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A Quick Run Down on Scale Insects

A Quick Run Down on Scale Insects

Scale is a common problem in the garden. They are nasty little sap-sucking insects which attach themselves to twigs, leaves, branches and fruits of host plants. 

There are about 8000 types of scale insects throughout the world! They are easy to miss because they are so small but the telltale signs are pretty obvious once an infestation builds up. 

What does scale look like?

They are kind of like mini turtles... they are a shell-like bump which can vary in colour, shape and size but are often rounded. There are two types of scale - soft and hard. The soft scale type is covered with a protective waxy substance and is easier to kill than hard scale. The hard scale type secretes a hard shell over their bodies for protection from predators. Both are bad news for your plant.  

Pink wax scale (Photo: Dan Papacek)

What does the damage look like?

A telltale sign of an infestation is distorted, yellow and wilting leaves, a stunted and weak plant and in some cases, stems and branches will die back. If you see ants running up and down the branches, that is a bit of a tell tale sign that there is some scale lurking around. They are seeking out the the sweet syrup that the scale exudes .... mmmm making my mouth water. 

Scale (Photo: Gilles San Martin)

What's the best way to treat scale?

The best way to treat scale is naturally. Try encouraging beneficial insects like more solider beetles, lady beetles and parasitic wasps. Lure these good insects into your garden with flowers and herbs - they love geraniums and coriander. When you spot an infestation prune the affected branches/leaves and rub off the scale. Applying a neem oil to the leaves will suffocate them. 

So no need to panic but observation is the key. Early detection means it is easy to control. Those little ants running around will often be the clue you need.