Management Technique Aids in Treating Plant Problems

October 14, 2002

CINCINNATI, Ohio - The collective onrush of insect and disease problems and environmental stresses on landscape and garden plants are not only overwhelming for the plants, but also overwhelming for those trying to manage plant health.

But a plant management system, designed by Ohio State University Extension horticulturists, may help landscape professionals and homeowners better diagnose and treat plant problems.

Known as "treeage," the technique involves categorizing the severity of insects and diseases, or the impact of stresses on plants to determine which ones require treatment and which ones could slide without it.

"People tend to panic when one problem compounds another. Time and limited resources get used up on plants that may be lost causes and treatable problems go ignored," said Joe Boggs, an Ohio State Hamilton County Extension agent. "Treeage is a sorting methodology that focuses attention on plant problems that are treatable and away from problems that waste time and money because they don't need treatment or are untreatable."

Developed by Boggs, Ohio State northeast district specialist Jim Chatfield and Geauga County Extension agent Erik Draper, treeage grew out of the emergency medical practice, triage, whereby personnel sort through injured patients to determine urgency of treatment.

Boggs said that treeage works the same way when it comes to plant management. Plant problems are placed into three categories:

1. The plant will survive and thrive without intervention efforts.

2. The plant will not thrive or survive, even with the best intervention efforts.

3. The plant can survive and thrive if intervention efforts are focused on increasing plant health through pest management practices.

"How each problem falls under a category first depends upon how that problem affects the health of the plant. Next, we take into account how that problem will impact the use of the plant," said Boggs.

For example, explained Boggs, a typical Category 1 problem in the landscape would be powdery mildew, a fungal disease that doesn't kill the plant, but can create a displeasing appearance. But if a nursery grower is trying to sell a plant with powdery mildew the problem becomes a Category 3 simply because aesthetics are the issue and the plant cannot be sold.

"Every problem has its place under treeage," said Boggs. "You can diagnose whether something is a problem or isn't a problem based on this method."

Galls, irregular plant growths stimulated by the reaction between plant hormones and chemicals produced by insects, generally fall under a Category 1 diagnosis. Although they may look damaging, galls have little harmful effects on plants. Aphids also tend to fit into Category 1 and letting the problem go untreated allows the natural course of beneficial insects to kill the aphids.

On the other hand, a disease such as Dutch elm disease falls under a Category 2 diagnosis, and no amount of time or resources poured into treatment will save the plant from its demise.

Boggs said that treeage not only helps professionals and homeowners quickly diagnose problems, but the practice also teaches proper plant management before a problem may even arise.

"The selection of planting techniques may determine what category a plant may fall under," said Boggs. "For example, a plant that cannot tolerant poorly drained soils planted in wet conditions becomes a Category 2 since the conditions will eventually kill it."

Treeage even helps sort out cultural practices, such as improper pruning techniques. A "topped" tree in severe decline is a good example of a Category 2 problem, with nothing that can be done to restore the loss of vigor.

By using treeage, a professional or homeowner becomes more knowledgeable about plant problems and more efficient in diagnosis and treatment. But there's always room for improvement, said Boggs.

"Never overlook reading and training. There are always opportunities to learn more about the landscape," said Boggs. "Avoid panic. Be aware there are people out there who can help you diagnose problems and make treatment decisions using treeage, and help you understand how to use other programs like Integrated Pest Management."

For more information on treeage, contact Joe Boggs at (513) 946-8993 or boggs.47@osu.edu, Jim Chatfield at (330) 263-3831 or chatfield.1@osu.edu, or Erik Draper at (440) 834-4656 or draper.15@osu.edu. For more information on plant management log on to Ohioline at http://ohioline.osu.edu/ or Ohio State Extension's IPM Web site at http://www.ag.ohio-state.edu/~ipm/.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Joe Boggs