Professor Plum in the Conservatory…

…with the rope!  Ever play a game of Clue?  Troubleshooting plant problems is a lot like a game of Clue except rather than discover a murderer, one must discover what or who is troubling one’s plants.

Most experienced plant problem solvers start with a check sheet to follow when attempting to diagnose a plant problem. The best tool to use when one begins, is a good pair of eyes.  Observance is key to finding the answers and collecting the information being sought.

  • Name that plant.  Correct identification of the plant in question is a must.
  • What does a healthy plant look like?
  • What are common problems if any for the plant?
  • What can be seen on the plant that does not look normal? Check out the leaves, stems, roots, fruit and flowers if appropriate.
  • How do adjacent plants look?  Are any plants exhibiting anything similar to the plant in question?
  • When was the problem first observed?  When were signs or symptoms first noticed?
  • Would samples (soil, water, tissue) be of use or value?
  • What other diagnostics could be helpful?

An important clue about the causes of symptoms are the patterns in which they occur.  Biotic or living agents such as insects, mites, fungi, bacteria, viruses and wildlife generally produce no uniformly repeated pattern of damage.  Symptoms may be limited to one species of plant and the damage is progressive with time.

Abiotic (nonliving) problems develop from environmental (temperature, moisture), site (soil, compaction), cultural (pruning, mowing mishaps), chemical (spills or drift), or nutritional (excess or deficiency) problems resulting in damage that is likely on more than one species.  Large areas of plants may be affected and damage often appears on leaves of a certain age.

Diagnosing plant problems can be challenging and some problems may be a combination of several factors. It is much easier to say what the problem is not, rather than what the problem is and not all plant problems can be solved. Sometimes the best solution is to remove the plant and replace it with a healthy plant selected for site compatibility and disease/pest resistance.