The challenge in diagnosing plant problems is getting enough critical information to understand what is going on. Identifying problems over the phone is generally unreliable. Someone will need a sample of the problem. Getting an adequate sample in to the Plant Clinic is most helpful.
If you have a plant or weed you would like identified, a leaf or stem is often not ample material to do the job. If the plant is small, bring in the whole plant, roots and all. If it is large, bring in a branch. If possible, wait until it starts flowering, since many of the important identification characters are found there. Bring in several specimens. Some may be dissected in the Plant Clinic, some may be sent to an expert at the University of Idaho, and some may be kept as a reference specimen. The more you can bring in, the better.
The sample should be enclosed in a plastic bag and kept cool and out of direct sunlight. If you are not able to bring them in immediately, they will stay in good condition in a refrigerator.
The same goes with insects – bring in lots, if possible. If they are doing some plant damage, we need to know what plant they are feeding on, so bring in a sample of the plant, too. If you don’t know what kind of plant it is found on, then follow the above instructions for plant identification. As with plants, keep your insects out of direct sunlight and give them adequate ventilation. If they are beneficial insects, you will want to return them to your garden.
When diagnosing plant problems, the culprit is often very elusive and it requires a good detective who can understand what all the factors are that might be negatively affecting the plant. Things such a watering practices, pesticides and herbicides used in the area, construction activity or other changes in the area (like the removal of a nearby tree) can affect the health of a plant. When the Idaho Master Gardeners ask a lots of questions, they are doing their best to ensure that the problem is diagnosed properly. The last thing you want is to apply a treatment for the wrong problem.
Once the Idaho Master Gardeners have a handle on what the problem is, they can compile a variety of alternative treatments from the Plant Clinic reference library and pass this information back to you. With the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you can show your unwanted guests to the door.
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