Every gardener, no matter where they garden, what they grow, nor how large or small the garden, will sooner or later have a problem with a plant. It might start wilting for no apparent reason, or it might, like my Redbud (Cercis canadensis), develop unsightly blemishes on its leaves. (That makes it sound like my tree has zits, but there is no such thing as "tree acne.") While many of us have turned to the internet for answers, "What's Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?)" by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, has an easier way to figure it out. Timber Press sent me a free advance copy* to review. As clearly stated on the cover in nice friendly letters, it is "A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies." This user-friendly manual is divided into three sections, diagnosis of the problem, options for solutions, and a photo gallery.
Part I, "What's Wrong?" uses flow charts to help gardeners determine what exactly is going on with a plant. Rather than describe each flow chart, let's use my Redbud as an example to demonstrate how well the flow chart method works.Here's a photo showing the problem some of its leaves have experienced all summer.
First, we answer whether the whole plant is wilted or whether only some or all of the leaves are discolored. This leaf has a spot on it, rather than being discolored. So we turn instead to the section on leaf symptoms, where there is a set of questions with an illustration to help determine the cause of the problem.
While it might seem that we should follow the path for the symptom "The leaf has very large irregular spots or blotches," some of the leaves are distorted as well.So we'll follow the path for the symptom that the "leaf is distorted...bubbled, cupped, curled" etc. After answering a series of questions with reference to helpful illustrations, we come to the question "Is the distorted leaf spotted with dark spots?" Well, it has a large brown spot. So we turn to the image depicting leaf-spot to see if that looks like our problem. Not exactly, but it could be. So we repeat the process with the questions for large irregular spots or blotches, and we wind up with the same answer, leaf-spot. (A person could make a mistake and call this discolored and follow the flow chart to the conclusion that there is a virus at work, but a comparison with the image of a leaf with a virus looks very different.) On the whole, the flow chart system works very well for beginning to experienced gardeners.
Next, we refer to the appropriate page for what to do about leaf spot. According to the book, leaf-spot is caused by air-borne fungi. The authors first recommend changing the growing conditions for the plant, including sanitizing the area by removing and destroying the infected plant material. Oops! I didn't know I should be doing that. I'll get rid of any infected material right now. They also recommend mulch. D'oh! I let all the mulch rot down and disappear, and the poor tree needed more. I'll mulch it now and make sure I keep it well mulched next summer. There are other recommendations I could also try before moving on to stronger measures, such as baking soda spray. But hopefully removing the infected foliage and properly mulching will solve the problem. The authors also list chemical sprays, but advise using caution with such products, which should be considered as a last resort.
There are also sections on diagnosing problems with flowers, fruits and vegetables, stems and branches, roots and bulbs, and seeds and seedlings.
While I could have figured out the problem from searching online, looking for images of Redbud leaves with spots, sorting through websites for descriptions of diseases, it would have taken much longer, and I wouldn't have been as certain. I'll be keeping this free copy, as it is just what I needed. I wish I had it sooner, so I could have prevented the spread of the fungus. Bottom line: this is a valuable reference for gardeners of virtually any skill level and experience.
*Although Timber Press sent me the book for free, the views expressed herein are solely my own and do not represent the views of Timber Press or the book's authors. Any similarity between their views and my own are coincidental. I have read the entire book and reached my own conclusions. If the book had been dreadful, I would have no qualms about saying so.