The title does not refer to the battle one engages in after stepping off the scale and realizing that desserts have got to go. No, this sad battle, one which I was determined to win, was against a small, insect called scale. It had attacked my orchids.
Because I love plants and recognize the value they provide in removing pollutants from household air, as well as the calming effect they have on us, I’ve lined the south facing windows of most rooms with plants.
There are dark green jades and variegated jades; thick leaved hoyas and small, varieageted hoyas; Weeping Figs grown as bonsais; Christmas cacti; wee peperomias; fronded ferns; long trailing plants that threaten to take over the window; even a spotted Leopard which overgrows its pot with disconcerting frequency.
Some plants are chosen for the interest and beauty of their leaves; others because they flower and flowers in the winter are so welcome. All are beautiful.
Yet, the plants which mean the most to me, the ones I baby the most, are the orchids. Currently, I have about 16 of them. A few are phalanopsis, those large leaved moth orchids often sold in grocery stores. Most are thin leaved varieties with formal names I can’t pronounce. These produce flowers only on new growth. I love them all.
A few years ago, I bought a larger stand for them, one with several shelves. I purchased large trays for the pots to sit in. The trays are kept filled with water, to provide the orchids with the humidity they crave (the orchid pots themselves sit above the water on upturned saucers).
Each month, I record what the plants are doing: which ones have new roots or leaves, which has an inflorescence started, which are flowering and for how long. These are the most important plants in the house.
Last fall, I decided to move several of them to a cooler location overnight. Cool nights trigger flowering, so if orchids have been stubbornly refusing to produce flowers, this is one technique to try.
Each night, several were carried to a cooler room; in the morning they were brought back. On one of those trips, I suddenly saw scale.
While scale is quite small, once you’ve seen it you won’t mistake it for anything else. It’s also an unusual insect in that it only moves when young. The adults choose one spot, grow a covering, and stay there.
Eggs are produced and hatched and the young, called crawlers, then move off to their own location. Unfortunately, several generations overlap and hatch regularly so getting rid of them takes patience and persistence.
The first job was to go through all of the orchids and examine each one carefully. Any and all noticeable scale was removed with a finger nail. I tried to use a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol but had more control scrapping off with the nail. Then I washed each plant thoroughly.
The scale produces honeydew which attracts insects so getting it off the leaves was important. I mixed up a solution of mineral oil, dishwasher detergent, and water and placed it in a spray bottle.
Every Monday, I examined every plant top and bottom. Any scale found was removed and the plant then sprayed with the mineral oil solution. The worst infected plant was destroyed. Others with several leaves impacted were segregated from the other plants.
As the weeks went by, the situation improved but the battle continued. Finally, after four weeks, only one plant showed any evidence of scale. By eight weeks, the scale was gone.
Scale tends to proliferate more if the air around a plant is dry. Ants also like to move scale around because the honeydew produced is a sweet treat for them. This information makes me wonder: last summer, after I returned from vacation, I noticed that the trays under the orchids were dry.
The high heat had caused the water to evaporate at a higher than usual rate. And walking around several plants were ants! Did they bring the scale in? Did they move it around? Are they the culprits?
I’ll never know but the ultimate responsibility is mine. I should have kept a better eye on the plants, and not been seduced by the beauty of the flowers.
It’s work to look at the underside of each leaf, carefully searching along the edges, to see if there’s something sinister there. Far easier to gaze in admiration and wonder at the stunning purples of the P1 Intergeneric, the wild colors of Rheine Clown, the orange-red of Trick or Treat.
I should have caught this infestation earlier. I should have paid more attention. I’ve certainly learned a lesson from this. Back to battle stations — the watch continues.