Armored Scale Insects & Control

Prepared by Joey Williamson, HGIC Horticulture Specialist, HGIC Horticulture Agent, Clemson University. 11/13.

HGIC 2012

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Many armored scales are serious pests of ornamental shrubs, trees, groundcovers and turfgrasses in South Carolina. Almost 40% of the Clemson Plant Problem Clinic sample submissions for home landscapes during 2012 and 2013 were scale insect pests, and of these, almost 90% of the species were the more difficult to control armored scales. Twenty four different armored scales were identified on residential landscape plants. As winters have become warmer in recent years additional insect pests may have extended their range more northward into South Carolina from Florida and coastal Georgia. More armored scale samples on ornamentals were submitted from the coastal areas of South Carolina than from the rest of the state probably due to the milder winter weather there (see Table 1 for scale insects identified).

Table 1. Armored Scale Insects Identified on Landscape Plants by the Clemson University Plant Problem Clinic in 2012 & 2013.
Armored ScaleHost Plant
Coastal Area
Holly Pit Scale American Holly
Pine Needle Scale Loblolly Pine
California Red Scale & False oleander Scale Oleander
Tea Scale Camellia
Tea Scale Japanese Camellia
Tea Scale Camellia
Tea Scale & Greedy Scale Southern Magnolia
Greedy Scale East Palatka Holly
Greedy Scale Indian Hawthorn
White Peach Scale Flowering Cherry
Citrus Snow Scale Lemon, Tangerine & Grapefruit Trees
Purple Scale Grapefruit
Obscure Scale Flowering Dogwood
Gloomy Scale Red Maple
Palmetto Scale Palm
False Oleander Scale Southern Magnolia
Bermudagrass Scales St. Augustinegrass
Mid-State
Pine Needle Scale Shore Juniper
Palm Fiorinia Scale Holly (evergreen)
Maskell Scale Leyland Cypress
Bermudagrass Scale Centipedegrass
Bermudagrass Scale Centipedegrass
Upstate
Greedy Scale Common Boxwood
Unknown Armored Scale Sabel Palmetto
Pine Needle Scale Japanese Cryptomeria
Lesser Snow Scale Cherry Laurel
Asian Cycad Scale Sabal Palmetto
Oystershell Scale Pachysandra
Elongate Hemlock Scale Eastern Hemlock
Euonymus Scale Euonymus
Peony Scale Japanese Holly
Cryptomeria Scale Japanese Cryptomeria

Some armored scales damage only branches, while others infest foliage or fruits. A severe infestation of armored scales may weaken or kill a tree or shrub.

Tea scale injury on camellia upper leaf surface
Tea scale injury on camellia upper leaf surface.
Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.

Adult tea scale on lower camellia leaf surface.

Adult tea scales on lower camellia leaf surface.
Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.

Scale adults are the most noticeable stage on plants, and these may be white, gray or brown. Adult scales may be round, pear-shaped or oyster-shell shaped, but vary somewhat depending on the species. They secrete a waxy protective covering over their body, which makes control difficult. Some or all life stages of the scale may be found throughout the year (eggs, crawlers or immatures, nymphs and adults).

Armored scales do not produce honeydew as do soft scales. The test (hard covering over the adult armored scales) will often have concentric rings or over-lapping layers. Some soft scales may also have a hard covering present, but it will be smooth or with ridges, but no overlapping layers. Flip an adult scale over, and if there is a separate soft body beneath the hard shell, it is an armored scale.

Identification of the scale is important as it may aid in better control. A sample of the infested plant material may be taken to the local Clemson Extension Service county office. From there, it will be sent to the Plant Problem Clinic at Clemson University for an accurate insect identification.

Euonymus scale on foliage.
Euonymus scale on foliage.
John A. Weidhass, Virginia Tech University.

White peach scale on peach limb.
White peach scale on peach limb.
Eric R. Day, Virginia Tech University.

Cultural Control on Ornamentals

Plants should be kept as healthy as possible to reduce the chance of scale infestation. Plants under stress are more susceptible to armored scale infestations. Maintain plant vigor, but do not over-fertilize trees and shrubs, as this can lead to increased scale problems. Fertilize trees and shrubs approximately mid-March along the coast or April 1st in the upstate with a slow-release tree & shrub fertilizer. Use an azalea and camellia fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Follow fertilizer label directions for rate.

