All posts by ddlang

July 2021: Summer Doldrums – Wilted Tomatoes in the Garden

Tomato IconI have recently received a slew of questions about wilted tomatoes in home gardens.  Here are the top five reasons that tomatoes can wilt based on samples that I have received in my clinic over the years.

Walnut toxicityOne of the lessons that I have learned after doing plant disease diagnostics for over 20 years is that when a home gardener consults me about wilting tomatoes, the first question I should ask is, “Do you have a walnut tree near your vegetable garden?”  More times than not, the answer is “Yes” and the walnut tree is the cause of the problem.  Black walnuts produce toxins (exuded by roots and produced in leaves and fruits) that adversally affect a wide range of plants,  Tomatoes are particularly sensitive and are often die from the exposure.  Anytime that tomatoes are grown in the root zone of a walnut tree (which extends three to five times the height of the tree from the trunk), problems can arise.  Cutting down walnut trees will not solve the problem in the short term, because roots from the cut tree can continue to exude toxins for 15 to 20 years.  Often the best recourse when walnut trees are present in a landscape is to grow tomatoes in raised beds or in pots to keep tomato roots as far above walnut roots as possible.

Drought stress:  In 2021, lack of rain has been a potential cause for wilting in tomatoes and virtually every other plant.  Most established plants require about one inch of water per week.  When rain is insufficient (as it has been in much of Wisconsin this year), it’s important to apply supplemental water to plants with a soaker or drip hose.  Proper watering can not only prevent wilting in tomatoes, but it can also help improve calcium uptake and reduce problems with blossom end rot.  Using an inch or two of a high quality mulch (my favorites are shredded oak bark mulch and red cedar mulch) around plants can help retain moisture and lessen wilting issues.  Mulching around tomatoes also helps reduce movement of spores (produced in bits of old tomato debris in the soil) of the fungi that cause Septoria leaf spot and early blight.

Bacterial canker:  The bacterium that causes this disease (Clavibacter michiganensis subsp. michiganensis – THERE’S a mouthful) is seedborne, so gardeners typically introduce this pathogen into their gardens on contaminated tomato seeds or transplants.  Plants initially look healthy, but the bacterium eventualy colonizes, discolors and disrupts the water-conducting (vascular) tissue inside the plant, leading to wilting.  Infections can lead to long, somewhat subtle cracks in stems and ultimately less subtle open wounds (i.e., cankers) in stems near the soil line.  Another telltale symptom of the disease can be ghostly-white spots with a darker center (called bird’s-eye spots) on tomato fruits.  Removal and destruction of infected plants, and rotation away from susceptible vegetables (e.g., tomatoes and peppers) for several years in the affected area of a garden are typical management strategies.

Verticillium wiltMany gardeners are familiar with this disease in the context of the death and destruction it brings to woody trees and shrubs.  However, Verticillium, the cause of Verticillium wilt, is an equal opportunity destroyer and can kill a wide range of herbaceous plants as well, including popular vegetables such as solanacoues crops (e.g., tomato, potato, eggplant, pepper) and vine crops (e.g., cucumber, squash, pumpkin).  This fungus is routinely found in the soil and can build up over time if susceptible vegetable crops are grown over and over again in an area where the fungus is located.  Verticillium infects through the roots and colonizes and plugs a tomato’s (or other plant’s) water-conducting tissue, leading to wilting.  Discoloration of a tomato plant’s vascular tissue is a typical symptom of this disease, but stem cracks and cankers are notRotation can be useful as a control strategy for Verticillium wilt, although it is less effective than for bacterial canker because of the wider host range for Verticillium (including many weeds).  For tomatoes, use of resistant varieties can also be useful.  To identify resistant varieties, look for a “V” after the variety name on a tomato seed packet or in the variety description in your favorite seed catalog.

Fusarium wilt.  This disease is very similar to Verticillium wilt except for the fungus involved.  For Fusarium wilt, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici is the culprit.  Fusarium oxysporum is a large fungal species with many special forms (that’s what “f. sp.” stands for), each one adapted to infect a specific host plant or a very small range of host plants (e.g., vine crops).  Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici is specific to tomatoes and will not infect other vegetable crops.  If you ever encounter this disease, rotation away from tomatoes in the affected area for several years should work well as a management strategy.  In addition, you can use resistant tomato varieties.  Look for one or more ‘F’s” after the variety name.

