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Many gardeners have asked, in this week just passed, "What is wrong with my plant and what can I spray it with?" There were 3 different samples from different gardeners and all different species but strangely all had the symptoms: withered or wilted young branch tips, young leaves, and just opening flower buds. Three of those samples were: a young Japanese Maple branch tip; young peach branch tip leaves; and a leaf sample and just opening flower bud from a Knockout Rose. Symptoms were very similar: limp, wilted and almost water soaked plant tissue on the early samples; later samples with that same wilted plant tissue but now turning brown. An actual sample specimen is always great to help identify the condition and presence of any pest. In all of these cases, the samples were also very helpful in answering that second question.
Close examination of the samples revealed no evidence of a pest presence. There were no insect eggs, larvae, adults or webbing or other physical evidence of an insect. All of the samples showed a similar damage pattern of tip first or outside edge first damage. Once again there were no signs of a disease organism present and it was very curious that the symptoms were the same across the samples from different species and different plant families. So the answer to that second question was: "don't spray it with anything, yet...and let's explore a few additional questions". The samples of damage symptoms all started to arrive or reported noticed at about the same time of about 2 weeks ago. The symptoms all looked very much like a burn. My first question was: "Do you live in an area with close agricultural fields?" because we are at the point when there is considerable spraying to kill off any weeds before planting in the fields. My second question: "Do you have a lawn service and/or has there been any lawn chemical application on your or your neighbors' lawns?" Once again, this is the season for this activity, especially in suburban areas. The answers to these questions was unanimously "no".
The next question(s) made the same light come on for all of the sample holders. I asked about the location in the landscape of the plants, relative to other trees or structures and if there was a possible corresponding lessening of symptoms closer to the overhang of trees or proximity to a structure. AHHHH! Yes, there was a pattern emerging. Then I asked them all what weather event we had just over 2 weeks ago. Yes! A significant frost! And, while frost damage is evident almost immediately to those who know what to look for, the damaged tissue will not discolor to dry, dead brown for several days. The take away here: Not to worry, all of the plants in question would grow out of it, and it is good idea to remove the damaged tissue carefully, if possible, to prevent any secondary infestations.
Good detective work is good gardening. Be aware of the flow of environmental conditions. Don't spray first, ask questions second. Rather ask questions and probably not spray anything. Relax, it is Spring and a time to marvel at the unexpected. Happy Gardening!