Mountain laurel with white on bark

Asked October 9, 2019, 3:28 PM EDT

We planted a couple of mountain laurel about 5 years ago. They seem to be doing very well, especially the one in question, it is the tallest ( first picture). I noticed some dead or brown leaves then I saw this white speckling on the bark. Some of it came off with hose water but you can still see/ feel it and it seems the branches with this white stuff (2nd picture) have more dead or curled leaves. The white is not sticky or sappy feeling. Is it fatal? Is there something I can do? Thanks Trish

Baltimore County Maryland

3 Responses

Hi - The white substance on the branches of your cherry laurel is an infestation of white prunicola scale. Scales are very tiny insects that feed on plant sap. Their feeding leads to leaf yellowing, browning, and eventual dieback of branches.

Scale insects are challenging to manage. The waxy white substance they produce provides a form of protection from desiccation and predators. They produce three generations each year, so if a population is not controlled all at once, they can continue to reproduce and be a persistent problem.

When there is a heavy infestation of white prunicola scale and dieback is severe, it may be best to remove the shrub altogether rather than try to treat it. Depending on where the infestation is located, you may be able to prune out branches selectively and discard them.

Fertilized female scales overwinter on the bark of the branches, so another step in management is to apply a dormant rate of horticultural oil during the dormant season (when deciduous plants have lost their leaves). You can first use a soft-bristled brush to scrub off the scale patches gently. Then apply the horticultural oil.

If female scales remain on the shrub, juveniles (called “crawlers”) will emerge in the spring. Crawler periods vary from year to year depending on temperatures. For this species, new generations may be out in May, mid-July to mid-August, and September.

The tiny juvenile crawlers are salmon-colored. You can place a simple trap to detect their activity; wrap a piece of double-sided tape around a few branches. When you see crawlers stuck to the tape, that is the ideal time to apply horticultural oil. Oil spray is the least harmful to beneficial insects such as ladybird beetles, which you want to keep in your landscape because they help tamp down on other pests.


Thanks, Christa. We wil try the horticultural oil in a few weeks.