Plant Problem Troubleshooting Guide–Part Three

This is the final installment of the plant problem troubleshooting guide.  If you missed them, here is:

I highly recommend that you check out Parts One and Two before digging in to Part Three–There are questions that were asked previously that get built upon in this segment, and the whole thing will make much more sense. 

Let me say, this might seem like a lot to think about.  But keep in mind, some of the questions may not apply to your particular plant issue, so just answer the ones that apply to your plant.  This list of questions does give you a systematic way to examine a plant, in order to discover clues that lead to an identification of a plant problem, so it might give you a starting place to begin looking and thinking about the plant problem.

Alright, let’s forge ahead!


17.  Where is the plant situated?

  • In the garden?
  • In lawn?
  • In landscape bed?
  • In landscape berm/mound?
  • On lot line?
  • On a slope?
  • In nursery/greenhouse?
  • Next to driveway?
  • Next to pool?
  • Next to garage/carport?
  • Next to road?
  • Next to house?
  • Next to sidewalk?
  • Next to fence/deck/patio?
  • Under eaves?
  • Plant is shaded?
  • Growing in full sun?
  • Exposure–north, south, east, west?
  • Windy location?
  • Other?

(Think situations where the roots of a plant would get compacted, which can kill a plant.  Also if a slope causes a plant to live in what is essentially a swamp or a desert due to drainage issues.)

18.  Soil situation:

  • Sandy soil?
  • Loamy soil?
  • Clay soil?
  • Lots of rocks?
  • Introduced top soil?
  • Good drainage?
  • Poor drainage?
  • White crust on soil?
  • Shallow soil 6 inches or less depth?
  • Soil the builder left?

(The type of soil in which a plant grows can have a major impact on the health of a plant.  New houses typically get the top soil removed by builders during construction, but then usually lesser quality soil is reapplied after the home is complete.)

19.  Chemicals applied to or applied to nearby plants:

  • Insecticide:  Type, dated applied and where applied?
  • Fungicide:  Type, date applied and where applied?
  • Fertilizer:  Type, date applied and where applied?

20.  Have any of these weed killers been used in your landscape/garden within the last two years?

  • Round-up, Kleen-up, Knock Out:  where and when applied?
  • Triox, Noxall, Spike, other soil residual:  when are where?
  • Casoron:  where and when?
  • Others:  Name of product, where and when applied?

(Most of these have residual effects that can last in the soil for up to two years, so the weed killer you applied two years ago may be killing your plant situated in the same spot today.  You might also want to consider that if someone on a neighboring property or a county road crew used any of these products on a windy day, it might have drifted over to your property.)

21.  Was a separate sprayer used when applying weed-killers and insecticides/fungicides?  Yes or No?

22.  Have any of these things happened to your affected plant or within your yard/garden in the past 3-5 years:

  • Construction or heavy equipment over soil?
  • Change of soil grade–landscaping or poor installation?
  • Soil/root injury–septic work, trenching, root removal or cutting, pool installation, construction?
  • Addition to soil of a volume of organic matter or other soil additives?
  • Trunk or bark injury:  injury to the plant from a lawn mower or weed eater, staking wire, rope or twine?
  • Extreme drought:  no irrigation for several months in spring, summer or fall months?
  • Driveway or road paving nearby?

(Any and all of these can have an impact on a plant’s health and longevity.)

23.  What do you think the problem is?

Whew–that’s it!  This should give you some specific information that will help lead to an answer in identifying your plant problem.


Solutions For Plant Problems

Here are some resources that you can access online and in person to figure out how to fix plant problems once they are identified. Some also help you with plant problem identification as well.

  • Washington State University puts out two excellent websites that are helpful for identifying issues related to specific types of plants.  They are:  Hortsense and Pestsense.  They make a very helpful first stop when you are trying to figure out what a plant problem is.  Educational, with several pictures useful in identification of plant issues.  The only drawback is that they don’t list much in the way of solving the problem.  However, their focus is that of IPM, or integrated pest management, which uses the least harmful and least toxic methods of solving a problem first before moving on up the ladder of toxicity, making it much safer for homeowners, their children, as well as pets and wildlife. 
  • My favorite plant pest and disease book:  American Horticultural Society Pests and Diseases:  The Complete Guide to Preventing, Identifying and Treating Plant Problems.  By Pippa Greenwood, Andrew Halstead, A.R. Chase and Daniel Gilrein.   This is the one I have turned to for help when working in the Master Gardener Answer Clinic office.  And as the title says, it is very complete, mentioning nearly every type of plant that you would find in a garden.  Many libraries have this book, but it’s a good one for your personal reference library as well.

July 28, 2010 Update:  I found another excellent resource concerning plant diseases, and it is the Cornell University’s Plant Pathology Department.  They offer Vegetable MD Online, which focuses on plant diseases by crop, and comes with pictures.  A tremendously helpful website, it also gives some solutions for each of the plant problems, and lists disease-resistant varieties.

As Mulder would tell Scully on The X-Files, “The truth is out there.”  And there are answers to plant problems–it sometimes just takes a while to figure it out.  The longer you garden, the easier the identification process will become.  Just start, and always feel free to contact your local cooperative extension office, where the extension agent or Master Gardeners will do their best to help you when you get stumped.

Happy gardening!



  1. Alea said,

    July 27, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    This is a great series! So much to think about, but it is worth the effort to save a plant!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 27, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      That’s what I think, too. After all the work and effort that goes into growing a plant, especially from seed, it is just a horrible thing to lose it, so if you can figure out how to save it, I say all for the better!

  2. Beth said,

    July 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Nice detailed post – gives a good plan of attack when tryingto figure out “what’s wrong” with a plant!

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 28, 2010 at 4:04 pm

      Thank you!

  3. Heather said,

    July 30, 2010 at 12:57 am

    I think I will print this out for reference next time I have a plant issue… I was unprepared a couple of weeks ago when I went in to ask about my blueberry plants:)

    Thanks for stopping by myeverydaygraces for the garden party. I always look forward to reading what your thoughts are:)

    • minervasgardenwriter said,

      July 30, 2010 at 1:03 am

      You are welcome!

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