It's An Infestation!

Following a certain self-imposed etiquette of garden blogging, I am putting the picture of the horrifying MAGNOLIA SCALE INFESTATION here at May Dreams Gardens at the end of this post. The picture of these dwarf Monarda is just a decoy picture.

I took the advice of the many who commented on my post about bees and wasps and resisted the impulse to use insect nets and jars to capture the wasps for a closer look.

Instead, I took the ‘safe’ route to figure out what was flying around my Star Magnolia. I stood a bit of a distance away, camera in hand, zoomed as much as it would zoom, and studied the situation.

It took me just a few minutes to determine the root cause of the wasp invasion.


I am a little embarrassed, actually a lot embarrassed, about the extent of the scale infestation on my Star Magnolia. I should have done more to keep it from getting to this point.

I actually first saw the scale late last summer and sprayed the magnolia several times with a dormant oil spray. This seemed to kill of the scale, or at least the scale that was on there flaked off if you flicked it with your finger nails. So I thought the problem was solved.

You do know scale is an insect, right, in the same family as aphids, which means it has sucking mouth parts? It sits on the branches of the tree as an adult, protected by its hard shell, sucking the life out of the plant. In the process it secrets a sugary substance, called honeydew, which attracts all the bees, wasps, and flies which I found buzzing around the tree. Over time, a sooty black mold will cover the leaves, feeding off the honeydew.

It sounds awful, and it is.

When I realized I had not killed off the scale, I was going to spray the tree immediately with horticultural oil. But I checked some online sources to see if that was the right thing to do.

Turns out, spraying now would be a waste of time. I assume the oil wouldn’t penetrate and smother the scale, with their hard shells. I need to wait until fall. What I can do now is use a brush to scrub off a lot of the scale. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

The bloom on the magnolia is too pretty not try.

And now, you’ve been warned, the next picture is the scale itself.

I know, it's gross!

Don’t let this happen to your magnolia! Go out and check it for scale now!


  1. OMG, Carol, that's awful. Magnolia scale, BTW is the longest insect .

    I must say that I had a really bad case of it on my daughter's Merill magnolia one year and yes, I scrubbed off those disgusting insects with a toothbrush and soap !

    The magnolia survived, thanks to our efforts.

    Good luck with yours.

  2. Eww gross! Thanks for posting a picture of the uckies. Makes the rest of us feel normal!

    I like Caroyn Gail's idea with the toothbrush.

  3. Eww ... the scale is ugly! I am not envying you the task of cleaning this off the Magnolia - but it's worth it. The blooms are beautiful.

    I had scale on a rose last summer, but just snipped off the infected canes. It doesn't seem to be back this year.

    The Monarda looks great though ...

    Columbines are so worth growing and mine send cheer to yours for another good blooming season next year!

  4. I'm eating breakfast. That scale is making me nauseous. Be careful of the wasps when you go to scrape it off.

    Never had scale on the magnolia. Hope I never do. Yuck.~~Dee

  5. You might not need to do any scraping if those wasps are attacking the scale. I had a really bad scale infestation on my Magnolia a couple of years ago. I tried scraping some off but I couldn't reach the ones up high. Then the Ladybugs came. They cleared off the tree in no time. Fortunately, I haven't had a problem with it since then. (Uh oh, I better go check it right now in case I've just cursed myself.)

  6. OK. I'll display my the scale the pink little bumpy things? (It's OK...I understand if you don't want to admit that you are related to me - LOL!)

  7. I have to say that I hate scale. We've had it several times on our lemon trees. Hopefully you will get some Ladybugs like Mr. MD says, they'll do the trick. I used insecticidal soap a few times and that seemed to work.

  8. That's a gorgeous magnolia and some very ugly bugs! Do be careful around those wasps.

  9. Scale is creepy, Carol! For some houseplants you dip a q-tip in alcohol and rub them off - that's how I saved a Jade plant once, but I don't think it would work on a tree outside.

    Poor Magnolia! And be careful, please!

    I've been known to use a decoy photo myself, when the rest of the post is distressing. Very Mary Poppins of you to use the spoonful of sugar ;-]

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  10. Go, wasps!

    I keep them around as an antidote to the tent caterpillars. I love my wasps. (And yes, I've been stung. Twice. I was the one not being careful.)

  11. There is something about scale and aphids that makes my skin crawl! Having said that I will say that I delight in hosing the aphids off plants and while I didn't delight in scraping the scale off...I did...with sterile gloves on!

    Good luck Carol.


  12. Ewwwww! I had to scroll back up to the monarda to get that horrible, bumpy scale out of my mind!

    Speaking of the monarda, I was about to buy a similar dwarf monarda myself. But I'm trying to figure out if I really do have room for one more rather enthusiastic plant in my little yard first. Should I go for it?

  13. Double ew, blech, and yech. I have had gardenia scale and maybe other houseplant scale, but nothing like that. I would take drastic measures and immediately--as long as you are comfortable with them.

  14. I don't think I have ever seen this. I will look closely at our magnolia to see if there is some on it.

  15. Thank you, Carol. I learned something here. I would have thought the wasps were eating or collecting the scale. I never thought about a honeydew being the attractor.


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