Disease? Bug? Is this fatal?

Asked June 23, 2015, 11:03 AM EDT

We recently moved to Alabama and purchased a foreclosure. Being originally from Michigan, I am not familiar with plant names here. The picture here is a closeup of the issue with two shrubs. The shrubs are at least 12 years old, have bright green glossy leaves as well as bright yellow glossy leaves. It has small white flowers in late spring and is non-deciduous. My question is this: As you see in the picture, the backs of leaves get tiny brown raised spots and tiny white raised spots. The spots also show on stems and turn branches lumpy and almost black. This is a very dense shrub. As new growth shoots up, I see what appears to be aphid nests. I have also noticed a bug that looks like a black lady bug. It is the same size and shape. It has wings and an orangish body. We have two shrubs completely engulfed in this and one that is healthy. They grow in landscaping around our pool in clay soil. Any ideas?

Autauga County Alabama

1 Response

You have a type of Ligustrum planted. It's a cousin of the wild privet hedge you might have heard about, which is highly invasive. Your plant isn't invasive, but is very hardy and common in this area. The insects on your leaves do appear to be aphids, which would explain the ladybugs as well. The ladybugs you're seeing may look a little different than ones you've seen before but there are quite a few different types, and given the presence of aphids, that's almost certainly what you're seeing. You could be seeing aphids piling up on the smaller branches as well, but if you're seeing a problem on the trunk or any of the larger branches, that may actually be scales. Scales attack this plant as well, but they're a little larger and they won't move when attached to the branch (they don't have legs at that life stage).

Because this is such a hardy bush, it would take quite an infestation of aphids to take it out, but it does appear to be causing aesthetic damage to the leaves. Horticultural soaps and oils will quickly reduce the aphid population, although you must make sure to spray under the leaves as it will only be effective if it comes in contact with the insects. These will also take out a few of your ladybugs and other beneficial insects, so if that concerns you, you could try simply spraying the bushes down with a strong spray of water to knock the aphids off first. If you do have scales, these sprays may reduce their numbers as well.

I hope this information is helpful and please let me know if you have any more questions.