As you can imagine, figuring out the exact reason your tomatoes are wilting can be challenging, particularly if there is disease involved.  For help with proper diagnosis of tomato wilts (and other plant problems in general), contact the PDDC at pddc@wisc.edu or (608) 262-2863.

To find out more about the clinic and its activities, check out the PDDC website.  To keep up-to-date about new PDDC education materials and programs, follow the clinic on Twitter or Facebook (@UWPDDC) or contact the clinic at pddc@wisc.edu and ask to be added to the PDDC’s listserv (UWPDDCLearn).

July 2021 – Sometimes the Best Medicine is No Medicine at All

Plant Disease Pointers - July 2021 IconAt this time of the year, plant diseases are in full swing.  When you see diseases in your garden, a natural tendency is to want to do something to make things better.  In some instances however, ignoring the problem and doing nothing can be your best course of action.  Here are my picks for plant diseases where turning a blind eye (at least right now) will not significantly harm your plants and will make your life easier and less stressful.

Powdery mildews.  On most plants, powdery mildews don’t do much damage.  Ignore them now and concentrate on good fall clean up to reduce problems with these diseases next year.  For plants such as phlox, bee balms, cucumbers and pumpkins, powdery mildews can be more problematic.  You may want to consider growing powdery mildew-resistant varieties of these plants in the future.

Tar spotThis disease of maples can be visually alarming but is another disease that typically has little impact on overall plant health.  Just be sure to collect infected leaves in the fall and burn (where allowed), bury or hot compost them to help reduce problems with the disease next year.

Cedar-apple rustSeeing bright yellow or orange spots on your crabapple leaves?  If so, you’re likely seeing this disease.  Spraying fungicides to control cedar-apple is a total waste.  Save your time, money and energy and prune out the galls on junipers caused by the disease (and the source of the spores that infect your crabapples) or alternatively, just remove nearby junipers

Remember. . . Before choosing a control strategy, know thy plant disease.

For more information on plant diseases and their management, check out the UW Plant Disease Facts, available at https://pddc.wisc.edu/search-fact-sheets/ or contact the PDDC at pddc@wisc.edu or (608) 262-2863.

June 2021: Fired Up About Fire Blight

FireIconforJune 2021 Monthly ColumnIt‘s the time of year where I am once again getting questions about apple and crabapple trees with dead branches.  Often, in these situations, clients assume that their trees are suffering from fire blight.  This bacterial disease has received a lot of press over the years and can be a serious problem.  However, fire blight is definitely not the only reason that branches on apples and crabapples die.

There are myriad of fungal diseases that can lead to branch dieback.  In particular, fungal canker diseases can be an issue.  I often find fungi like Cytospora, Phomopsis and Sphaeropsis in dead apple or crabapple branches.  These fungi, like the fire blight bacterium, locally infect and girdle branches (thus leading to branch death), often in a somewhat random pattern in a tree.  Sphaeropsis is particularly common.  This fungus not only infects branches but can also infect fruits (causing black rot) and leaves (causing frogeye leaf spot).  More systemic fungal diseases like root and crown rot, Armillaria root disease and black root rot (dead man’s fingers) can also lead to branch dieback.  The pathogens involved in these diseases infect and disrupt root and trunk function, preventing proper water movement from roots to branches.  This lack of water leads to branch death, often over a fairly substantial portion of the tree canopy.

Environmental stresses can also lead to branch death in apples and crabapples.  Drought can lead to branch dieback symptoms similar to those caused by the systemic diseases I described above.  Cold injury can also be a contributing factor.  Growing a non-hardy apple or crabapple variety often leads to dieback issues.  Even on hardy varieties, branch dieback can occur if cold snaps occur in the spring right as or just after trees leaf out.  Lack of snow cover (which insulates soil) coupled with extremely cold winter temperatures can lead to physical injury to roots, which in turn limits water uptake, leading to branch dieback.

