Bacterial populations on above-ground plant surfaces were estimated at three different biological scales, including leaflet disks, entire leaflets, and whole plants. The influence of sample scale on the estimation of mean bacterial population size per unit and per gram and on the variability among sampling units was quantified at each scale. Populations were highly variable among sampling units at every scale examined, suggesting that there is no optimal scale at which sample variance is reduced. The distribution of population sizes among sample units was sometimes, but not consistently, described by the lognormal. Regardless of the sampling scale, expression of population sizes on a per gram basis may not reduce variance, because population size was not generally a function of sample unit weight within any single sampling scale. In addition, the data show that scaling populations on a per gram basis does not provide a useful means of comparing population estimates from samples taken at different scales. The implications of these results for designing sampling strategies to address specific issues in microbial ecology are discussed.