How to Treat Scale Insects on Plants

living color scale insects on dark green leaves

We all work hard to keep our plants healthy and thriving, but sometimes disease and infestation show up at our door and on our precious blooms. Scale is quite a nuisance, but dealing with it isn’t the end of the world. Here are some tips on how to identify, prevent, and get rid of scale insects.

living color scale insects on stem up close

What Is Scale?

Despite its appearance, scale is not a disease but a pest. “Scale” actually refers to an infestation by potentially thousands of different tiny insect species. These insects may vary greatly in shape, size, and color, but what they all have in common is they cluster together and attach themselves to a plant’s stems or leaves.

Scale insects may have been hiding out during the winter and will come out of their slumber to start leeching off your plants.

There are two categories of scale: hard/armored scale and soft scale. Armored scale develops a shell over its body to protect itself from predators, while soft scale has a protective waxy coating. Generally speaking, soft scale is easier to treat, whereas the hard scale may need more intense tactics to permeate the shell and kill the insect.

living color scale insects person inspecting houseplant

How To Tell If Your Plant Has Scale

To provide your plant with proper treatment, you will need to identify scale accurately. It can often be confused for a fungus or bacterial disease. As mentioned, scale insects cluster together, so keep an eye out for shell-like bumps on the stems or leaves of your plant. Another common sign of a scale infestation is a sticky substance on the plant. Scale insects suck the moisture out of your plant and secrete a substance called honeydew. Finally, check your leaves for a dark mold that looks like soot. This is another sign that your plant may be infested with scale. While scale doesn’t directly cause the mold, the sticky substance they produce may be attractive to fungal organisms. Check your plants regularly and thoroughly for any signs of this pest; catching it early means getting rid of it more efficiently.

living color scale insects on yellowed damaged leaves

What Damage Can Scale Cause? 

If left untreated, scale can eventually kill off your beautiful plants. However, scale damage happens slowly, so there is time to intervene, treat, and prevent further damage. If your plant has been infected, it may begin showing signs of distress, such as yellowing leaves, drooping leaves, and stunted growth.

Treating Scale Insects

Scale insects can be a bit tricky to get rid of at times. They can protect themselves surprisingly well despite being so tiny. These blighters are the easiest to get rid of during a very short window during their life cycle. The crawler stage is when the baby nymphs have just hatched. They have grown legs and are very active, trying to find a spot to latch themselves onto. This is the best time to treat your plant with a pesticide. The timing can be challenging and is not always possible, but there are other alternatives other than giving up on your plant. 

living color scale insects on green leaf up close

How To Treat Plants For Scale

Outdoors, Mother Nature provides many natural predators to keep scale at bay. Lady beetles, soldier beetles, and parasitic wasps act as natural pest control solutions. Provide them with their preferred food and shelter, and it’s unlikely scale will ever be much of a problem in your garden. If you do notice the signs of scale, there are a few approaches you can take to treat it.

Unfortunately, scale on your indoor plants has a greater chance to thrive because none of its natural predators are inside your home. If you notice scale on your houseplants, take care to use products indicated to be safe for indoor use.

Horticultural Oil: 

Buy plant scale removal spray with horticultural oil and use it during the springtime as plants are beginning to unfold their new leaves. Scale insects may have been hiding out during the winter and will come out of their slumber to start leeching off your plants. Ensure the oil gets on all parts of the plant, including the base of the plant and the undersides of leaves. The oil works so well because it can penetrate the insect’s breathing pores, essentially suffocating them. Be sure to learn the risks of using horticultural oils, as they may be damaging to some plants. 

living color scale insects rubbing alcohol leaves

Insecticidal Soap: 

Insecticidal soap is most effective during the larval stage. It likely won’t conquer adult scale insects, but it’s a more plant-safe option if that infestation is in its early stages. These soaps can also be used as a follow-up treatment.


Pruning infected leaves and branches is an easy and efficient way to get rid of a scale infestation. Be sure that your pruning is thorough and that it hasn’t spread to other plants. Dispose of the pruned plant pieces right away, and don’t attempt to compost the cuttings.

Rubbing Alcohol:

Rubbing alcohol can kill scale insects if the infestation isn’t too severe. Dip a cotton swab or sponge in the rubbing alcohol and gently apply directly to infested areas. It’s a good idea to do a test spot on your plant before applying it all over. Alcohol can be damaging to the plant. 

If you’re concerned about the health of your garden, please get in touch with us. We’d love to help you get rid of pest issues on any “scale” and get your Fort Lauderdale plants thriving again!

Sharing is caring!