Managing Plant Problems (diseases, insects, birds, mammals)
Every home food gardener will face challenges from insect pests, plant diseases, birds, and one or more nuisance mammals (chipmunks, woodchucks, deer, racoons, voles, domestic cats/dogs, and even humans).
Not all pests affect every garden location, and the disease or insect problems that occurred last year won't necessarily return this season. (However, once woodchucks find your garden, they'll come back.)
Your best pest-management strategy: prevention
Simple prevention strategies: removing perennial weeds from a new garden plot, crop rotation, removing diseased plants from the garden, timing plantings to avoid major outbreaks, planting disease/insect-resistant varieties, using row covers and other exclusion strategies, and not allowing weeds to set seed, will save gardeners time, money and anguish.
The trick: understanding the life cycles and habits of common garden pests so you can take steps to help prevent them from becoming serious problems
Just because you see insects on your plants or birds pecking around in your garden doesn't mean those insects or birds are causing damage.
Wilted plants, yellow foliage, or spots on leaves don't necessarily indicate a plant disease caused by a pathogen. The symptom could indicate a disorder caused by a variety of other factors such as drought, nutritional deficiencies, or even air pollution.
Jumping to conclusions and applying an inappropriate treatment will waste your time and money and could end up causing a problem more serious than the one you had to begin with.
Check out these Web pages for information about specific plant problems
Unknown problem? Take advantage of these UNH Cooperative Extension Diagnostic Services
Identify a suspected plant disease What appears as a plant disease might actually be a nutrient deficiency, damage from frost, hail, an insect, or a pesticide.
Identify an unknown insect Most insects are harmless, and a few are essential. Make sure the insect you suspect is actually causing damage before you try a control measure.
Get a soil test every three years. Keep up with your plants' needs. Soil deficiencies can mimic other plant problems.
Photo credits: Woodchuck, Alan Eaton; wilted beans, Kathy Martin, Skippy's Vegetable Garden; parsleyworm, Peg Boyles. All used with permission.