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Troubleshooting Plant Problems

We use these types of questions to diagnose plant problems. Please review them so you can help us evaluate your plant problems.  Some of the questions may determine the actual problem, but many are intended to help you collect information that will lead to a diagnosis.  Don't worry if you can't answer all the questions, just focus on the ones that you know.

Identify the Plant
  • What is the name of the plant? (Common or latin)

  • What kind of plant is it? (Annual, perennial, shrub, tree (fruit or ornamental), vegetable, houseplant)

  • What is the variety or cultivar? (Some are resistant to disease)

  • How old is the plant? (Some plants don't live long)

Symptoms and Signs
  • What does the problem look like?

  • How long ago did the symptoms appear? Was it a sudden or gradual decline? 

  • How much of the plant is affected? Is one side more affected than another?

  • What parts of the plant are affected? (Leaf, branch, bark, crown)

  • What is the pattern of the damage? (Random? Uniform effect might be virus)

  • What is the progression of the problem? Started from a cut? Blossom? Hole? Spot?

  • Is more than one plant of similar type affected? How far apart are they? 

  • Is the base of the plant healthy? (Any sign of crown rot?)

  • Are the leaves healthy or yellowing or white blotches or blackened? 

  • Are there spots? If so, how big? What color and shape? Are there holes in the spots? (Insects or leaf spot.)

  • Are there holes or scrapes on leaves or bark? (Chewing/sucking insect/caterpillar or bird?)

  • Are there slime/shiny trails on the plant or ground? (Slug or snail?)

  • Is anything oozing from the bark? (Borer?)

  • Do you have an insect sample and where was it found? (How many?)

  • Are there signs of insects such as frass or sawdust? (Borer or termite)

Determine the Environment
  • Where is the garden located? (Weather and soil conditions vary)

  • What has the weather been like lately? (Cold, windy, stormy, icy, hot?)

  • How much water is applied? (Timing? Amount? Is it too little? Or too much?)

  • How is the water applied? (Sprinkler? Drip? Hand watered? Overhead or flooding?)

  • Is there lawn around the plant? (possible Weed and Feed runoff?)

  • Is there mulch around the plant? What kind?

  • Is the soil moist under the mulch? (Is water getting through the mulch to the soil?)

  • Is fertilizer given? How much and what kind? (Appropriate fertilizer? Too much or too little?)

  • When was the fertilizer given? (Applied during heat spell can burn leaves)

  • Have you applied any garden chemicals nearby recently? (Herbicide? Insecticide?)

  • How much sunlight does the plant get? (Full, partial or no direct sun and from what direction and how long? Some plants require full sun. Few do well in full shade.)

  • Is the plant next to a fence or building or street or on a slope? (Smog? Neighbor spraying pesticide or fertilizer? Is it wet at slope bottom or dry at slope top?)

  • Has additional soil been added over roots? (Roots need oxygen to survive.)

  • Are there animals near the plant? (Animal urine can harm plants or digging of roots or squirrel damage to fruit or nuts or flowers.)

  • Do the neighbors hire a gardener? (gardeners can spray chemicals or cause blower/mower/trimmer damage.)

  • Was there any construction work nearby? (Runoff from new construction can affect plants)

Control Efforts

What have you done to address the problem?

Home Diagnosis Efforts
  • Examine the plant or insect closely to be able to describe appearance.

  • Investigate thoroughly by digging into soil near trunk or pulling back turf or turning leaf over.

  • Use magnifying glass if available.

  • Tap leaves over a sheet of white paper to see if insects fall off.

  • Cut into the plant at damage site. What color is it?

Contact Our Hotline

The questions above will help you develop an idea about what could be wrong. In many cases it’s still a mystery and now it's time to see how we can help. 

If you have a plant sample to share:

  • Bring in damaged plant sample along with insect (if any) causing it.  Be sure to place any insects or damaged plants in a sealed plastic bag.

  • Bring in enough plant material to see full damage, including both healthy and affected tissue.

  • Bring in a new sample, not one that has sat around for a few days.

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