I would like to make clear that, despite the title of this post, no bug is bad in any moral sense. They merely do what they were born to do. Those Japanese beetles skeletonizing the foliage on your favorite rose bush bear you no personal ill-will. They’re just being Japanese beetles trying to stay alive long enough to reproduce. It’s called “the biological imperative,” and all living things are subject to the mandate to some degree. It’s not synonymous with “evil” in any species.
That being said (and my conscience assuaged), gardeners often find some common insects, er, problematic. (I refer here primarily to ornamental gardeners: those who grow edibles are beset by woes we flower-lovers can’t even begin to imagine.) Said insects generally fall into two categories: sucking pests and chewing pests.
In my neighborhood, the plant-juice suckers outnumber the plant-leaf-and-fruit chewers by a wide margin. Why? Just lucky, I guess. And of all the suckers, the one we see most of is scale.
Now, I said “scale,” singular. That’s misleading. There are lots and lots of scales. You got your soft scales and your armored scales; your black, brown, red, white, rose, olive and calico scales; your euonymous, holly, magnolia, camellia, oleander, palm, hemlock, pine, oak, elm, beech, juniper, fern, peach, and walnut scales; your California, Florida, Indian, Chinese, European and San Jose scales; scales named for people named Fletcher, Maskell, Forbes, Townsend, Putnam and Boisduval. Scales can be gloomy, obscure, frosted, irregular, elongate or scurfy; they might resemble wax, barnacles, terrapins, tortoises, oyster shells, umbrellas or cottony cushions. All together, North America is home to about 1240 species. And they all suck.
|Tea scale on the underside|
Chinese holly leaves
|A cottony cushion scale convention|
that killed this cleyera twig
Pictured above and below are four we see a lot of. Tea scales fall under the rubric of armored, although they’re too tiny for us to make out individuals. They love camellias (which is why they’re called “tea”—don’t tell me you didn’t know the tea we drink comes from Camellia sinensis), Chinese hollies and Chinese ligustrums. As its name suggests, cottony cushion is a soft scale. Pyracantha is a favorite of theirs, as is cleyera. Also softies in a gooey sort of way, wax scales are largely tropical, but a few species do quite well in the southern U.S. We find them on hollies, pears, camellias and magnolias. The brown scale here looks like it ought to belong in the armored class, but it’s soft too. We encounter this kind less often than the others, but usually in large infestations. The worst case ever seen by Fitzgeralds Gardening occurred on a trio of ‘Little Gem’ magnolias that were planted too deep; ergo, badly stressed. The second worst instance was on willow oak.
|Aptly named wax scale|
|Also aptly named brown scale|
|The upper sides of lacebugged|
|Newly hatched lacebugs |
on the underside of an azalea leaf
Do your azalea leaves look like the ones pictured here? If so, you've got lacebugs. Don't confuse these miniscule suckers with the lovely, beneficial, diaphanous-winged lacewing: like Texas, lacebugs are a whole other country. In the neutral to alkaline soils of coastal North Carolina, lacebugs are as certain as death and taxes on acid-loving, stressed-out azaleas.
|Whiteflies and their eggs|
|A herd of yellow aphids|
|Itty-bitty red spider mites|
|How to tell if you have spider mites:|
stippled leaves and webs
(click on this one to see the details)
|This is what sooty mold,|
caused by "honeydew,"
|A moderate infestation of|
the dreaded azalea caterpillar
can defoliate an azalea (duh)
in a week or two
|Tent caterpillars in their cozy home|
|This is the bag the bagworm lives in|
|Your basic grey garden slug|