How to Be an Effective Landscape Investigator

— Written By John Parsons and last updated by

One of the many services that is offered at the Pasquotank County Cooperative Extension is pest and disease diagnosis. If you have a dying tree, shrub, lawn or snowball bush, you can bring in a sample or an image on your smartphone and the horticulture extension agent or a master gardener volunteer will look at the sample for clues. Remember if you bring in a sample or take pictures, we need a little more than just a leaf or a branch. To better assist us with the pest infestation diagnosis we will need the following things from you:

  1. What is the name of the plant that is affected?
  2. When did the problem occur?
  3. Where on the plant is the infestation or damage?
  4. Where in the yard is the plant located?

The reason we ask so many questions is to make the process quicker. For instance, some nutrient deficiency problems will affect only the top leaves of the plant which will make it appear diseased. The location of the leaves could mean the difference in adding magnesium to the soil or a fungicide to the foliage to correct the problem. However, if we are only given a leaf, we won’t be able to make a positive diagnosis. By simply taking a picture of the whole plant it will tell us the name of the plant and where the damage is located. Next we need to  know when the problem occurred and where in the yard the plant is located. The “When” and the second “Where” are very important to know as well. Most people know that a plant needs water to live but how many know that too much water will kill a plant? Sometimes too much water will cause a plant to appear that it is lacking water. For example, if your plant is showing drought symptoms, I may agree with you. However, if there was an extremely hard rain and the area around the plant was flooded, then lack of water is not the problem but too much water. So next time you have a dying plant in your yard, take a picture of the whole plant (picture 1), then, take a picture of the area that is showing damage (picture 2). This could be a branch section, a leaf, or in this case the lower trunk. When in doubt, take more pictures. We can never have too many pictures, the more pictures the more likely we are to solve the mystery.