So, with all of these potential causes of branch dieback on apples and crabapples, how can you tell if your tree is suffering from fire blight?  The answer is, “It’s not easy!”  People often claim that fire blight leads to a branch with a shepherd’s crook (a downward bend at the branch tip).  However, after years of seeing dead and dying apple and crabapple branches, I just don’t consider this a reliable symptom for diagnosing fire blight.  To me, a shepherd’s crook just indicates that the branch didn’t get enough water and wilted.  That could be due to any of the causes I outlined above.  And conversely, I have seen cases of fire blight where branches don’t have a shepherd’s crook.  What I tend to look for as I’m attempting to diagnose fire blight is oozy material (a combination of sap and bacterial cells) that seeps from affected branch.  I also look for some indication that the infection may have started where flowers were attached.  I look for this latter indicator because trees are often inoculated with the fire blight bacterium by bees that carry the bacterium and drop it off in the flowers as they pollinate.  Even when I see these symptoms, I will only diagnose fire blight if I have evidence that the fire blight bacterium is present.  There are dipstick serological tests (these use the same technology as home pregnancy kits) that I use to confirm the presence of the fire blight bacterium.  If I don’t find evidence of the bacterium, I look for other possible causes of the branch dieback.

So, why do I really need to know if branch dieback is really due to fire blight?  It all comes down to management.  If fire blight is the cause, I recommend very aggressive pruning (roughly 12 inches below where there are obvious symptoms).  The fire blight bacterium can move rapidly down a branch under the bark, so you want to make sure to prune down far enough to remove all of the bacterium.  Fungal pathogens tend to move less rapidly, so you can get by with pruning roughly six inches below where there are obvious symptoms.  If the problem is a root disease of some kind, pruning will not resolve the problem.  Fungicide treatments to the roots may be needed in some instances, or there may be ways of reducing tree stress that slow down the progression of these types of diseases.

It all comes down to the fact that if you don’t know what the underlying problem is with your tree, it is unlikely that you will be able to fix the problem.  So, get a proper diagnosis and then tailor your management strategy to the specific problem(s) you are facing.  Without a proper diagnosis, you can spend a lot of time, effort and money, and not improve the health of your trees one bit.

For help with proper diagnosis of plant problems, contact the PDDC at pddc@wisc.edu or (608) 262-2863.  To find out more about the clinic and its activities, check out the PDDC website.  To keep up-to-date about new PDDC education materials and programs, follow the clinic on Twitter or Facebook (@UWPDDC) or contact the clinic at pddc@wisc.edu and ask to be added to the PDDC’s listserv (UWPDDCLearn).

June 2021: A Change in the Weather: Modifying Garden Microclimate to Improve Plant Health

Windy Cloud IconAs plants in your garden grow and fill in,  wet and humid conditions will arise that are perfect for diseases to develop.  Follow the tips below to prevent diseases in your garden by opening up air flow, reducing humidity and keeping leaves dry.

  • Leave plenty of space between new transplants. Think ahead to how big plants will be when full-size, and leave enough space so that foliage on adjacent plants won’t overlap when plants are fully grown.
  • Divide perennials. Plants like peonies and daylilies grow in clumps that can get quite large, and leaf disease problems tend to increase with clump size.  So, divide clumps to yield smaller plants that trap less moist air.  Dividing and replanting will also allow you to correct existing spacing problems.
  • Thin plants judiciously as they get big. Remove enough leaves and stems to promote good air flow, but not so many that the plants look thin and lanky.
  • Weed, weed, weed. Ornamentals aren’t the only plants that trap moist air; weeds can do this, too.  Removing weeds routinely can reduce the need to thin the ornamentals that you really want in your garden.
  • Water from below. Even though Mother Nature supplies water from above in the form of rain, when you need to water, apply water to the soil, rather than over the tops of plants.  Keep leaves dry whenever possible.

With just a little effort, you can create a microclimate in your garden that is less favorable for plant diseases and end up with more vibrant, beautiful, and healthy plants.

Modifying the environment in your garden can help prevent diseases like powdery mildew, shown here on phlox.
Modifying the environment in your garden can help prevent diseases like powdery mildew, shown here on phlox.

For more information on specific plant diseases and their management, check out the fact sheet section of the UW-Madison PDDC website (https://pddc.wisc.edu/fact-sheet-listing-all/).

