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IN THE GARDEN: Handling tea scale insects + wild violets

by JANET B. CARSON Special to the Democrat-Gazette April 25, 2020 at 1:54 a.m. | Updated April 25, 2020 at 1:54 a.m.
Tea scale insects on the bottoms of these camellia leaves do damage that shows up as mottling on the surface. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette)

Q My camellias did not bloom this year and now look like this. I have sprayed them twice this spring with Neem oil. I also used Bayer Advanced 12 Month Tree and Shrub Protect and Feed. Do you have any other ideas?

A I do think you have tea scale insects. Turn the leaves over and you should see what almost looks like a sprinkling of salt and pepper on the undersurface of the leaf. As they feed, these insects suck sap from the foliage. This causes the yellow mottling on the upper surface of the leaves. Neem oil can help, but only if it comes in contact with the undersurface of the leaves. It basically smothers the insects. It is difficult to get thorough coverage on an evergreen plant, covering the upper and lower leaf surfaces. The lower leaf is most important. That is why systemic insecticides give better control. The Bayer Advanced product should do the trick. It will not make the scale insects disappear or cause the foliage to green back up, but the new foliage should be undamaged and healthy. Heavy infestations of scale can weaken the plant and cause loss of blooms, but yours are not heavily infested. It could just have been our weather that caused the lack of blooms this year.

Q My front yard is St. Augustine grass. It is being overrun by wild violets. Is there any way to get rid of the violets without killing the St. Augustine?

A I wish I could say yes, but unfortunately, wild violets are hard to kill even if they are growing on their own and not mingled with grass. St. Augustine grass can be sensitive to chemicals. There are some three-way products that contain 2,4-D that are labeled for St. Augustine grass. They will help but may not totally kill out the violets. Mowing regularly and fertilizing the St. Augustine to get it as thick and healthy as possible can help, but I think you may always have some wild violets unless you can dig them all up. I feel your pain, as my lawn suffers with them as well.

Q I know you are supposed to wait six to eight weeks before cutting off what remains of these plants. Does the six to eight weeks' time period begin when they first emerge, when they bloom, or when the blooms die back?

A It is six to eight weeks from the time the blooms finish. I have some early ones that were done in late January, and I have cut them back already. If you cut the foliage off too soon, you have fewer flowers next spring.

Q Please evaluate this pic of a fairly young tree. Is it scale? Savable? Most of the tree is small branches like this. Other trees in the yard are leafing out normally. Advice?

A Those are definitely scale insects. As many as you have and as small as the branches are, I would get in there and prune out the heavily infested branches. Then you can use a systemic insecticide such as Orthene, Bayer Advanced Tree and Shrub Insecticide or Ortho Tree & Shrub Insect Control.

Q We are seeing all these seedlings in our flowerbeds that we have never had before. Will they eventually be trees? Should we remove them? Or will they grow as a ground cover which we wouldn't mind as the leaves are quite pretty? Could they be potted? We have had this tree for many years and it is quite big.

A They are all Japanese maple seedlings — it has been a good year for seed germination. Once you see the seedlings put on a Japanese-maple-shaped leaf, that is what is called the true leaf, and the seedlings can be moved and potted. You may have more than you can possibly handle, and they will eventually become trees. They would not work as a groundcover.

Retired after 38 years with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, Janet Carson ranks among Arkansas' best known horticulture experts. Her blog is at arkansasonline.com/planitjanet. Write to her at P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, AR 72203 or email


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