Published on 04/23/09

Plant doctors identify diseases

Mother Nature has blessed Georgia with an abundance of rain over the past month, leaving most areas drought-free. But all that moisture mixed with warm spring temperatures creates a perfect environment for landscape diseases.

Watch for the signs

If you’re worried that the moist conditions may cause your plants to fall ill, scout your landscape and search for signs and symptoms of infections such as wilting, yellowing, leaf spots and dieback from the tips inward.

Finding these symptoms doesn’t always mean a plant disease is the cause, said University of Georgia homeowner integrated pest management specialist Holly Thornton. They can also be signs of other problems, like drought, chemical damage, improper planting or too much fertilizer.

Take a sample to your agent

So what if you aren’t sure whether your plant is sick due to a disease or its living conditions? Take a sample to your local UGA Cooperative Extension office. Agents there are trained to identify the problem and offer solutions.

If your agent is unsure, the sample will be sent to the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Homeowner Plant Disease Clinic in Athens. There, samples are identified and diagnosed by specialists like Thornton. A treatment recommendation is then made.

The CAES clinic offers identification of diseases and nematodes on turfgrass, fruit, forage, ornamental, crop and vegetable samples. The staff also analyzes plant material and soil for bacterial, fungal, viral and other pathogens.

In addition to homeowners, the clinic’s clients include commercial growers, retailers, arborists and golf course superintendents. The Athens clinic processes more than 600 home turf, ornamental and fruit-tree samples each year.

How to collect a sample

To properly collect samples, Thornton offers the follow tips:

1) Take a close-up photograph of the suspect area of the plant. Then, take a picture of the entire plant and one of it in the landscape.

2) Place a physical sample in a sealable plastic bag with a dry paper towel.

3) Take the sample to your local UGA Extension office early in the week. This will allow time for your agent to mail the sample to the university before the weekend if need be.

If you think the problem is root-related, UGA plant pathologists recommend removing and submitting the entire plant. Losing one plant is a small sacrifice to find out what's going on in your landscape.

There's no charge for digital image samples. A $10 fee is charged for physical sample disease identification.

More information on the UGA Homeowner Plant Disease Clinic at be found at the Web site To locate your local UGA Extension office, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.