How To Remove Scale From Bonsai 

scale on bonsai

One of the biggest things I didn’t realize when I first starting getting into bonsai trees was the scale issue. Bonsai, of course, needs plants, and so dealing with scale outbreaks that can damage and even kill your tree will be something you have to deal with. So what are some tips to remove scale from bonsai plants that you can implement today? 

To remove scale from your bonsai tree, observe the plant for infestation, wipe the stems, branches, leaves, and all hard-to-reach areas with rubbing alcohol in a cotton ball/swab. Then mix a solution of 70% rubbing alcohol with 30 oz of water and a few drops of soap and spray your bonsai heavily. 

For any leaves that are too far gone and infested with scale, it is recommended that you remove these to avoid damaging the rest of the plant or any surrounding Bonsais in your collection. 

So what exactly is scale? And is there more to making this solution when removing scale from your plant/ keep reading to find out more!

Just a quick heads up, over the past three years of running Plantpaladin, hundreds of people have asked for product recommendations. As such, You can find my favorite indoor bonsai tree here (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), my favorite outdoor bonsai tree (link takes you to Bonsaiboy), or have a look at all the products I recommend here

Scale On Bonsai 

Whilst bonsai is definitely an incredibly rewarding pastime that newbies and advanced hobbyists can enjoy, we still have to deal with one of the most common issues associated with plants and trees… 

Scale infestations. 

The best way then to remove Scale on a bonsai is as follows: 

  • Observe your plant for signs of scale 
  • If your plant shows signs of scale remove it from surrounding bonsai and plants to not infect them 
  • Put on some protective gloves
  • Remove any leaves that are too far gone 
  • Wipe down and branches, stems, and leaves(both top to bottom with rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. 
  • For the harder to reach areas use a solution of rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab 
  • Mix a solution of 70% rubbing alcohol with around 30OZ of water and a few drops of liquid soap in a solution. 
  • Pour this solution in a spray bottle and spray your plant thoroughly. 
  • Be sure to spray your plant holder/plant pot too
  • Regularly check your bonsai once a week for signs of future scale and spray with seed oil at least once every two week

Let’s explore these in more detail: 

Scale on bonsai infographic

Observe your plant for signs of scale 

The first step we need to follow to remove scale is to get a good idea of if there is any scale in the first place. 

Typical signs of scale are small flat oval-shaped insects with dark or light shells. 

Typically they will attach themselves to plant steps ( and many other areas) and feed off your bonsai plant’s sap. 

The best thing to do then is once a week have a look at your plant, observe the leaves (both top and bottom) stems, trunk, and branches as well as all hard-to-reach places to see if there is a sign. 

Now I appreciate that whilst this will be easy enough for some of you, others have very small bonsais or plants that have been designed in a way in which it can be difficult to see scale as your plants. 

If this is the case for you one of the tricks that I have found that works well is investing in a magnifying glass (link takes you to Amazon)or a diamond magnifying glass (link takes you to Amazon) which will make things a lot easier. 

You can also take pictures with your phone in some of the more difficult-to-reach areas and then observe them by zooming in. 

Remove your bonsai from other plants

If you do find scale on your bonsai then the next step and arguably one of the most important things you can do is remove your bonsai from surrounding plants. 

Sadly scale can be very infectious passing from one plant to another so to avoid a small-scale issue turning into a full-blown infestation keep your bonsai away from other plants as you deal with the scale. 

It’s also worth checking the plants that surrounded your bonsai ( by using the point in the step above) to see if your scale has already started traveling. 

Put on some protective gloves

So for the next few steps, things are going to get a little messy and we will be dealing with both shears and rubbing alcohol ( which as I’m all too aware, stings a hell of a lot ) 

As such it’s important to put on some good quality gardening gloves ( link takes you to Amazon for my choice) to protect your hands. 

You’ll also want to assemble the following: 

  • Gardening cutters or scissors 
  • Running alcohol 
  • Liquid soap 
  • A bowl to mix 
  • A spray bottle 

Remove any leaves that are too far gone 

This step will be quite difficult for some of you, especially if you have been growing your bonsai for some time and finally have it looking how you want it to. 

Whilst preening and grooming our bonsais is part and parcel of the job, It can be tough removing leaves and branches we don’t want to get rid of. 

That sad truth is that if the scale is too far gone in some of your leaves, prevention will be too late and so to protect the rest of your bonsai we may need to remove the leaves

To remove cut the leaves as close as possible to the branch or stem and dispose of the dead leaves. 

Rub your bonsai with rubbing alcohol

Once any leaves that are too far gone have been removed, we have to deal with the rest of the scale. 

The best option for this is to get 70% rubbing alcohol ( which I found works best) and dip in a quick cotton ball into the alcohol. 

You will then need to wipe down the scale from your plant which will help immediately burn the scale off. 

Now some scale can be tough so you want to use some force if it is only partially removing some of the scale. You also want to make sure you are rubbing down the front and the back of your plant which can be easily forgotten about. 

Now it’s not just the leaves you want to rub down but all areas including: 

  • The leaves 
  • The stems 
  • The branches 
  • The root 
  • The plant pot/planter
  • Any moisture tray you use
  • Topsoil 

For the harder-to-reach spots which, let’s face it doing bonsai is pretty much the entire plant, use a cotton swab to successfully wipe down these areas. 