Vegetable Disease Quick Reference

Septoria Leaf Spot Septoria Leaf Spot and Early Blight
Host:   Tomato
Pathogens:   Septoria lycopersicia and Alternaria solani
Signs/Symptoms:  Spotting and eventual total collapse of leaves working from the bottom of the plant up
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0100/D0046
Late Blight Late Blight
Hosts:   Tomato, potato
Pathogen:   Phytophthora infestans
Signs/Symptoms:  Water-soaked spots on leaves, leathery areas on tomato fruits, rapid plant death
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0068
Blossom End Rot Blossom End Rot
Host:   Tomato, pepper, eggplant, cucumber, squash
Cause:   Calcium deficiency
Signs/Symptoms:  Decayed areas on the bottom sides of vegetable fruits
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0022
Powdery Mildew Powdery Mildew
Hosts:    Any vegetable, particularly vine crops, peas
Pathogens:    Miscellaneous powdery mildew fungi
Signs/Symptoms:  Powdery white growth on leaves
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0086
Common Corn Smut Common Corn Smut
Hosts:   Corn
Pathogen:   Ustilago maydis
Signs/Symptoms:  Pasty white masses on corn ears eventually decomposing into a brown powder
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0031
Black Rot Black Rot
Hosts:   Crucifers (e.g., cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower)
Pathogen:   Xanthomonas campestris pv. campetris
Signs/Symptoms:  V-shaped yellow/dead areas on leaves progressing into plant deterioration and death
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0019
Potato Scab Potato Scab
Hosts:    Potato, carrot, beet, other root crops
Pathogen:  Streptomyces scabies
Signs/Symptoms:  Brown, rough, scab-like areas on tubers and roots
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0083
Verticillium Wilt Verticillium Wilt
Host:   Tomato, pepper, eggplant, potato, vine crops
Pathogen:  Verticillium spp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Leaf yellowing and wilting of plants followed by eventual plant death
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0122
Aster Yellows Aster Yellows
Hosts:    Carrot
Pathogens:    Aster yellows phytoplasma
Signs/Symptoms:  Yellow/orange/purple leaves, stunted roots with tufts of white hairy roots
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0007
Bacterial Wilt Bacterial Wilt
Hosts:   Vine crops
Pathogen:   Erwinia tracheiphila
Signs/Symptoms:  Sectional wilting and eventual death of plants after cucumber beetle feeding
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0014
Basil Downy Mildew Basil Downy Mildew
Host:   Basil
Pathogen:   Peronospora belbahrii
Signs/Symptoms:  Downward-cupped, yellow leaves with purple-gray fuzz on leaf undersurfaces
For more information see:        UW Garden Facts D0015

For more information on conifer diseases:  See https://pddc.wisc.edu/ or contact your county Extension agent.

May 2021: Rampant, Ravaging Rusts

May 2021 Column IconI really love this time of the year as plants emerge once again after their long winter naps.  I also love the fact that I now get to start looking once again for some of my favorite plant diseases.  At the top of the list at this time of the year are the rust diseases.  Rusts encompass a large group of fungal diseases, where the fungi produce brightly-colored (yellow to orange to bown) spores.  Each rust fungus has a very specific host range.  The following are a few of the rusts (one on a broad-leafed tree, one on a conifer and one on an herbaceous plant) that I have recently seen either through the clinic or in my own yard.

Crown Rust Buckthorn
Crown Rust on Buckthorn

Crown rust:  Crown rust is classic rust of grass species such as turfgrass and oats.  If you’ve ever walked through your lawn and gotten orange shoes, you’ve encountered this disease.  The fungus that causes crown rust is Puccinia coronata, which has several variants adapted to infect specific grass hostsThe disease and pathogen names come from the look of the resting spores of the fungus.  These spores have spikes that give them the appearance of a crown.  At this time of the year, I don’t see crown rust on grass or oats (that comes later in the growing season), but I see it on a second host (called the alternate host) of the fungus, buckthorn.  Buckthorn is actually required by the crown rust fungus to complete its life cycle.  Puccinia coronata causes yellow-orange, powdery patches on the buckthorn leaves and green stems, and I actually use crown rust as an ID feature for buckthorn.  If I see seedlings that I think are buckthorn, but I’m not quite sure, I look for the characteristic orange patches of crown rust to confirm.  And if you need another reason get rid of buckthorn, in addition to this plant being incredibly invasive, here it is.  If you remove buckthorn, you will prevent the crown rust fungus from completing its life cycle and reduce the severity of the disease on turf and oats.

