Suspected Scale Infection, Need Advice Please

wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)October 5, 2012

Hi, I have a Schefflera and a Gardenia plant that appear to have gotten infested with Scales, I have provided a picture to confirm this since I am a new gardener and I have never dealt with any pests before.

It appears the Gardenia is in a early state of infection (it was brushed against the Schefflera where it was sitting) and the Schefflera seems to be highly infested on several leafs, however it appears it is isolated to the lower leaves on the plant. some leaves have fallen off while new leafs all have black scars on the bottom however they dont appear to have been infested yet so I suspect those scars are caused by the plant being in distress. Also new sprouting leaves get to be about a centimeter in diameter then turn black and fall off.

I have read on several sites that the best way to get rid of scales is to throw the plant away but I would prefer to fight the infection since the Schefflera is from my Aunts funeral and thus it is important to me. I have moved both infected plants to spots were they are no longer touching any other plants to prevent the spreading to more plants.

What would be the best way to fight these? What should I buy? I have also read about bugs that can be released on the plant to eat the scales, has anyone used those before and if they work good where is the cheapest place to get them? I'm on a college student budget

Thanks for reading!

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wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)

A picture of a leaf that has fallen off of one of the lower branches

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 2:13PM
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wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)

And finally the picture of the scarring I talked about on the newer leaves

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 2:16PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

interesting your MI in the first post.. disappeared in the other posts ...

you are growing gardenia outdoors in MI????

outdoors.. i would use a systemic ...

i treated my indoor plants a few weeks back.. so they could be treated outdoors.. and brought indoors afterwards ...

others will talk about organic solutions..

i just want to know if they are houseplants


    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 5:06PM
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wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)

Hi Ken,

I'm not sure why that disappeared in the other posts, this is my first post on these forums.

No, all the plants that are infested are indoor houseplants that have been indoors all last winter and this summer. I actually assumed that by keeping them indoors that my plants would be safe from pests but obviously I was wrong!!!!

How long would I have to have them outside to treat them like you have? The temperatures for the next 10 days are rarely forecasted to get into the lower 60's so I'm not sure if it will warm up enough for me to put them outside this year.

Thanks for the reply!

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 5:26PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Ken, lots of people grow gardenias as houseplants.....SOME actually succeed at it!

There is no reason to toss your plants unless the scale infestation is very advanced. This one doesn't appear to be at that stage. I think you should put up a bit of a battle before you give up.

The most effective method of control for scale insects is horticultural oil. You can purchase one of these oils in any garden center, or gardening department of a home improvement store. These oils are safe to use, as long as you don't drink it or spray it in your eyes. No dangerous fumes.

It works by physically smothering the scale. It will need to be applied a few times a year. Are you willing to do that? Then, first...take your schefflera to the sink and take a soft, soapy cloth to those leaves...upper and lower surface. Hold the leaves in the palm of one hand while gently rubbing with the other hand. Not only will you remove dust and dirt, but a lot of the scale will come off.

After the plant has dried, read the mixing directions carefully and follow them exactly. Spray the upper and lower surfaces and the stems.

Hort. oils can be messy. Cover all nearby surfaces with something while spraying. Don't attempt to wipe vegetable oil on your plants as a cheap substitute for a commercial product. And don't purchase an oil with extra ingredients such as pyrethrins. Hort. oils are manufactured by many companies....get a small bottle. Buy a plastic spray bottle while you're at it. Try to mix only the amount you're likely to use at one time...which wont be very much. Do the math from the directions.

Good grief, that's a lot of rhetoric for something that is only going to take you a few minutes! Horticultural oils are organic and inexpensive.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 6:05PM
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Lots of folks send their houseplants outdoors 'on vacation' during the summer months :-) As part of the bringing them back inside procedure, they are routinely checked/treated for any pest problems they might have outdoors. It's a bit too late in the season for you to attempt this sort of project.

If the first photo of your schefflera is characteristic of the severity of the problem, then I do believe destroying the plant is your only option. Scale insects are difficult to treat at best and when they have truly infested a houseplant to that degree, eradication is virtually impossible.

Couple of things to try: if plant is small enough to manage easily, you can try wiping down each leaf individually with a mix of insecticidal soap and a horticultural oil (Neem oil can work also). Be sure to thoroughly wipe both the top and bottom surfaces of each leaf. You will also need to treat for any scale adhering to stems or leaf petioles. You actually want to "scrub" off all the scale but without damaging the plant.

There are also indoor plant systemics (Bonide is one mfg) that will address scale but IME they have limited effectiveness. You could also pick a mild day that offers minimal wind (and no rain), take the plant outdoors and spray the heck out of it with a decent spray insectide, one that is registered for scale. Again, both the top and bottom of the leaves and any exposed stems, etc. Once the foliage dries, bring the plant back indoors but continue to isolate from other houseplant until you are sure all the scale is killed. This may require several treatments and again, IME, insecticidal sprays are not very effective against scale.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 6:10PM
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wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)

Thanks for the replies everyone, I'm at the movie theater right now typing this on my phone so I won't have a very long response right now.

Just to make it clear, the first picture is how probably 2 or 3 clusters look like but the majority of the leaves have only a few scales per leaf like in my 2nd photo and the upper leaves appear clear right now. Should I just cut the leaf stems off that are as bad as the first picture? I do want to try to save the plant due to its meaning to me but if it comes to it after trying the suggestions of others and after some time it might come to it.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 6:31PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

If the first photo of your schefflera is characteristic of the severity of the problem, then I do believe destroying the plant is your only option.


the first picture is how probably 2 or 3 clusters look like but the majority of the leaves have only a few scales per leaf like in my 2nd photo and the upper leaves appear clear right now.

