Tea scale is a major camellia and holly pest in Florida.
Hard to detect and unimpressive-looking, scale insects are an underestimated danger to your landscape plants. Hiding under the "scale" covering (sometimes hard; sometimes fuzzy), these insects sit in one spot and suck plant juices—weakening or even killing the plant.
Tea scale appears as a fuzzy whitish coating on the bottom of leaves and causes yellow speckling on top. Heavily infested plants look unhealthy and produce little new growth. Other signs include leaf yellowing, dropping leaves, and branch dieback.
Tea scale is a difficult pest to control due to its habit of primarily infesting the underside of leaves. This makes spray coverage difficult. Additionally, it continuously reproduces in Florida’s warm climate.
A heavy infestation can debilitate the health of the plant because these scales are sucking the sap out of the plant. Infested plants have poor vigor, will not bloom well, and may eventually die.
Tea scale will usually not go away by itself. You can manage the tea scale problems in your landscape with horticultural oil products or choose a systemic product for season long protection.
Pruning beforehand can help, in that it opens up the dense foliage of camellias and hollies providing air circulation and better coverage of chemical sprays. Small non-flowering branches growing on major limbs within the interior of the plant should be pruned after flowering.
Oil sprays are effective in controlling tea scale and may be used in fall, winter, and spring when temperatures are mild (between 45-85°F). Be sure to thoroughly cover the underside of the leaf. You may have to repeat the application several several times. Follow the manufacturerʹs labeled rate for any product applied to control a pest.
Several tiny parasitic wasps provide some natural control, including Aphytis diaspidis and two species of Aspidiotiphagus; both have been reported parasitizing tea scale in Florida and Georgia.