Weirs Cushion Rust
Weirs Cushion Rust on Spruce

Weir’s cushion rustThis is rust disease of spruce that I see infrequently, but I just received a sample of it this past week in the clinic.  I was over the moon!  (Yes, I know I’m weird and lead a very sheltered life.)  The fungus that causes this disease is Ceropsora weirii (formerly Chrysomyxa weirii), a single-host rust fungus that only requires spruce to complete its life cycle.  Infection leads to yellow banding on one-year-old needles.  Within these bands in the spring (typically April or May), fruiting bodies (i.e., reproductive structures) of Ceropsora weirii form yielding orangish spores that blow to newly emerging needles where the fungus infects.  The fruiting bodies are easily visible with a hand lens or even with the naked eye.  Eventually the infected3 needles brown and drop off the tree.  Management of Weir’s cushion rust can be a challenge and typically involves use of fungicides to protect newly emerging needles.

Mayapple_Rust
Mayapple Rust

Mayapple rust:  I’d like to give a shout-out to Brenda Dahlfors, Master Gardener Program Coordinator with University of Illinois Extension for sending me photos of this cool rust.  The fungus involved here is another species of Puccinia, Puccinia podophylli.  This is another single-host rust, where the fungus that only infects mayapples.  The disease is most visible in the spring when bright orange, powdery patches develop on the undersides of leaves.  On the upper leaf surfaces above these patches, you will see yellow spots/discolored areas.  The orange spores produced by the pathogen reinfect mayapple plants, causing additional disease.  The bright orange patches tend to fade to a duller brown as they age and convert to producing brown overwintering spores.  These overwintering spores germinate in the spring to produce yet another type of spore that causes the initial infections in the spring.  Careful removal of infected leaves and plant debris (burn, bury or hot compost this material) combined with fungicide sprays where appropriate is the typical management strategy for this disease.

These are just a few of the cool rust diseases that you may encounter as you are out and about.  Watch for these and other rusts, and enjoy them when you find them.  There are the most visually colorful and attractive diseases that I see.  For additional information on the PDDC and its activities, check out the PDDC website.  To learn about new PDDC education materials and programs, follow the clinic on Twitter or Facebook (@UWPDDC) or contact the clinic at pddc@wisc.edu and ask to be added to the PDDC’s listserv (UWPDDCLearn).

Plant Diseases to Watch For in 2021

Septoria Leaf Spot Septoria Leaf Spot and Early Blight
Host:  Tomato
Pathogens:   Septoria lycopersici and Alternaria solani
Signs/Symptoms:  Spotting and eventual total collapse of leaves working from the bottom of the plant up
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0100/46
Late Blight Late Blight
Hosts:  Tomato, potato
Pathogen:   Phytophthora infestans
Signs/Symptoms:  Water-soaked spots on leaves, leathery areas on tomato fruits, rapid plant death
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0068
Septoria Leaf Spot of Lilac Septoria Leaf Spot of Lilac
Host:  Lilac
Pathogen:   Septoria sp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Dead spots on leaves, potentially leading to complete leaf browning
Rhizosphaera Needle Cast Rhizosphaera Needle Cast
Hosts:  Colorado blue spruce, other spruces
Pathogen:   Rhizosphaera kalkhoffii
Signs/Symptoms:  Browning/purpling of interior needles of lower branches, followed by needle drop
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0093
Gymnosporangium Rusts
Hosts:  Juniper, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, quince
Pathogen:   Gymnosporangium spp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Brown blobs with orange gelatinous masses (juniper); yellow/orange leaf spots (other hosts)
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0058
Elderberry Rust
Hosts:  Elderberry
Pathogen:   Puccinia sambuci
Signs/Symptoms:  Light yellow, powdery growths on branches
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0049
Scab Scab (Apple and Pear)
Hosts:   Apple, crabapple, pear, mountain-ash
Pathogens:   Venturia inaequalis, Venturia pirina
Signs/Symptoms:  Feathery-edged spots on leaves and fruits often leading to leaf loss and tree defoliation
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0004
Bur Oak Blight
Host:   Bur oak
Pathogen:   Tubakia iowensis
Signs/Symptoms:  Wedge-shaped dead areas on leaves leading to dead leaves that stay attached to trees
Powdery Mildew
Hosts:   Herbaceous and woody ornamentals, fruits, vegetables, turf
Pathogens:   Miscellaneous powdery mildew fungi
Signs/Symptoms:  Powdery white growth on leaves
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0084/86/87
Diplodia Shoot Blight and Canker
Hosts:  Austrian pine, other pines
Pathogen:   Diplodia spp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Dieback of branch tips with dead needles showing uneven lengths
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0042
Boxwood Blight
Host:  Boxwood
Pathogen:   Calonectria pseudonaviculata
Signs/Symptoms:  Circular, brown leaf spots followed by leaf drop and shrub death
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0023

