Basil, to scale

Scale on the basil plantSome of you may have noticed a distinct absence of Steve’s garden involvement over the past month. In fact, he just returned from a month-long trip to Gabon, which meant I’ve been tending the garden by myself.

But he’s back, and last night, he came out to join me in the garden before dinner. As I pointed out things to him that I had seen in the past month, I showed him something that I first noticed, to my horror, a couple of weeks ago. Some sort of gnarly, bumpy, nasty brown stuff seemed to be working its way up the stalk of our Genovese basil plant.

A quick search of the Internet revealed that it was scale, and that the common remedy is to rip out the plant and give it up for dead. But the leaves looked great if you didn’t look at the plant from the side, and honestly, I wasn’t pinching leaves to eat from the worst part of the plant. It’s in a container, and therefore not spreading to other parts of the garden.

My verdict? Keep it, and struggle on through the season. I’d rather live with a little scale than live without basil. It’s sort of like my fine balance between extreme tomato eating and canker sores.

The plant continues to grow and thrive, and the scale continues to spread, although not as quickly as the plant grows above it, so I’ve remained in wait-and-see mode.

Last night, when I showed Steve, I completely forgot what the actual plant disease was called.

“See?” I said. “It has scabies.”

“Scabies?” he replied. “On a plant? Eeeuw.”

Basil, appearing healthy and fineGive me the scissors and I’ll cut some for dinner.”

“Are you kidding me?” He moved evasively back toward the house. “I don’t want to get scabies from the basil plant.”

“You’re not going to get scabies,” I said. “It’s FINE. I’ve been eating it for weeks. I just cut off the part that doesn’t touch the scabies.”

He shuddered and continued toward the house.

“What if I cut from the other basil plant?” I said, pointing at the Genovese’s lighter, less flavorful cousin across the yard.

“I don’t want to get scabies,” he said.

I clipped a stalk from the non-infected plant and followed him inside. The stalk I clipped had some great leaves at the top, but as the leaves got closer to the base of the plant, they were marked with a red dot pattern that probably indicates some other kind of horrible plant disease I have yet to learn about.

After I washed the leaves, I turned them over to him for use in dinner preparation. Steve began removing them one at a time from the stem, until he got to the red-dotted leaves.

“Do these have scabies?” he asked.

Suddenly, I remembered what the actual disease was called. “It’s not scabies!” I announced, with triumph. “It’s scale!”

“I don’t want that either,” he said.

We threw out the offending leaves, and used the good ones. But I’m not abandoning the Genovese plant. Not when it’s presenting me with clean stems above the scale-laden part.

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14 Responses to “Basil, to scale”


  1. 1 Trey August 18, 2006 at 10:47 am

    …“but as the leaves got closer to the base of the plant, they were marked with a red dot pattern that probably indicates some other kind of horrible plant disease I have yet to learn about.” Genie, I hate to tell you, but it sounds like you may have the first case ever of “plant scabies”. I have not heard of the transference of this disease from humans to plants, but the opposite may be true. ;-)

    Tell Steve “The Blogging Nurseryman” said not to eat any portion of the plant, and if he has, start rinsing with Listerine every hour for two weeks. ;-)

    Hey Genie, I’m kidding. I have finally figured out how the little “emoticons” are used, and I think I used the ones that indicate I’m joking. My having a sense of humor as dry as the Sahara winds, I thought it would be wise to make sure. Don’t want to scare away my favorite new gardener.

  2. 2 Shane Marie August 18, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Oh my gosh, I just finished hooting with laughter at this! You are a gifted writer, and I am enjoying your gardening exploits. Cheers!

  3. 3 Lydia August 18, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    Never give up on good basil! Have you tried giving it a soapy-water shower? Sometimes that works.

  4. 4 jen jen August 18, 2006 at 10:36 pm

    Are you sure its scabies? It kinda looks like aphids. If thats the case, a little soapy water will cure it. (just like the human disease, cleanliness does wonders)….haha

  5. 5 Janet August 18, 2006 at 10:39 pm

    Try spraying it with a yellow mouthwash solution or my all-purpose spray. They’re non-toxic, so you could get rid of the scale and eat your basil too. Do test it in a single leaf first. Most plants have no problem with the spray, but my ferns shrivelled up after I used it on white flies.

  6. 6 Trey August 19, 2006 at 2:05 pm

    I just realized I left you without offering any advice. Try dabbing them with a q-tip dipped in rubbing alcohol. You could also just continue cutting off the good portions and leaving the scale, though they will over time weaken the plant. They are a common pest along the lines of aphis.

  7. 7 colesedwards August 20, 2006 at 8:08 am

    that is sad. my MIL battled scale on a beloved indoor plant and she did the rubbing alcohol thing and eventually it worked. It did die eventually even after repotting it. sad. sad.

    good luck with the heat. Do a little dance and ask for the rain to stop and for it to get hot??

  8. 8 inadvertentgardener August 20, 2006 at 8:39 am

    Trey, your dry humor is much appreciated (and understood) around here! Congrats on learning the whole world of emoticons…it can get a little crazy… And thank you for the rubbing alcohol trick — at the moment, I’ve tried the soapy water trick, and am going to give that a day or two to see how it goes. If that doesn’t work, alcohol it is!

    Cole, I’m not considering this basil plant a permanent keeper at this point, but would at least like it to get through the season. Part of the problem is that we don’t have good places to keep plants indoors, so I don’t really have a place it would like for the winter. So…this is a limp-through-the-season operation.

    Shane Marie, thanks for your comments and for stopping by!

    Lydia and Jen Jen, I have taken your advice as a first step — stay tuned for the report!

    Janet, I’ve got your advice in the queue as well — I would have never thought of using mouthwash on a plant, but I might try your spray.

  9. 9 Lazy Gardens August 22, 2006 at 5:27 pm

    Soapy water spray usually will get rid of them. My usual mix is a quart of water, a slosh of rubbing alcohol and a dribble of liquid soap. Shake well and spray the bugs.

  10. 10 inadvertentgardener August 22, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    Lazy Gardens, so far the soapy water hasn’t worked all that well, although your mix sounds interesting…I might have to check it out.


  1. 1 The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on August 22, 2006 at 8:23 am
  2. 2 The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on August 29, 2006 at 5:17 am
  3. 3 The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on August 31, 2006 at 11:35 am
  4. 4 The Inadvertent Gardener Trackback on September 14, 2006 at 9:17 pm

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