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Camellia Scale: Identification and Treatment

The underside of a camellia leaf with Camellia scale infestation

Of the many possible diseases and pests that can afflict our beloved camellias, the most common is the dreaded camellia scale. It is important for any camellia owner to be able to identify and treat for camellia scale as soon as possible once it is found. Doing so can help prevent its further spread to other plants and can help minimize its effect on afflicted camellias. Scale infestations in camellias are serious but do not usually kill the plant. Even so, who wants an unhealthy, struggling camellia?

What is camellia scale?

While there are many different types of scale that affect camellias, I will mainly be discussing the common tea scale. Scale are tiny insects that have sucking mouthpieces that they use to suck the sap out of the plant. After hatching they are referred to as crawlers in their moving phase. In this phase, they are able to move to infest other plants via the wind. After about a week, they attach to a leaf and their legs fall off. Females remain attached for the remainder of their lives.

Many scales, such as the tea scale, form a hard armor over themselves for protection. This armor is what makes then so difficult for contact insecticides to be effective. If you are wanting to go the insecticide route, you will need to time it with the crawler stage to be effective. This stage is usually observed in early Spring, or shortly after the weather begins to warm. If you wish to go a more environmentally friendly route to treat your camellia scale, I will discuss that later. First, you need to be able to identify scale.

How To Identify Scale

You can observe camellia scale damage and presence any time of year if you know what you are looking for. Some people will advise you to look in Spring, but that may be a little late to catch scale in its most vulnerable crawler stage if you are in a much warmer area. I have seen them as early as February in my zone 8a. I look and treat for them throughout the year.

The top of a camellia leaf with Camellia scale infestation

Camellia Scale Top With Scale

Look at the top of your leaves. A healthy camellia leaf regardless of size should be uniformly green and glossy. A camellia that has a scale infestation will have tiny yellow marks or splotches that appear on the top of the leaf. On the bottom of the leaf, you will observe brown and white scale insects. Some may appear like a sticky web-like substance and others will be hardened brown clumps. Once you have identified scale you can move on to the treatment of them.

The underside of a camellia leaf with Camellia scale infestation

Camellia Leaf Underside With Scale

How To Treat Scale

Once camellia scale has been identified, we can move on to treatment. If you have a well-established camellia and the whole plant isn’t covered in scale, you can remove affected leaves and dispose of them. If your camellia is a very young plant, or the entire camellia is covered, you can just remove the most heavily afflicted leaves. You do not want to completely defoliate the plant. Next, choose an organic neem or horticultural oil concentrate and mix according to the package instructions in a handheld sprayer. This type of sprayer allows you to reach into tough-to-reach spots of your more established camellias.Handheld Sprayer next to bottle of neem oil in front of greenery

Spray your camellias thoroughly, taking care to spray the trunk, branches, and all leaves. It is especially important to ensure you spray the undersides of the leaves, as this is where the scale actually resides. Even in armored form, the oil works to smother the camellia scale and prevent it from spreading. I like to treat in the Autumn during dormancy and pick up another treatment in the warming months, or whenever I notice crawlers. If it rains soon after I treat, I may respray. Follow the package-specific usage instructions for whatever neem or horticultural oil that you choose. A special warning not to treat when the temperature will exceed 80 degrees or it may burn your plants.

It is also important to space your plants out and prune them accordingly to allow for healthy airflow to minimize the spread of pests and diseases such as camellia scale.ย  Remember, the earlier you catch camellia scale, the easier it will be to control it.

Good luck and Happy Gardening!

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