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If your goal is to transfer all files from local_dir the * wildcard does the trick

$ scp ~/local_dir/* user@host.com /var/www/html/target_dir

The -r option means recursively so you must write it when you're trying to transfer an entire dir or dirs.

From man scp

Recursively copy entire directories. Note that scp follows symbolic links encountered in the tree traversal.

So if you have dirs inside local_dir the last example will only transfer files, but if you set the -r option, it will transfer files and directories