In the last two weeks, I’ve had multiple phone calls, emails, and site visits relating to trees and shrubs that aren’t looking so good.  These types of calls are common during this time of year – now that plants are starting to green up, grow leaves, and set fruit, any problems or trouble they might be experiencing become obvious. There are a huge number of things that can cause tree and shrub decline, so I wanted to walk you through some thoughts on what you should be doing if you notice it.

            First and foremost, don’t panic! In fact, don’t do much of anything yet. A lot of times, people see an issue in their plants and immediately start trying everything they (or google, or Facebook) can come up with to solve the problem. Instead of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it, it’s important to take a deep breath and figure out what the actual cause of the tree or shrub decline is.

            I say that, and maybe you’re going “I’m not a horticulturalist, how would I know what’s going on?!” First things first – you don’t have to be an expert! The first step I encourage you to take is to call my office to schedule a farm call. During a farm call (which is a free service for Lincoln County residents), I will come out, take a look at the problems you’re having, and try to come up with some answers for you. Sometimes, this requires me to take a lot of pictures, ask a lot of questions, and call up our UGA Specialists who know more about plants than I do. Other times, I can give you an answer the day of. Either way, we are usually able to figure out what the cause of the issue is (environment, pest, disease, etc) and get you some ideas for how to handle it moving forward.

If we can’t make a farm call work, the second step is for you to go into detective mode, collect information, and send it to me via email ( For most issues, I need to know: plant type and variety, plant age, any lime/fertilizer you’ve put down, whether you’ve soil tested, irrigation practices for the plant, what symptoms you’re seeing, how long it’s been going on, if it’s happening to one plant or many, where the plant is located (full sun, shade, etc), whether you see any obvious insects or disease symptoms, and good photos of the 50’ surrounding the plant, the crown of the plant where it meets the ground, and photos of the symptomatic areas (both from far away and up close). The more information you can provide me, the better!

Now that you’ve got the first two steps down, here’s my last few words of advice. Tree and plant decline can happen due to a huge number of factors. Sometimes, the cause of the decline is super obvious. This past winter, I had a gentleman with trees in decline all over his property. He had recently built a house with a concrete driveway and a large pond. All of the trees in decline were mature trees in close proximity to those structures. A tree’s root system is roughly as wide of a radius as the tree is tall. All of the construction and digging he had done had resulted in damage to roots, preventing water and nutrient uptake. For that kind of damage, there’s nothing we can do other than wait and see if the tree survives. Other causes of decline are really difficult to pinpoint, such as environmental stress that occurred months ago. Either way, myself and our Extension faculty will do our best to help you identify what might be going on. Next week, I’ll discuss some of the most common causes of plant dieback in our area. Questions or comments? Let me know at or 706-359-3233.

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