Written by David S.
If you have ever walked through a beautiful garden and said quietly to yourself that you’d love this to be your yard, well, there is a lot of work that goes into a gorgeous yard and part of that chore list includes recognizing plant issues and dealing with them before they become an eyesore. In this newsletter, we look at plant issues and some of the products that we recommend to correct or prevent them.
The List of Plant Issues
1. Pest Damage
2. Root Damage
3. Blossom Damage and Disease
4. Leaf Damage and Disease
Some damage occurs because of how we care for plants. An example would be not watering enough or overwatering. Some plants are more prone to disease than are others. Let’s look closer at these issues and how to fix them.
Plant Pest Damage
Insects are one of the most successful groups of organisms on the earth, and they are only one element within the category of pests. Like everything in nature, there are beneficial organisms and those that are harmful. When it comes to your garden or yard, pests make up a large percentage of damage to plants.
Leaf damage – generally holes in leaves or around the edge of the leaf, or yellow lines across the leaf, but not through it. Another common issue is wilting. All of these symptoms could be insect or pest related.
Holes in leaves – Causes include birds or insects. Some migratory birds will eat plant leaves, especially garden plants if they cannot find food. Bird netting is a standard answer to this problem. Insects do cause holes in plant leaves. The culprit is usually a bee or beetle. Leafcutter bees make nearly perfectly round holes in leaves. Beetles and lepidopteran larvae – Moth and butterflies – also, eat leaves and cause holes in leaf tissue.
Generally, a hole is more likely to be from a beetle than from lepidopteran. If there is significant damage to the leaves of plants, the culprit might be slugs or snails. Larvae will usually eat randomly and along the margin of the leaf, or the entire thing. An excellent example of a leaf eater is the tomato hornworm. Neems Oil is an excellent solution to many leaf pests, especially on garden plants. In your landscape, you could consider a systemic pesticide – green or otherwise. Sluggo is an excellent option for slugs and snails. It converts to a base chemical that is naturally occurring in soil, and it is organic.
Yellow lines across the leaf – The lines are clear signs of leaf miners. These are tiny larvae that tunnel through the leaf tissue eating as they go. In gardens, it can be challenging to deal with leaf miners. Your organic options include organic, systemic pesticides, handpicking leaves, or removing the plant. In the past, I have had success with a handheld hole punch. If the line is short, you can punch a hole at each end. In so doing, you remove the larvae while not causing too much damage to the leaf. Hole punching only works if you get them all, and the infestation is new. Dead Bug Brew is an excellent organic systemic. Always read the label. You can also talk with our garden experts about food-safe options available for leafminers and other garden pests.
Leaf Wilting – Leaf wilting may occur because of too much or too little water, or there could be a pest involved. Rodents, such as gophers, damage plant roots, which cause the plant to stress and wilt. Cucumber beetles are another garden pest that causes wilting. They damage the stems of plants and will also damage blossoms. Aphids, too, are a garden pest that will cause plants to wilt. They are sap-suckers and use a straw-like mouthpart to pierce the plants stem to gain access to plant juice.
For rodent and small mammal damage, use a trap or bait to deal with them. For leaf-mining insects, a systemic is critical. These are insects that eat plant juice, and systemic pesticides are taken up to the plant via its vascular tissue. As the insects drink, they take in the systemic and die. We carry an array of organic, systemic pesticides, some of which are food-grade. You can also use topicals, such as Neems oil to get rid of sap-sucking insects.
Note: our garden experts play a crucial role in helping you find the perfect solution to pest control in a garden and landscape. Ask them for recommendations, or bring in a sample of the problem in a sealed ziplock bag and let them help you diagnose the culprit.
Fungi or bacteria generally cause leaf Spots. The best way to deal with fungi is to remove the damaged leaves carefully. In cases where the damage is significant, the entire plant should be removed. To do this without spreading the disease, place a garbage bag over the plant, and then snip the stalk at the roots. Close the bag, and discard it into your green waste container. There are fungicides available, and we are happy to recommend the right one based on the plant type and damage.
Weak and Struggling Plants
There are a few things that cause weak plants and those that struggle to thrive. If the plant is tall and lanky but not putting on leaves and the branches are thin, the problem could be to little light or plant choice. Not every plant is going to thrive in every environment. If you have chosen plants that don’t belong in the hardiness zones of Southern California, they will likely struggle. If this is the story with your prized rose, you can help it by adding support, such as shade cloth or protection from the sun, give it extra water, or even installing a fountain near the plant so that the humidity around that area increases.
If the plant’s leaves are pale yellow, green or white, then try moving it to a sunnier location. For garden plants, such as tomatoes, tall and lanky plants occur when the plants are crowded, and they are not getting enough light. If the plant is not thriving in a sunny location and there is no sign of pest damage, it is likely a soil nutrient issue. You can solve this with products like EB Stone Tomato and Vegetable fertilizers. Some plants, such as tomatoes, are hard on the soil. If you plant them in the same spot over and over, you will need to amend the soil each growing season.
Blossom End Rot
Blossom End Rot is often thought of as a plant disease, but it is not. Blossom End Rot is a physical issue caused by too little calcium. The key to that statement is too little calcium, and the reason we point that out is because the soil can be perfectly healthy, but some other event is preventing the plant from taking up calcium. One of the most frequent issues is inconsistency in watering. Blossom End Rot impacts melons, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. For these garden plants, make sure that you water them consistently. Periods of wet followed by periods of dry will initiate Blossom End Rot.
A good solution for consistent watering is a timer and then manually check the plants. If the problem is that the soil does not have enough calcium, then you can supplement the soil. In all reality, the best time to amend the soil is before you plant. It is more difficult to correct once the plants are setting fruit. Blossom End Rot usually occurs well into the fruiting process. A soil tester is a good option. You also don’t want to over-fertilize with nitrogen. These plants also like to have a slightly acidic soil – pH in the 6.5 range. A soil pH tester is another good tool to have around. There are products available to stop Blossom End Rot, and our garden experts will happily show you them and explain how they work. If you are using fertilizer to amend the soil, keep the nitrogen low and the prosperous high.
We help you diagnose plant problems. You can bring in samples that are sealed in a ziplock bag. Doing so helps to prevent the spread of plant diseases. You can call us on the phone or stop by and talk with our garden experts.
If you are shopping for a specific product, call us ahead of time. Our nursery inventory changes daily at all five locations. We can help you find what you need. You can also shop online with us, or visit one of our five, centrally located Southern California nurseries.
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