Scale insects, in particular brown soft scale, is a common problem on olive trees in pots and can be one of the most challenging tree pest problems to control.

Scale attacks olive trees leaves and stems by attaching to and sucking tree sap (i.e. lifeblood of a tree) from new, tender growth. As a result, scale insects on olive trees in pots can cause leaves to yellow or wilt and the tree to weaken and become stressed. Overall, the growth cycle of the olive tree may be adversely affected, and the scale pests could certainly cause weakened flower or fruit production. But in general, complete loss of the olive tree is rare unless the tree is not cared for at all and pest infestation is heavy.

So how do you get rid of scale insects on olive trees in pots? Firstly, you should clean your olive tree with water. Next, take a cotton ball and wipe away the scale insects. Then, spray the olive tree with insecticidal soap to remove the scale remains. Repeat this least-toxic method in a week’s time.

In addition, we have more useful information on how to identify scale on your potted olive tree and how to remove it here in this article. Let us take a look at least-toxic methods of scale control and best practices.

KEY FACTS
Common name Scale
Areas affected Trunks, branches, foliage, and stems of olive trees, or olive fruit
Appearance Brown, black scales, or shell-like bumps on olive tree stems and the underside of leaves
Main symptoms Scale on stems and leaves, or olive fruit, sooty mold on foliage
Timing Scale appears year-round

What are Symptoms of Your Olive Tree Attacked by Scale?

Firstly, you must identify the pest correctly prior to applying a treatment. These are the most common scale infestation symptoms:

  • Scale Appearance

Scales or shell-like bumps on olive tree stems and the underside of leaves. These are the outer coverings of scale insects, usually brown or black color. In general, there are two categories of scale, and here is how to identify them:

  1. Soft Scale Insects (easy to control)

Appear as small, waxy, or crusty bumps on leaves, stems, and sometimes olive fruit. Secrete a waxy substance that is part of the body. The soft scale is able to move short distances and produce enormous amounts of honeydew.

  1. Armored (hard) Scale Insects (very difficult to control)

Secrete a hard protective covering (0.1 inches = 0.3 cm long) over themselves, which is not attached to the body. The hard scale lives and feeds under this sphere-shaped shield and does not move around the olive tree. They do not produce honeydew.

  • Size

The size of scale insects ranges from 0.03 to 0.4 inch (1mm to 1 cm) in diameter.

  • Honeydew Extraction

As scale feeds on the plant, the insects excrete a sweet, sticky substance called honeydew that settles on surrounding tree parts and surfaces near the plant. If your olive tree is indoors, the floor or shelf under the potted plant may become very sticky. Another disadvantage of the honeydew produced by scale is that it causes another fungal disease named sooty mold.

  • Eggs Production

In some cases, scale insects can produce white, waxy egg masses on the undersides of olive tree leaves or stems, trunk, or even a pot. As well, the scale may deposit their eggs under a covering of white waxy fibres, especially in early summer.

How to Get Rid Of Scale Insects on Olive Trees in Pots?

After you have identified that your potted olive tree has been infested by scale insect, then is time to take some actions and get rid of this pest. And here we have 2 scenarios on how to get rid of scale insects on olive trees in pots:

1 scenario – scale numbers are low

  1. Clean your olive tree by using a soft flow of water from a garden hose. And rinse the honeydew off the leaves, stems, trunk, and container. Do this in the backyard, sidewalk, or driveway, away from other plants as not to spread pest around.
  2. Allow for the olive tree foliage to dry naturally.
  3. Then observe the tree and you should rub or pick off the remains of scale by hand.
  4. As well, you can take a cotton ball soaked in alcohol or neem oil and gently wipe away the scale insects one by one. It is important to wipe both the upper and undersides of olive tree leaves as well as all of the stems and trunk. Change cotton balls frequently. We recommend wearing rubber or vinyl gloves while going through this procedure.
  5. For further pest protection, use organic insecticidal soap or d- Limonene or lemony water and thoroughly spray the entire olive tree and a pot by following the manufacture’s instructions. Make sure your spray covers all parts of the potted olive tree to suffocate any scale insects and eggs that you have missed. Bear in mind, these products have very little persistence in the pest affected environment, so several applications during egg-hatching will be required for effective control.
  6. Wait until the potted olive tree is completely air-dry before moving it back to its growing location.
  7. Fertilize to boost the growth of your olive tree.

2 scenario – scale infestation is heavy

  1. Prune and dispose of heavily infested olive tree branches, twigs, and leaves.

    heavy scale infestation on olive trees

    Above: this is a heavy infestation of scale insects on olive trees

  2. Use organic non-toxic pure Bliss neem oil. This concentrated spray is approved for organic use and offers multiple modes of action, making it almost impossible for scale and other pest resistance to develop. Best of all, such neem oil doesn’t poison honey bees and many other beneficial insects.
  3. As well, you can use horticultural oils for organic gardening and other safe, oil-based insecticides by suffocating insects and will control all pest stages, including adults which are protected from most other insecticides by their shield coverings.
  4. If nothing works as per the above, fast effect systemic insecticide applications should be used as a last resort. Comparing with synthetic chemicals, these natural pesticides have less harmful side effects and break down more quickly in the environment.
  5. Fertilize your olive tree to boost its growth (you may want to check our article about olive tree fertilization).

Useful Tip

If your potted dwarf olive tree grows outdoors, let the predators such as ladybugs or lacewings, or small parasitic wasps visit your tree. They are the natural not harmful controllers of scale insects on olive trees in pots and other plants.

Things You May Need to Fight Scale

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Final Thoughts

These steps may sound like an overwhelming task, and depending on the size of your olive tree in the pot, it may be a bit of a challenge. However, if you follow the methods above will give you the best chance of eliminating the existing scale insects and preventing more from attacking your plant.

Hope this article was helpful for you and now you have all the information to get rid of scale insects on your olive trees in pots. Let us know how it went in comments or in our recently created Facebook community.

As for prevention purposes, you can spray your potted olive tree with oil or soap early in summer. Also, if you ensure regular care and maintenance of your olive tree, you may be able to spot the scale development very early and quickly remove the insects by just using your cotton ball and rubbing alcohol.

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