the mites on my house plants are the same species as what's on my lawn," he said. "[But] the damage they cause to the leaves which often shows as pale speckling followed by death of the affected leaves and the webbing they build for protection tells me they are something in the Tetranychidae family.
"They tend to flare up each year with the onset of the warm, wet weather."
Members of the Tetranychidae family, which includes some 1,200 species, spider mites are present throughout the country but cause the worst problems in areas with high heat and low humidity. They generally live on the undersides of leaves, where they can spin protective silk webs, and can cause damage by puncturing the plant cells to feed.
Plant lovers stunned by discovery: 'First time I’ve heard of this'
Mr Koens, who has previously worked in fauna spotting, took to a specialised plant group on Facebook to share his unlikely story last week.
"I have watched this patch grow steadily over the past few weeks, assumed it was fungal but after a closer look yesterday it's a gigantic patch of spider mites slowly spreading outwards through the lawn," he explained.
Many of his fellow "crazy indoor plant people" in the aptly-named group were surprised by his discovery. "Wow that’s the first time I’ve heard of this! Didn’t ever think they were attracted to grass of all things," one person commented.
"I don’t know why but it never occurred to me that this could happen!" another said. "Is this an April fools?!" a third member commented. Others even suggested a lawn grub or lawn beetle was actually behind it.
How to treat spider mites
Hasan Rahmani is an entomologist with the Victorian state government and agrees Mr Koens's lawn damage could very well be caused by spider mites given "the presence of the webs".
"Sometimes, poor lawn maintenance can contribute to spider mite damage," he told Yahoo News Australia. "So mowing regularly and adding nutrients to the lawn could have helped. But now, if it is spider mites, the lawn can be sprayed with miticides three time over a fortnight to get on top of it and try to strengthen the lawn later on."
Confident in his diagnosis, Mr Koens has already planned out his rather elaborate treatment for his spider mite problem – both indoors and out.
"Not knowing the exact species doesn't really affect treatment. I prefer to use natural remedies where possible due to pets and kids," he told Yahoo. "I keep and breed arachnids and insects as well so any treatments I use on my indoor plants can potentially affect them too so I use pest oil which works by blocking the mites breathing pores and smothers them rather than poisoning them.
"And after that I will release predatory mites which are generalist predators and will feed on the bad mites and their eggs. They reproduce faster than the pest mites which allows them to quickly take care of the issue and one treatment is all I have ever needed but spider mites being so small are easily transported so I find they seem to pop up at the same time each year," he explained.
However the TLC required for the lawn will be a decidedly easier task. "The lawn, being outside, I will treat a little harder as it's well ventilated and away from pets so I have hit it with fly spray to help knock some of the mites off and will finish them off with a miticide," he said.
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