Plants 101

Bug Off: All About Scale

If you noticed some bugs around your plant, chances are you want to get rid of them. You’re in luck. Our Bug Off series takes a closer look at common houseplant pests, how to get rid of them and how to prevent future breakouts.

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Why Does My Plant Have Pests?

It’s important to note that bugs are totally normal. They are not a sign of poor hygiene or lack of care on your part. You’re doing fine. It’s just nature taking its course. Bugs can remain invisible to us, even when we inspect our plants before purchasing. You may want to spray your plants with a mild, unscented soap-based cleanser, hot oil, or insecticidal soap to kill any pests that may be hiding. Check in on plants from time to time for pests and make sure they aren’t under stress, lacking light, have too much water or not enough, and that the humidity levels are ideal — any one of these or a combination of factors can be the perfect mix for pests to emerge.

What are Scale Bugs?

Scale bugs or Scale (Coccoidea) are common indoor pests and can be quite destructive. They are in the order of insects known as Hemiptera and they are plant parasites. They look like fish scales on plants, thanks to their hard, waxy shells that act as their protective home. To keep their waxy shells hardened, scale bugs attach themselves to your plant and drain the vascular system, fortifying themselves with waxy secretions on their shells.

Getting Rid of Scale Bugs

There are two types of Scale—hard and soft. While being enclosed under their waxy shell makes a scale bug generally impervious to spraying insecticides of any kind (especially ones with hard scale) sometimes soft scale can be affected by sprays.

It is advisable to scrape off scale bugs. If it’s an old infestation, dead scale bugs are easy to scrape. It’s the live scale bugs that are tougher because they’re holding on and don’t want to let go. Even though you may have removed the visible adults, the crawlers or larvae of Scale may be hatched and feasting on untapped areas of your plant. They bad news is that they are annoyingly almost invisible. The good news is that they’re very weak, making them intolerant to mild insecticides.

To get rid of adults and their larvae children, the preferred control method is a combination of both: scrape off all the bugs you can see, then follow up with a spray of insecticides.

You may want to use an insecticidal soap or a neem oil.

How haven’t they destroyed all the plants in the wild?

Although a high-level boss indoors, Scale bugs have quite a few predators in the wild. Birds with excellent vision can tell scale from non scale, and the fact that they’re completely immobile makes them an easy snack. Beetles—one of the strongest and fiercest insects—have mighty mandibles, perfect for crushing shells of Scale and feeding on them.

How do Scale bugs travel?

Besides seeing scale on the plant, the plant will become chlorotic and slightly droopy due to their juices being sucked out. Scale are an easy pest to remove and they do not travel very well (only the weak crawlers can jump to the next plant), so usually infestations are brought in from new plants. Although they can ride on the wind, this is generally uncommon, especially in cities.

Which plants are most commonly affected by scale bugs?

Generally, plants that are tough but plump and juicy are scale bugs’ main targets. They don’t like to go after thin-leaved plants because there’s not much to tap into or fasten themselves to. Plants with bark or a really thick protective layer are too much work for scale to infest. They may go after green growth on woody plants or a different plant entirely. They love stiff fleshy juicy plants like snake plants, cacti, succulents, and bird’s nest ferns.

Plant pests are annoying but harmless to humans and pets. They are relatively easy to be rid of with a few simple solutions. When treating your plant for pests, be sure to give them time to recover. Be sure to check out our articles on how to get rid of fungus gnats, spider mites, and mealybugs.


Words By The Sill

Empowering all people to be plant people — a collection of articles from The Sill’s team of Plant Experts across a variety of plant care topics to inspire confidence in the next generation of plant parents. Welcome to Plant Parenthood™.