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Flower 911 | Summer 2010 Out Here Magazine

Know the symptoms to rescue your plants in distress

By Carol Davis
Illustrations by Tom Milner

As your flower garden full of impatiens, zinnias, foxglove, verbena, and other colorful annuals and perennials shows off its striking colors, be aware that others are attracted to your flowers, too, only for much different reasons.

Pests, disease, and fungi are lurking out there, ready to take advantage of weak, stressed plants. Know how to recognize both the signs of plants in distress and your floral enemies, so you can fix the problem quickly.

Plants are lanky and pale — Most likely insufficient light. Flowers that require full sun need 6 or more hours of sun daily.

Red or silver spots on leaves — Too much light.Flowers that require some respite from the sun's rays can get damaged by being exposed for too long. They may thrive better with less direct sunlight or reflected light.

Wilting or yellowing leaves that drop off — Underwatering or overwatering. Overwatering is as damaging to your plants as underwatering. When plants are kept wet, you'll see the same indications as underwatered plants — drooping leaves. That's because the continual dampness has caused the roots to rot and they no longer feed the plant with nutrients from the soil.

Yellow or brown spots on leaves — Fungus forms on leaves when water is allowed to sit on the plants, especially at night when cooler conditions slow evaporation. Water in the mornings, instead so leaves dry quickly.

White, gray, or purple-hued patches on leaves — Indicates fungal powdery and downy mildews. Make sure the leaves are not perpetually wet; then spray with your choice of a synthetic or organic fungicide. Good air circulation from proper spacing also may help.

Blackened, dying leaves — Nursery-grown bedding plants are young and tender, and can succumb to the stress of transplanting if you don't treat them gently. Delay planting until danger of frost in your area has passed. It's also good for your young nursery plants if you'll harden them off for a few days in dappled sunlight before introducing them to your garden.

Large uneven holes in leaves — Japanese beetles, grasshoppers, moth larvae, or any number of other pests could be responsible. Pesticides — chemical or organic — will help.

Curled, puckered, or twisted leaves — Aphids, leafhoppers, or a possible nutrient deficiency. Releasing ladybugs in your flowers will help control aphids; pesticides will help with other bugs.

Pests and disease often attack plants when growing conditions are unfavorable, causing plant stress. Insufficient water and light, poor soil, damp conditions, and incorrect fertilizing are some of the unfavorable conditions that cause plant stress.

Your best defense is a good offense; familiarize yourself with your plants' growing requirements — light, watering, fertilizing — and follow them as closely as possible. Healthy, strong plants usually can fight off pests and disease and you'll be rewarded with a beautiful, healthy flower garden.

Carol Davis, Out Here editor, is a master gardener who consistently battles mildew on her tall phlox.