Gardening is the #1 most popular hobby in America, but it is not without its trials and difficulties. One of the biggest hurdles for gardeners is recognizing and then appropriately treating common plants problems. Most plant problems have a variety of solutions. Here are seven of the most common problems:
(1) The edges of your plant's leaves are brown and dry.
Causes: Either the temperature is too high for your plant, it is receiving too much direct sunlight, or it is not in an area of sufficient humidity. Our beach air may feel humid sometimes but generally our air is dry and inside your house the ambient humidity is lower than the plant received during its infancy in a professional greenhouse.
Solution: Most indoor potted plants should only be watered when the soil is dry, but can really benefit from a daily light misting with a spray bottle. To create a more humid environment for your plant you can also set it in a shallow tray filled with pebbles and water, or place it next to a table top fountain or water feature. Outside move the plant into a semi-shaded area or wet the ground around the plant to provide more humidity.
(2) Browning of the leaf tips or on the leaf veins and margins.
Causes: This problem looks similar to problem #1 above but has different causes, probably fertilizer burn or poor water quality. Fertilizers are basically salts. When fertilizing plants you are putting salts into the soil. If these salts stay in the root area and are not leached out by thorough watering, the salts build up and burn the roots which can lead to brown tips.The water that comes out of our faucets is high in alkalinity and chlorine, which can also cause the tips of the leaves to go brown.
Solution: Most houseplant fertilizer comes in liquid form. When you fertilize your plant water it thoroughly first, then add some drops of fertilizer to some water and water the plant again. Make sure you do not leave any water in the saucer under the pot.
If your plant is suffering from fertilizer burn you need to remove the salts from the soil by watering the plant three times in a row and letting the water run out the bottom of the pot. Over watering is already one of the biggest problems with indoor houseplant care so be careful to let the soil dry out after leaching the soil. You can also re-pot the plant in fresh soil.
For plants in your garden or a lawn that are suffering from fertilizer burn, a good soak with the hose may help. Generally, you need to catch the problem within the first 24 hours. If poor water quality is affecting your plants, use filtered water, bottled water, or let your water sit for 24 hours before using it to water your plants. Also using an acid fertilizer can help reset the Ph level of the soil.
3) The veins of the plants' leaves remain green, while the leaves turn yellow.
Cause: The Ph level of your soil is incorrect.
Solution: Purchase an in-home soil test kit and test the Ph level of your soil. In our Southern California area of low rainfall the soil is nearly always extremely alkaline. Added to that the water from our hosepipes is also alkaline with lots of chlorine and other salts. If the soil is too alkaline the plant cannot absorb certain nutrients from the soil. Amend your soil according to the results you obtain from the test. If your soil Ph shows high alkalinity amend the soil with a soil acidifier or with a bag of acid based compost. Some plants may have an iron deficiency and may need feeding with an Iron Chelate product. Citrus trees are especially prone to this condition and need regular feeding with a fertilizer formulated for citrus trees.
4) Tiny white spots on leaves, with small cobwebs
Cause: Your plant may have spider mites.
Solution: Spider mites really thrive in warm, dry drought-like conditions. Your best defense is to make sure that the air around your plants maintains proper humidity levels and moisture. See #1 above for tips on how to increase humidity. If you have a spider mite infestation, make sure to isolate the affected plant because they can migrate quickly to other plants. Wash and dry the leaves to remove the mites and their webs, and then try spraying the plant with a solution of one part rubbing alcohol to one part water. If this fails to eradicate the problem we have a range of organic and chemical sprays and systemic pesticides at Deep Roots Garden Center.
5) Fuzzy gray mold on plant leaves, flowers and stems.
Cause: This mold is botrytis blight, which is a disease that generally takes hold when dead flowers and leaves are left on the plant.
Solution: make sure to deadhead your plants to keep them healthy and encourage continued flowering. To prevent this and other molds attacking your plant make sure not to overcrowd the plants so as to allow enough space for air to circulate freely.
6) Powdery, white mildew growth on the tops and bottoms of leaves.
Cause: Powdery mildew is caused by an airborne fungal disease that many plants in our coastal region are subject to, including roses, tomatoes and squash.
Solution: Air flow, sunshine and ventilation discourage mildew growth so make sure your plants are well ventilated and not crowded. If you do spot powdery mildew developing try this home remedy first: mix up a quart of of warm water, 1/2 cup baking soda, and a few drops of dish washing liquid in a bucket. Stir until the baking soda dissolves, then pour it into a spray bottle and spray your plants. If this does not work we have organic and chemical fungicides at Deep Roots Garden Center to treat this problem and problem # 5 above.
7) Sticky spots on foliage.
Cause: Sticky leaves are most likely cause by aphids. You can effectively remove aphids by plucking or rubbing them off the plants. Or you can knock them off with a blast of water. If you have a serious infestation try spraying with a mixture of one cup vegetable oil, 2 cups water and a few drops of dishwashing liquid soap. Lady bugs are an effective predator of aphids. If none of these remedies work we have organic and chemical sprays at Deep Roots garden Center to eradicate the problem.
And here is another problem: Squirrels!
We have had a lot of enquiries about how to control squirrels which eat all the fruit off our fruit trees before it is even ripe, and dig holes in our flower pots to bury their winter nuts and peanuts. According to our Internet research the pest in question is the Fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), a non-native species first introduced into Southern California in 1904. Apparently it reached our area in 1993 and has been a pest ever since. Not only do they eat our fruit, but once they find their way into our attics or under our roofs they are VERY difficult to get rid of, and they can be extremely destructive, tearing ventilation covers and grills off access points until they can get in. They may be very pretty dancing their way along electrical cables above our heads, but they represent a serious pest problem that is only now beginning to manifest itself.
Controlling them is extremely difficult as they are not afraid of humans and have very few, if any, predators in our urban area. They reproduce quickly and as long as they have plenty of food sources there will be no limit to their numbers.First and foremost, PLEASE do not feed the squirrels no matter how cute they are. These animals can vector diseases between each other and may also do the same for you or your pets. It is thought that squirrels may carry the fleas that cause Bubonic plague and we do not want these fleas anywhere near our cats and dogs. I continually find peanuts buried in my plant pots - evidence that one of my neighbors is feeding these animals...
Also don't feed the birds. Don't feed any kind of animal outside. Even pets should be fed inside, never leave their food outside. Squirrels are very mobile, and a pet dish or bird feeding station is "open" territory. We Americans are inveterate bird-feeders, and industries have grown up, catering to those that like to feed the birds. Restrain yourself. True naturalists will confirm that feeding wildlife (including birds) is not a good idea. So will any pest exterminator. The animals will find their food well enough without our help and be better for it.
How to prevent squirrels from eating the green fruit off your trees is altogether another problem. Squirrels are extremely intelligent and are not deterred by netting or fake snakes or fake owls. You can also forget about mothballs, loud rock music, basil, mint, garlic, marigolds, ammonia, bleach, borax or boric acid, Bounce dryer sheets and catnip. There is also no device, electronic, magnetic, sonic, stroboscopic, or any combination of these, that will consistently deter these pests.
I have had some success by throwing reels and reels of fishing line through my fruit trees thereby cutting off access to squirrels and birds, and causing them visual confusion. It is unsightly in the winter when the leaves are gone but it has protected a certain percentage of my fruit from being eaten. New products that contain various animal unrines may also work.
If you have a deterrent that works please e-mail Barbara at DeepRootsNews@aol.com so that I can pass it on in following newsletters. These pests are here to stay but we do not have to make it easy for them to increase in numbers by growing food for them to eat.