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What is wrong with my plant?

A plant recently moved from the indoors to the outside in full sun ended up getting the leaves burned, but in time the branches will redevelop leaves. John Zvirovski / The Sun

What is wrong with my plant? That is a common question I hear throughout the year, and often a very vague one. Many times it is just through conversation and there is no plant to look at so a series of questions need to be asked in order to narrow down the possibilities. It is not a bad question as there are so many things that can affect our plants and regardless what your gardening skill level is, you still have to ask the question from time to time.

One of the best ways to get to the bottom of the problem is to look at some key factors so you can start ruling out possibilities. Let’s got through a few scenarios and we can get to some reasonable conclusions before calling in a professional.

Why is my plant wilting? This is a very common dilemma with a round of questions such as; Is the soil dry? Is the soil too wet? Is it a plant that should be in the shade and not full sun? Does it have mold forming in the central crown? Ninety-five percent of the time a plant is wilting because it is lacking in water with an easy cure of adding moisture. In the remaining 5 percent, it could be a sign of root rot, compacted soils with no aeration, or an insect attacking either the roots or the inside of the stem cutting off nutrients and water supplies. These are all things you should consider in this situation.

Why are my plant’s leaves so yellow? This is a common issue in our area due to clay soils and compaction. Oftentimes this is a result of iron not getting into the plant’s system; therefore a corrective measure would be to add a shot of liquid iron once a week until the leaves begin to green up again. This problem is known as iron chlorosis and can be detected by light yellow leaves with deep green veins. Another thing to consider is if the leaves are yellowing within the plant and/or dropping off. The questions would be if the plant ever went into the wilt stage and then rejuvenated after a thorough watering. If that is the case, the leaves most severely affected by this wilt, became damaged and can no longer recover thus turning yellow and dropping. Another possibility if the leaves within the plant are yellowing are simply a symptom of not enough light getting to the center of the plant to sustain the vegetation within.  

Why are my leaves discolored or dull looking? One of the first things I think about when I hear this is that it may be an insect problem. Most insects that live off the sap of the plant will harbor on the undersides of the leaves and suck out the juices from beneath. When they remove this vital component from the plant, the leaves begin to discolor and lose their luster. If it is spider mites, one will notice a mottling of the leaf color and small yellow or brown spots on the upper part of the leaf if you look close enough. If you look on the undersides, you will notice thin webbing, very small red or black specks that will move around if you blow on them, and white specks that are usually eggs of the insect. Insecticidal spray or a system granule applied to the plant will keep these pests under control. Another common reason the leaves may be looking dull is the possibility of dry soils and the plant is about to enter the wilt stage.

Why are my vine crops doing so well and then out of the blue begin to wilt? This question is usually in regard to cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, and watermelon vines. When this happens, it is usually the result of a stem borer that got inside the base of the plant and hollows out the vine which creates the plant’s inability to move nutrients, thus reaching their demise. If you look really close to the base of the vine stem, you can often see an entry hole and a little pile of vine residue that will resemble sawdust. That is a sure sign you have a vine borer.

If you have questions that you are unable to answer about the numerous plant ailments, try reaching out to your extension service agent and asking them the questions to determine what the issue may be. But be prepared to be asked some leading questions so they can narrow down the possible problems. If possible, bring in a stem sample with mature leaves that show the problem, tell them what the area conditions are, how he soils seem, the moisture content, the sunlight the area received and so forth. These key elements will help people come to a solution to get your ailment under control.

Plant problems are an issue for all of us as there are so many things that can go wrong. But many of these issues can usually be corrected and the plant can go on living a healthy life. In the rare situation, the plant will have to be removed and discarded, but that just opens up the space to try something new. Have fun deciphering what your issue may be; if there is a problem, at least make it fun or interesting enough to find out more about it.