Magnolia Scale: It’s Not For Wimps

My house is super clean which can only mean one thing. I’m procrastinating.

The decorations are down and the house is back in order. The sun is shining. I’m all out of excuses.  It’s time to tackle the Magnolia Scale. Blech!!!

Adult Scale

Adult Scale (Red)

Last summer we discovered a severe scale infestation on our Tulip Magnolia.  It was everywhere!  I removed numerous branches, perhaps close to a third, since the infestation was so bad.  We ordered beneficial lacewing eggs, hoping they would finish off the rest.

Now that the tree is dormant, it’s easy to see what remains.  Though not nearly as bad as last year, dozens of red scales (the adult female) along with the immature male and female nymphs, cling to the young branches.

Scale Removal

Scale Removal

Today, with my bucket and gloves in hand, I spent an hour scraping off scale.  They’re easy to see (bright red) against the trunk, but I had to stand on a step stool to reach all of them.  After tossing them into a bucket, I went back with a warm, wet rag and wiped off the nymphs.

The overwintering nymphs are all over the tree!  There is no way I could get all of them, but I sure gave it a try.

Scale Nymphs

Scale Nymphs

After giving the tree one last look, I sealed the scale in a plastic bag for disposable, and soaked the bucket, rag and gloves in hot, soapy water.

Scale in a Bag

Scale in a Bag

I’ll check on the tree again tomorrow, and if the weather warms up, I might take a hose to the underside of the branches to remove some more.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • When purchasing a young Magnolia tree, check the inner branches first for infestation.  Apparently many of the trees have scale before you bring them home.
  • Prune judiciously.  Magnolias, especially mature ones, don’t handle heavy pruning.
  • Time your pruning appropriately.  I’ve read the best time to prune is late winter, early fall, after flowering and before new buds set.  Given those parameters, you really need to stay vigilant.


11 thoughts on “Magnolia Scale: It’s Not For Wimps

  1. You really taught me a lot about these pests, & magnolia trees, which I adore. And, I happen to know from first-hand experience, yours is beautiful & well cared for. Lucky tree! 🙂


  2. thanks Alys, I’ve never pruned mine except to clip it back from hanging in the sidewalk as I planted it too close to the property line thinking it was a small one, but no – it’s getting too big – probably too late to transplant as it’s been there for about 5 years or more


    • Hi Bonnie,

      From what I’ve read they don’t like transplanting, but if it’s a big one, will it lift up the sidewalk when it matures? They can grow to 25 feet. Best of luck with your tree. They’re magnificent.


  3. omgosh, poor you. Those guys are hideous..checked out the link and seems like you can’t even see the tree branches…eeeck. Man o man, that’d be a lot of work to get every single nymph. Well congrats on being so diligent because those are beautiful in bloom. Will you order more lacewing eggs? BTW, I see you agree…Blech is a word 😉 LOL and totally appropriate for this chore..


    • Spell check didn’t like ‘Blech’ either, but I kept it. Ha!

      Yes, I will def. order more lacewings. I need to read up on the right time, probably early spring.

      It is a beautiful tree. I would be very sad to see it go.


  4. Pingback: It’s a Bug’s Life | gardeningnirvana

  5. Thank you! I have one Magnolia outside of my home. It is supposed to be maintained by the lawn service which the HOA pays dearly for… however, I noted these little buggers last night… spent the morning using disposable gloves and removing them. I snuck around to look at my neighbors Magnolias and of course… mine is the only one with the problem. Bugger. I’m not so sure I should let the Landscape company know because they will flood it with pesticides… Is there more I can do? I’m not sure I’m actually allowed to order any kind of lacewings etc, because I live in Florida and they are a bit funny about importation of anything insect or plant due to the citrus. There are a few nice buds on the tree, so I don’t think all is lost. I am glad I read this as I was about to prune off some of the bad branches.


    • It’s so nice to hear from you. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sorry to say that after several years of my technique, the tree continued to struggle. I kept scraping and removing and washing and it always came back. Last year the leaves looked deformed. The tree expert said to use a systemic pesticide but when I asked if it would kill all insects he said yes. I’m not willing to hurt bees, ladybugs, wasps and all the other beneficials so I just let it be. You’re wise to be cautious. Go ahead and try keeping the pests at bay. You might also check with your local county arborist to see if lacewings are allowed.


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