University of Maryland Extension

How to ID, Prevent, and Manage Plant Problems

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Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the Earth-Friendly approach to dealing with plant problems

We can help you identify, prevent, and manage problems using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) - a research-based holistic approach to pest management that emphasizes biological (e.g., attracting natural enemies), cultural (e.g., planting disease-resistant varieties), and physical (e.g., hand removal of insect pests) approaches to prevent problems and control pests and diseases at acceptable levels. Monitoring and using organic or other low-risk pesticides only when pest or disease levels are unacceptable are also part of this management approach.

Steps to Help Diagnose What is Wrong with Your Plant (IPM)

  1. Knowledge - Educate yourself about your plants and the insect pests or diseases that can impact them. This is the first step before you can diagnose, treat or prevent problems. Also, become educated about their growth habit and necessary conditions for good growth. Many plant problems are a result of 'mismanagement' and not caused by diseases or insect pests. 
  2. Prevention - The best management method is prevention.  When you focus your time, attention, and efforts on growing “the right plant, in the right place, in the right way” you can greatly reduce plant problems.   
  3. Monitoring - Monitor for pests and plant problems by closely observing visible plant parts. Use a magnifier or hand lens for a closer look. Be sure to flip leaves over and examine the undersides. Some pests, like slugs, are mainly active at night. Weekly inspections of your garden will catch most problems before they get out of hand. Is the problem serious; is it getting worse, and is the plant in grave danger?
  4. Accurate diagnosis - Learn how to diagnose plant problems and how to distinguish between abiotic and biotic causes. Where you observe pests or disease symptoms, identify the culprit and learn the life cycle, habits, characteristics, damage potential, and best time to take action. Correct identification of pest or plant problem is critical. Most plant problems are not caused by living organisms, but by cultural and environmental factors (abiotic problems). 
  5. Take action if necessary - Manage problem using physical and cultural methods first. Apply a least-toxic pesticide as a last resort. For home gardeners, control measures often begin when pest injury reaches an “aesthetic threshold” - the point at which additional damage to plant appearance cannot be tolerated. Many insect and disease pests cause minor injury and can be ignored. Most healthy herbaceous and woody plants can tolerate 20-30% leaf defoliation without suffering long-term damage or yield reduction.
  6. Evaluate action and continue to monitor - Evaluate the effectiveness of the action taken. Continue to monitor and learn.  And don’t forget to enjoy your garden!

Additional Resources

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