Plant Health Care. It’s Not That Simple. Really.

Plant health care care may seem simple, but it’s not.

Many people assume there is something I can treat with, even the same day, and the problem is solved. That is most often not the case. In a recent case, we got a call about declining blue spruce trees with the request that we come out and treat the same day. Blue spruce decline is widespread and complicated. There is nothing I can do the same day. There may be nothing I can do at all depending on how declined the trees are. However, often we can put together a treatment plan which should help.

There is an entire diagnostic protocol I must follow before even arriving at any treatment which includes but is not limited to:

  1. What is the plant?
  2. What does a healthy plant look like?
  3. What are common problems for the plant? (Example: What diseases is the plant known to get? Does it always need a lot of sun or shade?)
  4. What do you see that looks abnormal? (Example: Is the plant wilting? Is the soil dry?)
  5. What is the overall health of the plant? (Example: Is it only part of the plant that is sick or the entire plant?)
  6. What exactly do you see? (Example: What are the signs and symptoms?)
  7. What do you see on the other plants surrounding it? (Example: Are other plants sick too?)
  8. What is the site? (Example: What does the environment around the plant look like?)
  9. Who knows about the plants? (Example: Who has access to the plants? Does someone specific watch over the care of the plants?)
  10. When did the symptoms first appear? (Example: How long have the symptoms been there?)
  11. What is the horticultural history? (Example: When was it first planted there?)
  12. What is the environmental history? (Example: Is the site known to be really wet or really dry?
  13. What does the client think the problem is? (Example: Did the client apply too much fertilizer or water the plant too much?)
  14. What diagnostic tools are useful?
  15. What additional resources are available?
  16. How do you take samples?
  17. What other information do you need to help you find the problem?
  18. What is your diagnosis?
  19. What is the significance of the problem?
  20. What are your recommendations? (Management strategies or control measures.)

Just, basically, if someone says they want me to come out and treat the same day, that probably won’t happen. What will happen is I can meet with them, evaluate the condition of the plant(s), and the potential causes of identified problems, then formulate a plan to address the issues we are seeing.

Note: The 20 questions of plant diagnostics was originally authored by Joe Boggs and Jim Chatfield of The Ohio State University Extension.