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Learning to Grow: ‘Things’ are not always as they seem

The Horticultural Help Desk is now open Monday through Friday at the Extension Office on Randall Road in St. Charles. Master gardeners staff the help desk to identify and solve your horticultural problems. I thought you might like to read about a recent experience.

Another master gardener and I were visited by a client with a recently purchased flowering vine. The vine appeared to be dying at the base of the plant; some of the leaves were totally dried out.

Other leaves were brown spotted and/or brown rimmed. The end leaves of the vine appeared dark green and quite healthy.

The leaves closest to the base of the plant were rather pale and appeared less healthy. The client said that she had recently purchased the plant and had placed it outside on her deck.

My cohort and I began examining the plant. We first looked for the obvious signs of disease. We looked and looked and could not find one defining factor. Richard Henschel, our horticultural instructor, happened to be on site. We didn’t hesitate to ask for Richard’s assistance as he is always willing to assist.

Richard began examining the leaves with a lens and declared that he could find no signs of disease, fungal or bacterial. Meanwhile my fellow master gardener, Sue, let out a squeal as she spotted something moving.

This moving “thing” was about the size of a fleck of pepper. Sue managed to capture the speck and placed it under the microscope.

Our fleck of pepper revealed itself to be the larva of a ladybird beetle (Family: Coccinellidae).

We continued investigating.

Next we placed one of the brown-spotted leaves under the microscope. We not only spotted another ladybird larva but also an aphid. With this discovery, we knew that we did not have an insect problem as both the larvae and adult ladybird beetles are natural predators that feed on soft-bodied pests such as aphids.  

Here is the conclusion of this story. We checked all that we could and determined that the problem of the dried leaves was the result of the plant being moved from within the confines of a nursery (protected indoor environment) to being placed outside on the client’s deck. The outdoor conditions affected the older leaves while the newer growth survived and flourished. The client was advised to take her plant home and place it in the ground. Problem solved ... happy client!

If you are dealing with a garden problem, call our office at 630-584-6166 between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. We are located in St. Charles at 535 S. Randall Road.

• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.


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