All the planning in the world won’t help if you don’t keep a watchful eye out for problems. You need to be a garden detective! Make it a habit to walk through your garden at least once a week—daily is best—looking carefully at your plants, turning over leaves, and noting overall appearance.
Plant problems fall into three general categories: insects and animals, diseases, and cultural problems (water stress, heat or cold, nutrient imbalances). Symptoms caused by different problems may look remarkably similar. You need to investigate a number of possibilities and do some detective work.
1. Look at the entire plant and those around it. Is just one plant or an entire row affected? Is the whole plant involved, or just part of it? Does the problem seem to be random, or is there some distinct pattern, such as that only new growth is affected?
2. Check the undersides of leaves and the stems, flowers, and roots for insects, eggs, webs, or damage such as borer holes. Examine the affected areas with a hand lens, looking for tiny insects or fungal growth.
3. Collect sample insects and samples of damaged leaves for later identification. Put them in pill bottles or plastic bags.
4. Ask knowledgeable gardeners, garden center employees, or extension agents to help diagnose problems. There are also many good books available that can help you identify pests, diseases, and cultural problems.
5. Once you’ve identified the problem, find out as much as you can about it. Then develop a plan to control it.
6. Even if you can’t diagnose the problem, don’t despair. Give your plants the best care you can. Plants often recover when conditions improve. But keep an eye on the problem—if more plants develop the same symptoms, put your detective hat back on.
7. Make notes about what works and what doesn’t, what controls you used, how much you used, and where. The more information you have, the better you’ll be able to refine your plan for the next season.
These are some basic rules to follow and may seem hard to implement but if you are having any problems in the garden, this is how to investigate. If you have children in your home, they might like to help do the detective work, if you make it seem like a detective game. Good luck “Sherlock” and enjoy the gardening experience.