Water trees and shrubs as needed during periods of no rainfall, which is usually no more than weekly during the growing season and monthly during the winter. The rate of irrigation water should be 1” per application. Mulch plants out as far as the drip line of the branches at 3” deep to conserve soil moisture. Do not use weed killers, such as weed and feed products, beneath the canopy of trees and shrubs, as this will add another stress factor to the plants.

For new plantings, plant trees and shrubs in the proper amount of sunlight for the species, plant at the correct depth, and prepare the soil for best growth. For more information on planting, see HGIC 1050, Choosing a Planting Location, HGIC 1052, Planting Shrubs Correctly, and HGIC 1001, Planting Trees Correctly.

If only a portion of the shrub is infested, prune out heavily infested shoots or limbs and promptly dispose of prunings.

Chemical Control on Ornamentals

In general, avoid using contact insecticides as much as possible as they will often kill the naturally occurring enemies of scale insects. Most contact insecticides cannot penetrate the waxy covering on scale nymphs and adults, so the crawler stage is the only life stage that these insecticides control. Failure of contact sprays to work often results from not timing the applications to coincide with crawler activity.

Crawler activity often coincides with the flush of new plant growth in the spring. However, with some scale insects there may be overlapping generations with an extended crawler emergence period. The crawler emergence can be monitored with double-faced tape wrapped around a branch, or by putting an infested shoot or leaf into a baggie and watch for crawler movement. The presence of crawlers can sometimes be determined by sharply tapping an infested twig on a piece of white paper. Crawlers are very small and will appear as moving specks of dust.

Horticultural Oils: Horticultural oils are safe to use and are especially good choices for sensitive areas, such as where people are present soon after treatment. Because of their short residual, they help to conserve beneficial insect species. If possible, time spray applications to coincide with the scale crawler stage, which is most susceptible to all insecticides.

With good spray coverage, horticultural oil sprays may kill all stages of scales that are present at the time of application, and often give good control as they kill by suffocation. However, as with all pesticides, multiple applications may be necessary depending upon the scale species and the degree of infestation. It may take multiple applications to control the armored scales because of the layers of adult scales protecting each other, but the horticultural oil is the most efficient, the safest and the least harmful to beneficial insects.

Horticultural oils are of the highest grade and may be used on tolerant plants during the growing season, but at reduced spray concentrations. Tall trees are difficult to treat, but smaller landscape trees and shrubs can be sprayed during the growing season with 1 to 2% horticultural oil. This rate would be 2½ to 5 tablespoons of oil per gallon of water. If the spring foliage is not out yet on a deciduous plant, spray with a horticultural oil spray so that better coverage of the trunk and limbs is possible. For application during the dormant season late fall through early spring, apply horticultural oil sprays at 2 to 4% mixture (5 to 10 tablespoons of oil per gallon of water).

Most trees and shrubs can tolerate application of horticultural oil even during the summer months. However, during high heat and humidity, coupled with drought, some trees, such as maples are sensitive to oil applications. New needle growth on Eastern hemlocks is sensitive to horticultural oil sprays until the needles mature. Refer to the product label for guidelines on plant sensitivity and any temperature restrictions. In general, sprays should be applied when temperatures are between 40 and 90 °F. To reduce the chance of injury due to drought stress, water the trees or shrubs well a couple of days before spraying. If any phytotoxicity (damage) occurs on foliage with oil sprays, wait until leaf drop for additional spray applications (in the fall). A more dilute spray is applied when foliage is present on some sensitive plants to not cause injury.

For most small landscape trees and shrubs, apply these spray applications when new leaves start to expand in the spring. At least three applications are needed at five- to six-week intervals. Even when sprays are properly timed, repeated applications may be needed if crawler activity extends over time. Spray the plants thoroughly, so that the oils drip or "run off" from the upper and under sides of leaves, twigs, and plant stems. See Table 2 for examples of horticultural oils for scale control.

Contact Insecticides: For safety reasons, one must be very careful when spraying contact insecticides upward onto tall shrubs and trees. See the product label for protective clothing and protective equipment that should be used. To reduce the chance of killing pollinating insects, make pesticide applications when shrubs and trees are not in bloom, and always spray in the early evening. See Table 2 for examples of contact insecticides for scale crawler control.

Soil Applied Systemic Insecticides: Although soil treatments with common products containing imidacloprid will control some tree and shrub pests, such as soft scales, aphids and white flies, these products do little to control armored scales. In fact, treatments with imidacloprid may very well increase populations of spider mites on the plants in the summer.

