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Scale: The Tiny Monster in Your Landscape

Florida is such a wonderful place to live. And the scale insects think so too! 

Florida red scale on holly

Tea scale on citrus

Scale are tiny insects with piercing-sucking mouth parts in the Hempitera order. Some are soft, and some are hard. Most scale insects are not host specific. They will suck the life out of just about any plant, especially those that are already weak. They are often confused for diseases since they enjoy being on the underside of leaves, causing a discoloration of the plant. Identifying scale is very important since the management strategies depend on it.

If scale is a problem in your landscape, get them identified first. Sooty mold, which is a black fungal substance on the plant, may accompany the scale. This is an indicator of soft scales like cottony cushion scale. Sooty mold grows on the honeydew secreted by scale insects. Soft scales can be treated with insecticides, but start with soft products like oils and soaps. Broad spectrum insecticides can be effective too, but use those as a last resort.

There is also hard, or armored scales in the landscape. They are named for their hard exoskeleton, which prevents many insecticides from penetrating the insect. Florida red scale, for instance, is a common armored scale. The broad spectrum insecticides are not effective on armored scales, so stick with soft products. Repeat applications may be necessary. It is also important to be tolerant of some insect damage. We live in Florida, so bugs are just a way of life.

We are happy to help you identify your insects! Bring them by your local county extension office for assistance.

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