In this second installation of the insect invasion series, we are going to talk about scale insects. We talked about aphids in the first installation.
The second plant I saw a few weeks ago was at a library. It was a large Schefflera arboricola that I noticed right away.
Its shiny leaves caught my attention from across the room and it compelled me to walk over to inspect it. The problem was clear as I walked up to the plant and MY FEET STUCK TO THE CARPETING!
The plant was so covered with scale, the carpet was sticky with honeydew. I mentioned in the first installment honeydew is insect excretion. YUCK!
Two types of scale insects
There are two types of scale; hard or armored and soft. Hard scale does not produce honeydew, so we know that the scale on this plant is a soft scale.
The honeydew on this plant is excessive. Scale starts out as crawlers. Which means they crawl around until they find a place to settle down and start eating.
What is the problem?
So the first thing to do when you feel there is a problem with your plant is to find out what the problem is. Is it cultural? Water, light, soil, etc.
Or, does it have an insect or mite attacking? After you’ve found the origin of the problem, identify it. The identification of the problem, i.e. insect, is key in figuring out the solution and treatment.
If your plant has spider mites, for example, you are not going to use an insecticide. Mites aren’t insects.
The chemical wouldn’t work and spraying your plant with whatever chemical you have, is not a good idea. Use chemicals sparingly and only after completely reading the label.
Is it savable?
This scale-insect-covered plant is unsavable, in this particular situation.
#1 It’s in a library.
#2 No one is paying too close attention to this plant or it would never have gotten this bad. (How could the custodian not feel the stickiness of the floor?!)
#3 Because it is a public building, they can’t spray anything. I’m not sure they would even be able to treat the soil. The weird thing is the same plant less than 20 feet away, is fine, but not for long.
Even in your home, deciding whether you want to take action or dump the plant is a personal decision. Some people don’t want to spray anything in their homes, even if organic or considered “safe”.
Move infested plants
The first thing to do if you discover you have insects on your plants is to move them away from your other plants.
I can show you what happens when you don’t. Even if you do move them, the plants around them may already have bugs, but they may not be apparent yet.
Keep a close eye on plants that have been close to infested plants. Below is a bird’s nest fern covered in scale.
Armored Scale Insects
I had this prayer plant below, tucked in among a group of other plants. Thus the reason I didn’t notice the problem right away.
I do know it started on a neoregelia bromeliad as I removed that first when I noticed it had this problem.
Not being sure what it, I asked an entomologist friend, and she said its an armored scale.
I should have known it wasn’t soft scale or mealybugs, because there is no honeydew. Honeydew is the sticky residue left by soft scales, mealybugs, and aphids after feeding on the plants. It is otherwise known as excrement.
You can see how I thought this was mealybugs. The fuzzy white stuff looks like mealybugs. But again, no honeydew should have been my first clue.
I have never had this armored scale. And, I also found out it isn’t easy to get rid of. I threw the neoregelia away, it was so bad. I also threw away this prayer plant.
Control of scale insects
So, how DO you get rid of the scale? Persistence is key. It may take a few treatments of whatever you use.
If you only have a few insects on your plant, using alcohol and a cotton swab and wiping them off works well. You have to keep checking the plant to make sure you get the bugs that may hatch from hidden eggs.
Neem oil is also a good option. I use a product in the ready-to-spray form. It is already mixed and ready to spray on the plants.
I’ve used Azamax, containing a high percentage of azadirachtin, derived from the seeds of the neem tree. It is stronger than regular neem oil.
There are also systemic insecticides that work against these hard-to-control insects. I apply a granular form to the soil and water it in. It moves through the plant, making the entire plant poisonous and when the insects eat the plant, they die.
Use this product carefully around children and pets who may also chew on your plants.
Inspect plants often
Remember, if your plant seems to be struggling or looks less than stellar, inspect your plant. Always identify the problem before taking any action.
When identified take action, even if that is throwing the plant away. No judgment here.
Have a great week, plant friends.
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