For more information on plant diseases to watch for:  See https://pddc.wisc.edu/ or contact your county Extension agent.

May 2021: Smart Shopping: Dodging Disease When Purchasing Plants

Potted Plant IconMay is a prime time to visit your local greenhouse, nursery or garden center to buy annuals, perennials and vegetables for your home garden.  Unfortunately, these plants can be carriers of plant disease-causing organisms.  Here are some pointers on what to look for when buying plants.

  • Select plants that are vigorously growing, but aren’t overly leggy. Stunted plants often have diseases (e.g., root rots or viral diseases).  Leggy plants may be healthy, but often have growth that is wimpy and easily injured.  Injured tissue can provide entry points for plant pathogens.
  • Avoid plants with brown leaf spots. Dead spots on leaves can indicate fungal or bacterial infections.  The pathogens involved continue to reproduce in these areas and can spread on the plant, and potentially to other plants.
  • Avoid plants with odd leaf coloring. Some plants have variegated foliage.  That’s normal.  However, if you see plants with unexpected blotchy light and dark-colored leaves, yellow lines or yellow ring patterns, avoid these.  They may be infected with a virus.
  • Avoid plants with fuzzy growth on the leaves. Such growth typically indicates a fungal or water mold infection.  For example, white growth on upper and lower leaf surfaces can indicate a powdery mildew problem; white, gray or purplish growth on the undersides of leaves is typical of a downy mildew
  • Choose plants with healthy, white roots. Examine plant roots whenever possible.  If roots are brown or otherwise discolored, root rots or some sort of physical root injury (e.g., heat injury) may be an issue.
Avoid plants with blotchy leaf color, an indication of a viral infection.
Avoid plants with blotchy leaf color, an indication of a viral infection.

With just a little care, you can buy healthy, pathogen-free plants that will provide months, if not years, of gardening enjoyment.

For more information on plant diseases and their management, check out the fact sheet section of the UW-Madison PDDC website (https://pddc.wisc.edu/fact-sheet-listing-all/).

Ten Common Plant Diseases/Disorders You Can Diagnose by Eye

Powdery Mildew Powdery Mildew
Hosts:   Herbaceous and woody ornamentals, fruits, vegetables, turf
Pathogens:   Miscellaneous powdery mildew fungi
Signs/Symptoms:  Powdery white growth on leaves
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0084/86/87
Tar Spot - Ten Common Plant Diseases Tar Spot
Hosts:  Maples
Pathogen:   Rhytisma spp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Tarry areas (either solid spots or clusters of small spots) on leaves
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0110
Peach Leaf Curl Peach Leaf Curl
Hosts:  Peach
Pathogen:   Taphrina deformans
Signs/Symptoms:  Light-green, yellow or purplish-red puckered areas on leaves
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0076
Sooty Mold Sooty Mold
Hosts:  Any plant
Pathogen:   Miscellaneous sooty mold fungi
Signs/Symptoms:  Powdery black growth on leaves or needles
For more information see:       UW Bulletin A2637
Chlorosis Chlorosis
Hosts:  Oak, red maple
Cause:   Iron or manganese deficiency, often induced by high soil pH
Signs/Symptoms:  Yellow leaves with dark green veins
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0030
Gymnosporangium Rusts Gymnosporangium Rusts
Hosts:  Juniper, apple, crabapple, hawthorn, quince
Pathogen:   Gymnosporangium spp.
Signs/Symptoms:  Brown blobs with orange gelatinous masses (juniper); yellow/orange leaf spots (other hosts)
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0058
Black Knot Black Knot
Hosts:  Prunus spp. (plum and cherry)
Pathogen:   Apiosporina morbosa
Signs/Symptoms:  Black poop-like growths on branches
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0018
Elderberry Rust Elderberry Rust
Hosts:  Elderberry
Pathogen:   Puccinia sambuci
Signs/Symptoms:  Light yellow, powdery growths on branches
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0049
Golden Canker Golden Canker
Hosts:  Pagoda dogwood
Pathogen:   Cryptodiaporthe corni
Signs/Symptoms:  Gold-colored branches with orange spots
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0055
Dog Vomit Slime Mold Dog Vomit Slime Mold
Hosts:  Any plant and on mulch
Cause:   Fuligo septica
Signs/Symptoms:  Scrambled egg-like masses on mulch or at the base of plants
For more information see:       UW Plant Disease Facts D0102

