Garden Books

What’s Wrong with My Plant? (and how do I fix it?)

What made the leaves turn brown? Why are the roots rotting? What kind of bug is eating my fruit? At least once a season gardeners ask similar questions. What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?) by David Deardoff and Kathryn Wadsworth (Timber Press) is an excellent and well-organized reference to quickly identify the cause of plant worries and how to best organically rid the plants of them. 

The purpose of the beginning section of the book, “What’s Wrong?” is to determine the source of the plant’s problem. The reader must first select one predominant symptom of the ailing vegetation.

Next, one turns to the chapter corresponding to the part of the plant in which the condition exists. Whole plants, leaves, flowers, fruits, vegetables, roots, or seeds and seedlings are the choices.

The reader is then lead through flow charts by answering multiple questions about the disease of the plant. Eventually, page numbers indicating diagnoses for and aid to the failing plant are offered. Drawings accompany the questions to help identify the possible problem.

If this sounds too complicated, the questions are actually simple, and the directions clear. For example, to solve the problem “the stem or trunk is rotten or moldy” requires answering interrogations like the following ones.  ”Does fluffy gray mold grow on the spots? If yes, the problem is botrytis aka gray mold.  For solution, see page 244; for photo, see page 393.”

The second portion of the book is divided into chapters on everything that can harm a plant. Growing conditions, fungi, insects, viruses, bacteria, mites, nematodes, and other pests are all fully explained.

In case the reader can’t decide if the first symptom chosen was the right one, help is in the third section. Photographic examples of the common plant problems and references to pages with information are furnished.

Although the book is designed to furnish quick, accurate answers, I found reading the entire chapters to be equivalent to lessons in plant pathology. As an example, the fungi chapter defines and describes the substance, including both good and bad activities with plants. Basic organic solutions for destroying fungi include recipes for mild chemicals such as compost tea and baking soda spray. Stronger organic pesticides are described with instructions on how to handle them safely.

From other chapters, I learned the authors’ recommended methods for preventing most of the plants’ problems. They repeat several times the necessity of removing infected materials, mulching, providing air movement, and correct plant placement. Perhaps the most important preventative measures they emphasized are to give the vegetation correct amounts of water to roots, not to leaves, and to propagate gardens with different varieties of plants.

David Deardorff is a botanist and plant pathologist with a doctorate from the University of Washington. Kathryn Wadsworth has a background in communications, which she uses in writing about and photographing nature.

Their talents have produced a book that is a definite keeper for my library. After reading their factual advice, I can use this book, my trowel, shovels, clippers, and spray bottles to cure whatever goes wrong this year in my small garden.

Christine Thomson is a Raleigh gardener obsessed with plants.  She is a volunteer at the Raulston Arboretum and fills her spare time reading books, especially volumes about vegetation.