If you wonder what do scales look like on plants, there’s more than a single definitive answer. If you’re a plant person, you’ll likely have to battle scale insects at one point or another. 

Get Rid of Scales on Plants

Scales usually appear in dotted clumps on foliage, and although one could think they’re a disease, they are actually insects that are tough and hard to get rid of!

Join us as we discuss what scales look like on plants in this comprehensive guide.

What Do Scales Look Like on House Plants?

Scales look like small rounded lumps on house plant leaves and stems. Scales vary in shape, size, and even color. They usually measure up to an eighth of an inch long and can appear oval and round-shaped. The color of scales can range from brown to white and black.

Before we can even think about what we can do to keep scales away from our plants, let’s try and define scale insects and look into their physiognomy and behavior. It’s important to know thy enemy! 

– Scale Overview

Scales are eggs of insects that are later hatched into hundreds of translucent creepy crawlers. These are only able to move in the beginning stages of their life, later permanently latching onto the foliage.

Scale is definitely annoying, and unlike many other pests, you won’t actually notice them moving around on your plant until they become densely populated. They’ll often appear as brownish and oval bumps on your plant. 

Scale Pests Overview

These moving crawlers can migrate to new feeding places on the plant where they form new shells. If you’re dealing with a single plant scale on your plant, you usually have more than a few scattered around. The name is derived from the shell cover which protects the insect’s body.

What is the life cycle of scale insects? Plant-scale insects go through four stages in their life cycle: egg, nymph, adult, and pupa. The eggs are laid in a mass on the underside of the leaves or stems, where they will hatch into nymphs. The nymphs will then feed on the sap of the plant, growing larger and eventually molting into the adult stage. The adults will then lay eggs, beginning the cycle again.

– Scale Infestation Symptoms

Scale insects can be difficult to identify, as they can be nearly invisible. They can vary in size, shape, and color, depending on the species. To identify scale insects, look for small, circular bumps on the leaves, stems, or twigs of the plant.

These bumps are the shells of the scale insects. If the bumps can be easily scraped off, they are likely soft scales. If the bumps are firmly attached, they are likely armored scales.

Scale infestations can cause a variety of symptoms in plants. The most common symptom is yellowing and wilting of the leaves. The plant may also have stunted growth, reduced vigor, and become weakened.

The plant may also be covered in a sticky substance, which is a sign of scale insects. If you see sooty mold on the plant, this is a sign of a scale infestation, as the scale insects excrete a sugary substance that the mold feeds on.

– Preventing Scale Infestations

The best way to prevent scale insect infestations is to keep the area around the plants clean and free of debris. Remove any dead or dying leaves, as these can attract scale insects. It is also important to inspect plants regularly for signs of scale insects and take action if any are found.

Preventing Scale Infestations on Plants

If you are bringing new plants into your home or garden, inspect them for scale insects before bringing them inside. If you find any, remove them and discard the plant. You can also use natural predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps to keep scale insect populations in check.

– Treating Scales

There are several methods for controlling scale insects. These include chemical pesticides, biological control, and organic garden control. It is important to choose the method that is right for your plants and the scale insect infestation.

Chemical pesticides are often the most effective method for controlling scale insects. These pesticides work by killing the insects directly or disrupting their life cycle. However, they can also be harmful to beneficial insects and other wildlife, so it is important to use them according to the label instructions.

Biological control methods involve using natural predators to control scale insects. Predators such as ladybugs, lacewings, and parasitic wasps can help to keep scale insect populations in check. These predators can be purchased from garden centers or online.

Organic garden control methods involve using natural or organic products to control scale insects. These products include insecticidal soaps, oils, and rubbing alcohol. These products work by smothering or killing insects. They are generally safe to use on plants, but it is important to follow the instructions.

– Controlling Scale Insects on Indoor Plants

Since there are no natural-scale predators in an indoor setting, these infestations can occur and spread even more readily and faster. You’ll need to be very attentive and meticulous about removing these insect pests once they attack your indoor plants.  

Controlling Pests in Garden

If you do notice an infestation soon enough, simple pruning will be your best bet. After this, your worries aren’t gone, as you should keep an open eye for several weeks to make sure no new scales appear. After you’re done with pruning, you should remove the pruned parts at once.  

Remove the existing scale insects by rubbing the plants with a swab dipped in rubbing alcohol. The alcohol should be enough to kill off the bugs and their eggs, but dead insects may still remain on stems, making them hard to tell apart from any new infestation.

To remove the dead insects, use commercially available facial sponges, as they are soft enough to be used for scraping stems without any serious damage. Also, be mindful not to buy sponges with any chemicals on them to avoid any toxins getting into the plant tissue. Always test your insect removal tools on smaller areas to avoid hurting more sensitive plants.

– Rate of Spreading

Scales will spread from plant to plant as newly hatched creepy crawlers. They are tiny and can move around quickly. These bugs are fairly easily controlled with contact insecticides.