It can be very easy to forget about things like rubbing down the topsoil, the place where your plant meets the soil, the rim of your plant pot/planter but this is often where eggs start growing from and so it is worth also rubbing down. 

To rub down these larger areas, get a napkin or tissue, use a small amount of rubbing alcohol and wipe down these larger surface areas. 

Create a cleaning solution

Once your bonsai has been wiped down with rubbing alcohol the next stage is to mix a solution to spray on your bonsai that will remove any spots you have missed and will protect your bonsai going forward. 

To create the solution then you will need: 

  • 1 cup of 70% rubbing alcohol 
  • 1.5 Teaspoons of liquid soap 
  • 30 OZ of water

Mix these items until they have all emulsified with each other then pour the solution into a spray bottle. 

“Most bonsais develop scale infestations at some point in thier lives, and yet by following these steps you can prevent any signinficant damage to your tree”

Spray your solution on your bonsai

Now the fun stuff!

Get a cover as things will start to get messy to put on the table you are working from. 

Shake your spray bottle and spray your bonsai tree thoroughly with your new solution. 

Try to coat each leaf if possible if the leaves of your bonsai are long enough. 

The key here is to try to get the solution to drop down the leaves so don’t worry about using too much, you want your bonsai to be soaking wet after this. 

You also want to aim for all the cracks and crevasses once again – take your time with this as they can be hard to get. 

You can also lightly spray the topsoil too but the aim here really is to get the leaves, which are typically the most infested when it comes to scale. 

Then leave your plant to dry. 

Repeat the process once per week

Whilst the first attempt at doing this will have killed off a lot of the problem, scale can be notoriously tough and so you will need to repeat the above steps a few times a week to truly get rid of your scale altogether. 

If you are persistent enough within a few weeks your scale will have gone and you can put your bonsai back to where it belongs!

Prevent scale in the future

So if you have successfully managed to get rid of scale or just want to take preventative measures going forward to not get an infestation one of the best things you can do is invest in neem oil.( my choince for the best neem oil can be found by clikcing the link to Amazon)

To use simply pour your neem oil in a spray bottle, shake and spray your bonsai leaves, stems branches, trunk, and top solid lightly once per week. 

If you do not have time to spray your plant down once per week as an absolute must it is important to do this once every two weeks. 

Another fantastic way to prevent scale in the future is to just set up a regular routine where you can wipe your bonsai down with a moist paper towel which also keeps you vigilant of any potential scale outbreaks. 

Now a lot of you might have some further questions around scale sop to help I’ve answered them below: 

What is scale on bonsai?

Scale is small shell-like insects that attach themselves to plants, usually on the leaves and stems. They typically appear as brown shells and feed on the dew that some plant breeds give off. Left untreated they can cause an infestation and severely damage your plant.  

When is scale more common on bonsais? 

Scale is most common during the warm summer months and worm season. They typically start appearing in March through to October. If you keep your plant indoors scale can potentially be found year-round. Observe your plants weekly to avoid scale infestations. 

Do some plants get it more than others 

Plant breeds that are larger with more leaves are more susceptible to scale than some smaller plants. Plants that give off honeydew are also more susceptible. Some plants with smaller-sized plants like pine also suffer from scale but will be more difficult to spot. 

What happens if you do not remove scale from your bonsai?

Failing to remove plant scale will mean an infestation that can severely damage your plant’s health and even results in plant death. Scales can also be incredibly infectious meaning they could soon start infecting the plants surrounding your initial plant. 

My top picks for the gear you will need!

So like I mentioned earlier, over the past three years of running PlantPaladin, hundreds of people have asked me for my recommendations on the best bonsai gear on the market. 

Having spent thousands of dollars on bonsai items these past few years and tested at least 100 bonsai-specific products, I’ve listed my favorite products below – All of which I highly recommend and think you can get great value. 

They can purchase directly by clicking the link to take them to Amazon. 

Bonsai Tool Set: One of the significant challenges I’ve had is finding a toolset that was not only durable but didn’t break the bank. SOLIGT has recently developed a fantastic bonsai tool set that covers all the tools you need to trim, prune, and repot your trees. – You can grab it here

Complete Bonsai Set: Many of you will want to grow your bonsai trees entirely from scratch, but finding the varicose seeds, pots, and other items in one place can be challenging. Leaves and Sole then have created a complete bonsai set that I’ve personally used that ticks all the boxes. You can grab it here

Bonsai wire: The number of times I’ve run out of wire for my bonsai or purchased cheap bonsai wire that doesn’t do the job is embarrassing for me to admit. After a lot of trial and error, I found that using Hotop’s aluminum bonsai wire is one of the best options on the market. This can easily be used for both indoor and outdoor bonsai. You can grab it here.

This post was written by Fehed Nicass who has been passionate about bonsai for over 2 years. He currently resides in the UK and works in sales.

Fehed Nicass

Fehed Nicass has been passionate about all things bonsai and botany focused for the past 3 years. What started out as a hobby has developed as a passion and he is now on a mission to teach and learn.

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