The challenge in diagnosing plant problems is getting enough of the critical information to understand what is going on. Problem identification over the phone is generally unreliable. Someone will need a sample of the problem. Getting an adequate sample in to the Plant Clinic is most helpful.
If you have a plant or weed you would like to have identified, a leaf or stem often is not ample material to do the job. Bring in a whole plant, roots and all, if the plant is small. If it is large, bring in a branch. If at all possible, wait until it starts flowering since many of the important identification characters are found there. Bring in several specimens. Some may be dissected in the Plant Clinic, some may be sent to an expert at the University of Idaho, and some may be kept as a reference specimen. The more you can bring in, the better.
The sample should be enclosed in a plastic bag and kept cool and out of direct sunlight. If you are not able to bring them in immediately, they will stay in good condition in a refrigerator.
Similarly with insects, bring in lots if possible. If they are doing some plant damage, we need to know what plant they are feeding on, so bring in a sample of the plant too. If you don't know what kind of plant it is found on, then follow the above instructions for plant identification. As with plants, keep your insects our of direct sunlight and give them adequate ventilation. If they are beneficial insects, you will want to return them to your garden.
When diagnosing plant problems, the culprit often is very elusive and it requires a good detective who can understand what all the factors are that might be affecting the plant negatively. Things such a watering practices, pesticides and herbicides used in the area, construction activity or other changes in the area (like the removal of a nearby tree) can affect the health of a plant. When the Master Gardeners ask a seemingly endless series of questions, they are doing their best to ensure that the problem is diagnosed properly. The last thing you want is to apply a treatment for the wrong problem.
Once the Master Gardeners have a handle on what the problem is, they can compile a variety of alternative treatments from the Plant Clinic reference library and pass this information back to you. With the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment, you can show your unwanted guests to the door.
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