Unfortunately, being rather small, scale crawlers are hard to detect. Most gardeners never notice them until the infestation has already occurred and they miss the opportunity to employ necessary measures. 

What Are the Types of Scale Insects That Feed on Plants?

The types of scale insects that feed on plants include armored and soft scale; we also recognize a euonymus scale type. Armored scales have a hard shell covering resembling that of a fingernail, while soft scales are small, often nearly invisible, and can be white, yellow, or even black.

– Soft Scales

Soft scales are the most common type of scale insect and are found on many plants, including indoor plants. They feed on the sap of plants and can cause significant scale damage to the plant.

Soft Scales Affects Plants

Soft scales can be difficult to control, as they are resistant to many chemical pesticides.

If your plant appears moldy or sappy and sticky in parts, you’re likely dealing with soft scales. The plant appears on the brink of death and as if attacked by an unknown disease, but soft-scale insects are likely to blame. 

– Armored Scales

Armored scales are often found on shrubs and trees. These scales damage plants by eating away at sap. They are circular and have a protective shell, or armor, which makes them difficult to control. They will cause significant damage.

Armored scales are typically small and inconspicuous as their protective shells often blend in with the plant, so it can spread rapidly before you even notice it. You should inspect your plant often for signs of small brown and green lumps. 

– Euonymus Scales

Euonymus scales are typically found on euonymus plants. These scales are small and can be difficult to see.

Euonymus Scales on Plants

They feed on the sap of your plant and can cause significant scale damage.

What Are Some Natural Methods of Removing Scales From Plants?

Some natural methods of removing scales from plants include using horticultural oils, using neem oil, pruning the plant, or using rubbing alcohol. These methods are some of the most effective ways to get rid of scales, and everything you need will likely be found easily.

Organic control of scale insects involves using natural or organic products to control the pests. These products include soaps, oils, and rubbing alcohol. These products work by smothering or killing insects. They are generally safe to use on plants.

Organic control methods can be used on both indoor and outdoor plants. For indoor plants, you can use a mixture of insecticidal soap and water to spray the plants. For outdoor plants, you can use neem oil or horticultural oil to control the insects.

– Horticultural Oils

Most of these horticultural oils will be petroleum-based, but there are vegetable oils to fight insect pests like cottonseed oil and soybean oil. The horticultural oil is often diluted to make it easier to spray on stuff.

You should spray your plants with this oil in spring right before leaves grow to their full size. Scale insects will often lay hidden in the bark, but at least you can prevent them from crawling to the leaves. 

Using Horticultural Oils

Spray plants with a garden sprayer filled with up to five ounces of oil per gallon of water. This will choke scale insects even before they have the chance to form their protective skin layer. You should treat an entire plant as scales can be present in stems or in the bark. 

– Neem Oil

Neem oil is a pesticide containing azadirachtin. This is a key ingredient in neem oil and offers amazing protection against scale insects. In addition, this compound will kill off even grown-up insects!

Neem is an oil and won’t mix easily with water, so you’ll want to add a bit of insecticidal soap or even milk to emulsify it a bit. A general rule is to use around two teaspoons of liquid soap and an equal amount of oil per gallon of water. After your mix is ready, mist an entire plant. 

Other treatments containing azadirachtin are known to be efficient organic pesticides and are not toxic to honey bees and other useful insects. 

– Pruning 

Pruning is considered one of the most effective methods of combating scales. It’s also the easiest and most bulletproof solution. You should inspect the plant carefully as well as all the other plants around it and remove all of the infested stems. 

Pruning Plants in Garden

You shouldn’t compost the infested plant matter — quickly put it away in the trash and out the door. 

– Rubbing Alcohol

Rubbing alcohol can kill scale insects if the infestation is in the early stage. Rub the alcohol directly on the scale bugs with a cotton swab. If you’re doing this in an outdoor setting, this can become tedious work so you may think about using that garden sprayer. If you decided to mist your plants, prepare a mixture of one part alcohol to seven parts water. 

You should repeat this process every couple of days until you notice the problem is solved. 


Scale insects are common garden pests that can cause significant damage to plants. They feed on the sap of plants and can stunt the growth of the plant, reduce its vigor, and make it more susceptible to disease. In this article, we discussed scale insects, the different types, their life cycle, and how to identify and prevent them, so let’s check on a few key notes.

  • Scales look like small rounded lumps on house plant leaves and stems. They vary in shape, size, and even color, with some displaying brown coloration and others white or black.
  • Scale insects can be difficult to control, but with the right methods, you can keep them under control and protect your plants.
  • Chemical pesticides, biological control methods, and organic control methods can all be used to control scale insects.
  • It is important to choose the method that is right for your plants and the scale insect infestation.

With the right methods, you can keep scale insects under control and protect your plants.

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