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!