Dead, diseased, dying and damaged plants

The 4Ds – Dead, Diseased, Dying and Damaged – we’ve had all these problems on our plants in our gardens this year.

I don’t mean to be depressing, but I’ve had so many enquiries this year about why is my so-and-so plant dying? what’s wrong with my this or that plant? or why aren’t my plants growing/performing well? that I thought I should try and help explain what’s happened this year, why you’ve had problems and try and put your mind at rest.

I’m putting most of it down to problems with the weather, the actual growing weather and the effects this has had on plants. As I write, it’s August Bank Holiday, the height of Summer and it has been pouring down with rain – and it’s cold (12°C/54°F). Now, that’s not meant to be ‘normal’, is it?

Plants, unlike animals, can’t up to their roots and move off to a more protected place when unfavourable weather patterns dictate. They can’t hibernate or go inside when it’s cold unless you grow them in pots and physically move them inside. They just have to sit and bear it. And, like you and me, when they’re stressed they are more prone to pests, diseases and physiological disorders – or problems caused by the local conditions, normally soil, aspect and climate or weather.

This year, the weather has been all over the place and plants have been showing signs of stress – or just giving up the ghost and dying. And trees and shrubs have been looking like it has been autumn for the last few weeks, changing leaf colour and dropping their leaves.

Maybe it’s not the same where you live, but for many parts of the UK:

  • The year started with one of the coldest winters on record. Not only were there low temperatures, but they went on for quite a long time. Extended periods of cold are always worse than a quick cold snap.
  • Spring was generally hot and dry.
  • Summer has been cool and wet. Also, temperatures have fluctuated – often wildly from day tonight. On the few hot days we had, the temperature at night dropped significantly. These dramatic swings in temperature (even though they’re nowhere near freezing) can significantly affect plants.

And the effects of the Winter have lingered on and on. Some plants that weren’t actually killed by the cold, were so badly set back, that they haven’t recovered and have declined or died in the months since.

With the Winter being so wet, it led to soil waterlogging and the associated problem of phyophthora root rot. And if a plant’s roots rot, they can’t take up water and the plant dies, with symptoms similar to drought conditions!

And, of course, there are pests and diseases. We all thought that the cold winter would kill them all off. But not so. It has been a bad year for viburnum beetle, various sawflies and scale insects, especially hydrangea scale insect. And, of course, we all know the effect the weather has had on busy Lizzies/impatiens this year and impatiens downy mildew disease.

So, if your plants are looking a bit ill, haven’t done as well as you’d expected – don’t immediately blame yourself, do what we all do – blame the weather! Be positive – things can only get better next year…

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