However, systemic products containing dinotefuran will aid in armored scale control. The granular products are applied around the base of the tree or shrub and watered into the soil. The liquid product is mixed with water, and slowly poured around the base of the plant. If additional control is needed (beyond the use of horticultural oil sprays), apply one of these products in the spring as new growth appears. Evergreen plants can also be treated in the fall, and the majority (approximately three fourths) of the ornamental plant hosts of armored scales identified in the last two years were evergreen plants. Dinotefuran can be used in combination with horticultural oil sprays for improved control. These products are typically found at landscaper supply stores. See Table 2 for examples of soil applied products for armored scale control.

Table 2. Insecticide Active Ingredients & Products Labeled for Control of Armored Scale Insects in Residential Landscapes.
Active IngredientsExamples of Brands & Products
1RTS = Ready to Spray (a hose-end applicator)
Soil Applied Systemic Insecticide for Ornamentals
Dinotefuran Ortho Tree & Shrub Insect Control Ready to Use Granules (2%)
Green Light Tree & Shrub Insect Control with Safari 2G Granules (2%)
Valent Brand Safari 2G Granules (2%)
Gordon’s Zylam Liquid Systemic Insecticide (10%)
Spay Foliar Systemic Insecticide for Ornamentals
Acephate Bonide Systemic Insect Control Concentrate (9.4%)
Spray Contact Insecticides (for crawler control only) for Ornamentals
Acetamiprid Ortho Bug B Gon Systemic Insect Killer Conc., & RTS1 (0.5%)
Ortho Flower, Fruit & Vegetable Insect Killer Conc.; & RTS1 (0.5%)
Bifenthrin Ferti-lome Broad Spectrum Insecticide Concentrate; & RTS1 (0.3%)
Ortho Bug-B-Gon Insect Killer for Lawns & Garden Concentrate; & RTS1 (0.3%) (with 0.075% cypermethrin)
Hi-Yield Bug Blaster Bifenthrin 2.4 Concentrate; & RTS1 (2.4%)
Hi-Yield Indoor/Outdoor Broad Use Insecticide Concentrate (10%)
Up-Star Gold Insecticide Concentrate (7.9%)
Bifen I/T Concentrate (7.9%)
Talstar P Concentrate (7.9%)
Carbaryl Ferti-lome Liquid Carbaryl Garden Spray (23.7%)
GardenTech Sevin Concentrate Bug Killer (22.5%)
Cyfluthrin Bayer Advanced Carpenter Ant & Termite Killer Plus Conc. (2.5%)
Bayer Advanced Vegetable & Garden Insect Spray Concentrate; & RTS1 (0.75%)
Horticultural Oil Bonide All Seasons Spray Oil Concentrate (98%)
Ferti-lome Horticultural Oil Spray Concentrate (80%); & RTS1
Lilly Miller Superior Type Spray Oil Concentrate (99%)
Monterey Horticultural Oil Concentrate (80%)
Southern Ag ParaFine Horticultural Oil (98%)
Insecticidal Soap Bonide Insecticidal Soap Multi-purpose Insect Control Conc. (47%)
Espoma Earth-tone Insecticidal Soap Concentrate (47%)
Natural Guard Insecticidal Soap Concentrate (47%)
Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap Concentrate (49.52%)
Schultz Garden Safe Insecticidal Soap Insect Killer Conc. (47%)
Malathion Bonide Malathion 50% Insect Control
Gordon’s Malathion 50% Spray (Concentrate)
Hi-Yield 55% Malathion Insect Spray
Martin’s Malathion 57% Concentrate
Ortho Max Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate
Spectracide Malathion Insect Spray Concentrate (50%)
Southern Ag Malathion 50% EC
Southern Ag Malathion – Oil Citrus and Ornamental Spray Concentrate (Malathion: 5% & Oil: 75%)
Tiger Brand 50% Malathion Concentrate
Permethrin Bonide Eight Insect Control Vegetable, Fruit & Flower Concentrate (2.5%)
Bonide Borer-Miner Killer Concentrate (2.5%)
Bonide Total Pest Control – Outdoor Concentrate (13.3%)
Bonide Eight Yard & Garden Ready to Spray RTS1 (2.5%)
Hi-Yield Indoor/Outdoor Broad Use Insecticide (10%)
Hi-Yield Lawn, Garden, Pet & Livestock Insect Control Conc. (10%)
Hi-Yield 38 Plus Turf, Termite, Ornamental Insect ControlConcentrate (38%)

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.