Brown scale

Brown scale is a sap-sucking insect that evidence of which can be found on woody plants at any time of year, partly because old dead scales remain attached to the bark.

Brown scale on cotoneaster. Credit: RHS/Science.

Brown scale on cotoneaster. Credit: RHS/Science.

Quick facts

Common name Brown scale
Scientific name Parthenolecanium corni
Plants affected Many woody plants, including Ceanothus, Cotoneaster, Cytisus, Weigela, Wisteria, roses, plums and bush and cane fruits. In glasshouses grape vines, peaches and nectarines may be affected
Main symptoms Brown, oval convex shell-like objects on the branches
Most active All year

What is brown scale?

There are many types of scale insects encountered by gardeners, they are sap sucking true bugs. Brown scale  lives primarily on stems and is found on a wide range of woody plants.

Symptoms

  • Convex, oval, dark brown 'shells', 3-6mm long (1/8in to 1/4in), occur on the woody stems
  • Infested plants may lack vigour and, in heavy infestations, a black sooty mould can develop on the sugary honeydew that is excreted by the insects as they feed on sap and deposited on leaves and stems

Control

Light infestations are of little consequence and can be tolerated, but heavy attacks are best dealt with in early to mid-summer when the more vulnerable newly-hatched scales are present.

Non-pesticide control

Adult scale can be removed when seen but this may not reduce heavy infestations.

Pesticide control

  • For scales on deciduous plants including edible fruits, a plant oil winter wash (considered organic e.g. Growing Success Winter Tree Wash) can be used. This can control the overwintering scale nymphs in December-January when the plants are fully dormant
  • The best time for summer spraying is in early July when the more vulnerable newly hatched scale nymphs are present 
  • With grape vines, peel away the loose outer bark to expose the scales and other sheltering pests before treatment
  • Note that dead scales can remain firmly attached to the plants. The success of any treatment can be gauged by the extent to which new growth remains free of infestation
  • Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Ecofective Bug Killer), fatty acids (e.g. Solabiol Bug Free, Doff Greenfly & Blackfly Killer) or plant oils (e.g. Vitax Organic Pest & Disease Control, Bug Clear for Fruit and Veg) can give good control of scale insect nymphs. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep scale nymph numbers in check. Plant oil and fatty acid products are less likely to affect larger insects such as ladybird adults
  • More persistent insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Pest Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
    The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) is also available
  • Follow label instructions when using pesticides. On edible plants make sure the food plant is listed on the label and follow instructions on maximum number applications, spray interval and harvest interval
  • Do not spray plants in flower due to the danger to pollinating insects
  • Inclusion of a pesticide product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener

Download

Pesticides for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining pesticides available to gardeners)

Biology

  • These sap-sucking insects are protected by their shells, beneath which the mature females lay eggs in early summer
  • The eggs hatch in late June-July and the young scales crawl around, but soon settle down to suck sap from the undersides of the leaves
  • In late summer they move to the bark, where they overwinter as reddish-brown nymphs about 1mm in length
  • They complete their development in the following spring


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