Another Bay Laurel Bites the Dust!

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Scale insects

Last night while doing the dishes, I took a quick look at my bay laurel plant (Laurus nobilis), also called bay tree or sweet bay and grown for its aromatic leaves used in cooking as “bay leaves”. I had placed it in isolation, far from any other plant, right in front of the sink. I thought I saw something shiny on the otherwise matte leaf surface, like a very small puddle of water. I touched it. It was sticky.

Oh no! Not again!

I turned a leaf over and there it was: a tiny greenish yellow, translucent disk, rather flat, pasted on the central vein: a young scale insect. It was not yet an adult, otherwise it would have browner, opaque and more rounded rather than nearly flat, but not a nymph either, because the nymphs are mobile and essentially invisible. I turned a few other leaves over, then dug out a magnifying lens and looked at the stem. Yep! There were others. Not many, but…

Not the First Time

If I am so discouraged it’s because this is not the first time. Far from it, in fact. I seem unable to find a bay laurel plant without scale insects.

I’ve already bought three other plants locally over the last 10 years, each in a different nursery, and all ended their lives in the compost. This time around I thought I would play it smart. I bought the current laurel while I was traveling, far from home, from a specialized herb nursery at that. After all, surely the world’s entire population of bay laurels can’t be infested! I even talked to the owner first. He assured me that his laurels were totally pest-free. Six months later, I find myself once again obliged to toss a laurel into the compost.

The Only Valid Treatment

I know I’ll get responses to this blog, that sympathetic gardeners will be recommending me a wide range of products and treatments to control scale insects: rubbing alcohol, insecticidal soap, neem oil, horticultural oil, dancing around a cow’s horn at full moon, etc. But scale insects are sneaky. If even one escapes treatment, the infestation will resume… in six months, nine months, a year.

And worse yet, in the meantime a wandering scale insect nymph might find its way to my other houseplants and that, for me, is a risk I just won’t take!

Nope, already the infested plant is outdoors by the back door, in freezing temperatures. Once the sun comes up (I write these blogs very early in the morning), it will go straight into the compost.

Later today, I’ll do a thorough cleanup. True enough, my plant was in isolation, well away from any other plant, but still, scale insect nymphs or eggs could be hiding in the area. So I’ll have to clean everything with soap and water.

And come spring, I’ll again be looking for a replacement, a bay laurel without scale insects. Any suggestions as to a nursery that can absolutely guarantee that their laurels are not infected? Because I’m beginning to get discouraged!

8 thoughts on “Another Bay Laurel Bites the Dust!

  1. Ok here’s the thing….you need to stop throwing them away and wasting money on new plants. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. I have the solution.

    And no, I’m not going to suggest you go buy some useless spray that costs more than what you paid for your tree. You’ve spent enough money. The control for scale is very simple…wait for it…it’s water! That’s right, plain old tap water.

    I have two 7 year old indoor bay trees…both of which were infested with scale long ago. Now they are happy and thriving and yours will be too. Here is what you do….

    Take your bay tree to the sink or tub and lay it on it’s side so you can get the leaves, especially the undersides, right under the running water. Use a paper towel to literally scrub the leaves while they are under the water…or use your fingers or nails to scratch the buggers right off. You’ll feel a sadistic satisfaction watching them spiral down the sink drain. It’s a happy time indeed. But don’t think you’re off the hook yet…

    The very next night, do this again…to get the few babies that may have hatched. Do it again…and the fourth night too. Each night you will see less and less scale on your leaves, until one day soon, there will be none at all.

    After you rid them, you will do maintenance showers once a week. The showers will be less tedious each time because you’ve banished the infestation at this point.

    Yes, it’s tedious and you gotta be thorough, scrubbing each and every leaf but I assure you, you’ll win the scale battle and reclaim your bay trees for good. Now doesn’t that sound more than worth it?!

    • Thanks for this suggestion. When I buy a new plant (and I intend to this spring), I’ll follow your instructions. Since I’ll be buying a young plant, there won’t be many leaves to scrub, so it should be relatively easy.

      • jordan

        Would appreciate any immediate help!! Googling and this came up.

        Just went to pick a couple of leaves from my mom’s beautiful ~6-foot high bay leaf tree next to the carport and about 99% of it is DEAD with brown leaves!!! This has happened since around Dec/Jan when I probably last looked at it or picked some leaves for cooking.

        Fall 2016 first time noticed some stickiness on some leaves. Neighbor suggested soapy app but obviously don’t cook with soapy herbs. Googled and went for hosing with water trying to get undersides as well of a billion leaves. Seemed too many leaves for neem oil app for each leaf!

        Last year pruned some dead branches. It’s (or was) a beautiful tree that my mom probably started with a small plant.

        Should I cut of all the branches now and leave the several 5-6 foot-high trunks and will it re-srpout branches with leaves from the trunks??? Anybody know or what kind of person/expert would know ASAP cuz just see a few green leaves out of hundreds.

        Thanx.

      • Prune it right back to the trunk and carefully wash the trunk with a cloth and soapy water. (I’m still assuming there are scale insects: it’s just such a common problem!) Then wait and see. It should resprout and since you’ve left the trunk at its full height, you won’t lose any height. But it may years before it fills out again like it grew before. It’s very slow!

    • I actually didn’t. I was too afraid of re-introducing scale insects into my plant collection. (Once bitten, twice shy!) However, I’ve seen that a local grower is introducing a “golden bay laurel” this year, something I just might want to try!

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