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Gardening: Ailing plants best diagnosed in person

Ray Ridlen answers readers' questions about gardening.
BY RAY RIDLEN Published: April 30, 2012

Q: Got plant problems?

A: Many folks do at this time of the year, and for that matter, nearly any time of the year.

Much of this diagnosing, of necessity, is done over the telephone. However, telephone diagnosis of your particular problem often can be very difficult. Here's the reason why:

Plants, unlike people, can speak only through their symptoms. Therefore, the person viewing the ailing plant must have some idea of what to look for and then be able to accurately describe their findings if help is to be had over the phone.

For instance, a person may call and say, “My beautiful shrub just dropped dead. What happened to it?” That's a pretty tough question to answer! The problem could be one of many things, or perhaps a combination of several factors, such as herbicide (weedkiller) injury, root rot, insect damage to the root system, too much water, not enough water, poor drainage, nematodes, leakage from gas lines, and the list could go on and on.

Your plant may have a pale yellow color rather than a healthy green. In this case the problem could be improper soil pH, nematode damage, iron deficiency, poor drainage, or starvation from lack of fertilizer.

Your shrub may fail to flower. Could be the plant is too young, there is excessive vegetative growth caused by too much nitrogen, or lack of sufficient sunlight.

A young plant may fail to produce berries. It could have suffered from frost damage during the flowering period, improper pruning, lack of pollination, and yes, it might even be a male.

As you can see, there may be many problems which contribute to symptoms of plant disorders.

So, in order that we at the OSU Extension Office can do the best job for you in diagnosing your plant problem, here are some things to consider before you call:

If possible, know what kind of plant you have. A “shrub” can mean many things to many people. Trying to diagnose the problem without knowing the ailing patient's name can be especially difficult. So, try to identify the plant the best you can.

Inspect the plant for any insect and disease symptoms, such as white blotches or powdery cast on leaves, or chewed or skeletonized leaves.

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