Sunday, February 21, 2010

English Ivy and Soft Scale


My poor, poor ivy.  I have been so busy preparing to move that I didn't even notice that my english ivy, which was actually quite long, had been infested by something.  Of course I noticed a few dry leaves here and there, but I attributed that to forgetting to water it  very much.  Another problem is that its normal resting place is on the ledge next to the stairs.  The ivy looks very pretty trailing down the wall in the foyer.  Unfortunately, it also makes the leaves far above my head.  I went over a couple of days ago to look at it, and wondered why it looked so 'crispy', in spite of stepping up my waterings lately.  What I found was a very devastated plant!


In addition to many dry and dead leaves, I found many that looked 'weak' and 'wilted'.  This piece is a good example, the leaves are still green, but it just looks sad and pathetic. 


You can see looking at these pieces that by the time I noticed the problem it was pretty bad.  However, I still had to do some investigation to find out what was wrong.


I flipped the leaves over and this is what I found.  Little flat red specks, mostly aligned along the veins of the leaves. They did not appear to move at all.  When I attempted to touch them, I noticed they scraped off with my fingernail, leaving a waxy substance.  I got on the internet and did some research.  At first, I really thought it was red spider mites.  I found several sites talking about english ivy having red spider mites as a common problem.  However, I still wasn't sure, the red specks under the leaves did not look like the pictures I found of spider mites. 


I figured it wouldn't hurt to give it a good spray.  Blasting the leaves with water to send the buggies to kingdom come is an excellent organic pest removal method.   While the plant was drying, I got back on the net to figure out what I had.  I finally came across the likely culprit:  soft scale, or (hard) armoured scales.  There are several different kinds, and evidentally, going along with what I experienced, they are also one of the most misidentified pest problems among houseplants.

Some scale insects produce 'honeydew' or a sticky, sweet substance.  This insect often appears to be nonliving, which is part of the problem.  I never did see one move, the whole time I looked at them.   The reason they damage plants so much is because they insert their hairlike mouthparts into the plant tissue and siphon out the plant's sap. Infestations of the soft scale can cause leaves to yellow, die and fall off prematurely, and limbs and entire plants to die.  So, what do I do about it?

 In some cases, I would be apt to let the insect's natural predators take over.  At this point though, I am suffering from a severe lack of natural predators inside my house.  This time it is going to have to be neem oil. This product mentions scale insects specifically on the label.   It is also ready to spray, which makes it much easier to use.  That brings us up to now.  I am going to try the neem oil spray, and hopefully, my first experience with soft scale will be my last.  

Do you have any experience with these scale insects, or had trouble figuring out what was killing one of your plants? I would love to hear about it.

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