How to Approach Plant Problems


We all want perfectly happy and healthy plants, but there are times when we take a stroll in our garden and realize some are not doing as well as expected.

In such situations, some gardeners rush to correct the problem, spraying their plants with pesticides, fungicides, or other liquids, be it from a chemical company or made of natural ingredients, to make sure their plants look as good as the ones in the gardening books. If you are one of those gardeners, I have one word of advice for you. STOP.

Before you tackle any plant issue, you must ask yourself these questions:

Have you correctly identified the perpetrator?  Most often, seemingly plant problems are not caused by pests or diseases. Sometimes, they are the result of weather and environmental conditions. Take a look around the garden. Has anything changed? Is the soil around the plant too dry or too wet? Are there any invasive plants present? Did something damage the plant? If your answer is yes to any of these causes, correct the problem and see what happens in the next several days.

If you answered No to all the above questions, take a look at your plants. Check the top and bottom of your leaves. Check the stems. Try to see if you find any pests hiding on your plants. If you see any, try to identify their species. Different species have a different cure or method of control. I highly advise against using the type of chemical solutions that deals with a broad array of pests. These types of pesticides often attack the beneficial insects as well. Above all, if you can, use an organic pesticide. There are many recipes on line and some commercially prepared ones in most Big Box stores.

Before you tackle the problem, read the next questions and see what else might be done.

If you can’t find any bugs or other types of pests on your affected plants, it is time to see if they are suffering from a nutrient deficiency, or a disease. At this point, if you are an experienced gardener, you can refer to plant charts and photos of different plant problems and compare what you have against the photos at hand. If you are not an experienced gardener, one way to diagnose the problem is to take a few of the affected leaves, put them in a sealed bag zipper baggy and take them to a nursery (Big Box stores are hit or miss on their knowledge, so go to a nursery if you can.). Most nurseries have Master gardeners or at least very experienced gardeners on staff that can help you identify the problem.

Another question I often ask people with plant problems: “Is the problem getting worse or is it self-correcting?” More often than not, the environmental conditions change and the problem goes away. Sometimes, with the emergence of the pests, we see beneficial insects move in and take care of the problem for us. Track the problem for a couple of days. As long as your plants’ health is not adversely affected, leave nature to take care of itself. Often times, in our garden, we see Aphids and lady bugs, lace wings, etc. side by side. In most cases, very soon, the problem is gone, and so are the beneficial bugs, who are off to help another poor gardener with their aphid problem. But if you see the problem spreading or getting worse, don’t wait.

If you have identified the problem to be some sort of a bug, caterpillar, etc., then ask yourself “Is there a beneficial bug I can use to battle the pests on my plants?” Do some research. It will not only increase your knowledge, but it will also give you a better understanding of how the beneficial insects can help in your present situation or during the next one. Once you have identified a beneficial insect, it is time to find out where and how you can get them.  Gardening stores and nurseries occasionally carry beneficial insects. Lady bugs are one of the most effective pest controllers. These seemingly gentle bugs are a super predator with a huge appetite. Lace wings are also a good pest controller. In fact, the list goes on and on. There are specific beneficial insects for each type of pest you may come across. The problem most gardeners come across is the availability of those beneficial insects in their area. You can often buy any type of insect from online stores, but before you do, make sure the type of insect you are importing to your area is approved for use in your area. You don’t want to introduce an invasive species, even if it is the perfect controller of your current pest problem.

Whenever you come across a plant that is not doing so well, your first weapon of choice should be knowledge. Learn as much as you can about your plants and their requirements. If you provide the correct environment, your plants will be happy, healthy, and strong. Strong plants have a better chance of fight the diseases and pests more effectively than the weak one. Sometimes they require our intervention in one form or another. In those cases, try to use the least invasive control method you can find.

In our garden, natural methods have always been the first choice. If you keep your plants and the soil healthy with the proper nutrients and the right amount of water, nature will help you in return. Rather than battling nature, let’s build partnerships towards a greener earth.

Incidentally, the damage in the picture above was caused by chickens when the garden gate wasn’t latched shut one morning.

Happy Gardening!


An Hour to Garden



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