For more information on common plant diseases:  See https://pddc.wisc.edu/ or contact your county Extension agent.

Odorous House Ants

Odorous house ants (Tapinoma sessile) can be found across the United States and are one of the most common ants found in and around structures in Wisconsin.  These ants are known for their fondness for sugary foods and their distinctive odor when crushed.

An odorous house ant.  Photo courtesy of April Nobile (CASENT0005329, www.antweb.org.)
An odorous house ant. Photo courtesy of April Nobile (CASENT0005329, www.antweb.org.)

Appearance:  Odorous house ant adults are dark brown to black and approximately 1/8 inch long.  Their waist (petiole) has a single flattened node, which may be difficult to see because it is obscured by other body parts.  They also have 12-segmented antennae that lack a distinct club.  Odorous house ants smell like rotten coconut or blue cheese when crushed.

Biology:  Odorous house ants forage day and night, following well-established trails.  Around buildings, they often follow the edges of siding, deck boards, and door frames.  Odorous house ants are particularly fond of sugary materials such as honeydew (the feces of aphids or soft scales), and sugary foods and beverages.  Occasionally, they will feed on insects (both dead and alive) or on other items such as pet food.

Odorous house ants prefer to nest in moist areas and often create a network of interconnected nests consisting of thousands of workers and many queens.  Outdoors, they can nest in mulch beds, beneath stones or pieces of wood, under the loose bark of trees, and beneath a variety of man-made objects.  Indoors, odorous house ants can nest in wall voids and attics, in areas with damp wood or insulation, and near plumbing fixtures or vents.  When a nest is disturbed, odorous house ants can quickly relocate to another sheltered spot.  They establish new colonies after mating flights (swarms) in late spring and early summer.  Colonies can also divide in a process known as “budding”, where a queen will leave a nest with a group of workers and establish a colony in a new location.

Control:  Make sure you properly identify ants before attempting control.  Knowing the type of ant provides clues about their biology and habits, which helps in the selection of the most appropriate management options.

During warmer months, odorous house ants foraging indoors often come from outdoor nests.  Keeping plants and dense mulch away from building foundations can reduce this indoor activity.  When you see odorous house ants indoors, watch their movement, and try to track them back to where they are entering the building.

An odorous house ant colony in a “hide-a-key” rock stored outdoors
An odorous house ant colony in a “hide-a-key” rock stored outdoors

Sealing these entry points may take care of the problem.  If you can track the ants back to an outdoor nest, you can treat the nest with an aerosol or liquid ant control product (available at a hardware store or garden center).  However, because odorous house ants can have many interconnected nests, treating a single nest may not fully eliminate the problem.  Additional monitoring and treatments may be needed.

If an odorous house ant nest is indoors in an inaccessible spot such as a wall void, baits may be the best control option.  Odorous house ants usually respond well to sugar-based baits (available at a hardware store or garden center).  The ants collect the bait and take it back to the colony where the materials in the bait can kill the queen, thus eliminating the nest.  Place the bait near the foraging trails of the ants.  DO NOT apply other insecticides (e.g., spray insecticides) near the bait, as this can reduce its effectiveness.  After setting out the bait, you may notice an increase in ant activity as additional members of the colony are recruited to collect the material.  Continue to monitor the area, setting out fresh bait as needed, until ant activity fully subsides.

If your odorous house ant problem is extensive, consider consulting a pest control professional with experience in managing ants.  These professionals have additional treatment options and techniques not generally available to homeowners.

For more information on odorous house ants:  Contact your county Extension agent.