Our plants prosper in spite of us

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

The world is full of luscious landscapes comprised of the color green. Everywhere we look, from the city streets to the beaches, there is plant life. No matter the situation, plants seem to grow and even to prosper despite the best efforts of people and geography. Yet we are not happy.
If there is an oak in our backyard, we are disappointed if it is small; if there is a rose on our trellis, we are disappointed if it is not covered in blooms; if there is a tomato plant on our patio and it is not covered in bright, red tomatoes, we are disappointed.
As gardeners, we cannot stand the idea of a plant that does not reach its full potential. We want our plants to perform, and as plant lovers, we are willing to go to extreme lengths to get what we want, from applying hazardous chemicals, to talking to them, to applying odd concoctions of cleaners and intoxicants found in old storage cabinets because someone who may or may not have any experience with these products has recommended them.
Nature is the best teacher of plant growth. Look at five trees that were planted at the same time but in five locations, and you will be likely to find quite a range in growth and health. These five locations offer five types of soil, five levels of shade, five drainage scenarios, and five nutrition levels.
This type of observation should guide us in arranging a setting that is conducive to growing plants, but it often does not. We thoughtlessly push plants into situations where they do not belong, moving them into colder, hotter, wetter, drier, shadier, sunnier and just plain inappropriate conditions.
And what do we do if they do not perform the way we think they should? We apply more water, more fertilizers, more vitamins, more chemicals and more misguided garden remedies until the plant either conforms to our will or dies trying.
This spring, we have already experienced quite a bit of rainfall. This creates the perfect environment for fungal issues to take hold. All shade trees are attacked by one or more fungi that cause scattered, round to oval, angular, or irregularly shaped spots on the leaves. Leaf spots are the most common diseases of shade and ornamental trees. Most of these diseases are favored by cool weather, light and frequent rains, fog or heavy dews, high humidity, and crowded or shady plantings.
Leaf spots do not typically kill trees but can create an unsightly mess and cause premature defoliation. Make sure you clean up any fallen leaves and dispose of them. Spores can persist if left to decompose.
A major weapon against disease is matching the plant to its best environment. In order for a disease to occur on your plant, it must be a susceptible host, prone to infection. Eighty percent of plant problems may be attributed to less than ideal growing conditions.
Susan Brown is a horticulture agent with the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.