==>>> prune off the worst.. then hand treat the rest ...

too late in MI for them to be outdoors ...

ken in Adrian mi

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 7:05PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

BTW ....

keeping a green gardenia.. indoors ... in MI is not all that hard..

the hard part is providing enough ambient light.. for the green plant to make those big flowers ...

has yours ever flowered in the house????

if not.. put it under lights ... 2 inches from the plant 12 to 16 hours per day..

after you get rid of the bugs .. see link .. you will still have to physically remove them ... scale will not fall off ...


Here is a link that might be useful: hit the MSDS button.. labeled for scale on houseplants ... and treat EVERY plant in your house ... you will be bug free for the rest of the winter ... this is basically what i did 30 days ago .... outdoors ...

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 7:10PM
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wmuav8tor(zone 5/6, Michigan)

Thanks again everyone for your advice!

I actually plan to take my plants outside next summer, especially my brand new grafted citrus tree! This summer though I had a College apartment until August and there was not really any space to put my plants outside since I lived on the third floor and by the time I moved back home in mid August I figured there was no use taking the time to harden the plants off to being outside with only a month left of acceptable temperatures. I actually have never even thought of spraying my plants preemptively though! I will have to do that from now on.

The Schefflera plant is 2.5 feet tall (not including the pot) but it is a spread out plant with pretty easy access to all the leaves so it shouldn't be too hard to handle. I will clip off the really bad leaf stalks and then will try the methods mentioned before to hand treat it and will hope for the best!

As far as the Gardenia, The flowers are actually what caught my attention at the store, I loved their smell and appearance so I bought a already blooming plant (that was back in May) though I was concerned about taking care of it after reading from many places that Gardenia's absolutely require full sun and a very specific temperature range to bloom but the plant has really taken off! it has grown a couple inches taller and I can already tell it will need to be repotted in the spring as it continues to grow new leaves. It continued to flower all summer until just about a month ago then the few remaining buds turned black and fell off, I assume probably because of the days getting shorter and thus it getting less sun. I hope it will bloom on its own next spring but if it doesn't seem to be growing buds I will get one of my grow lights and try what you suggested!

Thanks for the link and all the advice, I will be sure in the future to always spray my plants to help keep them pest free. I'm new at gardening and always appreciate advice from more experienced people such as all of you :)

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 9:45PM
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I just noticed a very heavy infestation (based on looking at photos of infestations, it looks much worse than the pictures above and came on pretty suddenly) on my schefflera and also a small ivy plant and have booted them outdoors and will not return them. I have two questions. I just repotted the schefflera with soil that had worm castings in it, and added that soil to my other houseplants. Could that be the source? The Schefflera was rootbound and had been dropping some leaves before but I saw no "honeydew" or other obvious signs. My other question is my nearby houseplants. 1. A Dallas fern, can that be infected? 2. A peperomia rotundifolia that doesn't appear to be infested so far, a dracaena far away from the others, and a hibiscus I winter over inside and have cut back in preparation for bringing outside next month. What should I do? I'll get some horticultural oil, but how do you make that soapy/alcohol spray?

Thanks very much for any help.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 10:05AM
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I worry about the use of systemics, esp the class called Neonicotinoids, and Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees, not to mention killing off other beneficial insects-and birds.
Try using Neem oil, which interferes c the scales' ability to feed without harming "Bennies", neighbors, their kids or pets. Apply 3-5 times as necessary in 5 day intervals until scale infestation subsides.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 1:23PM
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Thanks, I will get some neem oil. I've discarded the two definitely affected plants, washed off the others and washed off all the sticky stuff and put the outdoor plant on my back porch until it's warm enough to put outside Will keep an eye on things. Sad for the Schefflera, but that's life. Can I safely compost the schefflera?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 1:49PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Scale infestations don't appear suddenly. This one just snuck up on you! These insects don't simply show up overnight but it might take a major infestation before they are noticed. They did not come from the worm castings...scale do not live, breed, nor overwinter anywhere but a plant.

Ferns can be very susceptible to brown scale. Look on the back of the fronds can miss them if you don't inspect carefully. Ferns are super sensitive even to neem oil. Other oils are often recommended for ferns, but you must use a light weight product at a lower rate and longer intervals between applications. Truthfully, if you find a well established infestation it might be a good idea to trash it.

Be sure to be watchful of sunlight and heat when applying oils, no matter what the plant.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 5:31PM
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Thank you. Glad it wasn't the soil, and I think you're right--the Schefflera had been dropping leaves and I attributed it to needing more soil, but I think the watering it got after repotting might have made the scale thrive--the sticky stuff is what alerted me, I had certainly not seen the the little bumps on the leaves when I repotted it. I just checked the fern, which has a lot of dead brown fronds around the edges. I've had this fern for probably 15 years and divided it a few years ago, and it probably needs it again, but I think I will guiltily ditch it. I don't see scales on the underside of the fronds, but it seems likely to be infected.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 6:12PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

No need to toss the fern if it doesn't have scale. If you are going to divide it (which needs to be done fairly frequently with ferns), that might be a good time to really inspect it. Scale insects are not invisible, nor so small that they can't be seen easily with the naked long as we know what to look for. Those little brown scale species can really be disguised on a fern.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 10:39AM
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