The Trying Days of Summer

If you are feeling discouraged about your garden this summer, you are not alone. Lots of folks I’ve visited with are just not that enthusiastic about gardening at the moment. Of course, this prolonged heat wave and drought are major players, driving up our electric and water bills and our frustration levels. Everywhere you go, you can spot wilted, stressed, dying and dead lawns, shrubs and trees. Vegetable gardens are mostly languishing and playing out.

Not everything that is wilting is due to lack of water. Here are a few items I’ve encountered that at first glance might have seemed like the need is more water, but other factors were involved.

I’ll start with my most recent incident. Coming home from work this week, a new Blanket Flower or Gaillardia (Commotion ‘Moxie”) that I’ve really been enjoying in flower bed had suddenly, without warning, totally wilted. I knew it could not have been due to lack of water, and suspected underground foul play. Sure enough, when I pulled on the plant, there were zero roots, neatly chewed off just below ground level. Rats! I mean gophers! So out came the gopher traps.

I haven’t had much gopher problems at my place, mostly moles which I am continually fighting. But earlier this month, a Pink Knockout Rose in another location in my yard rather quickly started turning brown. I thought it might have been getting missed by the sprinkler, but checking it out a few days later, it was the same story – it came right out of the ground – no roots!

I got that gopher within a few hours. Unlike moles, gophers are pretty easy to trap. You just need a couple of gopher traps, dig down to find their runs, place one trap in each direction, and come back in a day. Chances are you’ll catch them.

For more information on gophers and/or moles, you can go to the web site, type in gopher or mole in the search box, and you’ll get detailed information on these varmints.

As I wrote recently, lawns are struggling with the heat and drought. But, if your St. Augustine grass is wilting, stunted, yellowing and then dying, despite watering, you might suspect chinch bugs. Early signs are wilting that doesn’t respond to irrigation and then dies, turnings a straw color.

Armellaria Root Rot on Camellia - note white fan of fungus at soil line

This summer I had two camellias die that were at least 25 years old. This could have been due to irregular watering since they were planted in a really sandy, droughty soil. But, the nearby azaleas, though occasionally wilting when I went too long between waterings, were still okay.

Digging them out I found the culprit. A very common soil borne disease called Armillaria Root Rot (also called Mushroom Root Rot, Shoestring Root Rot and Honey Mushrooms) was evident with white mycelium at the base of the trunk just below the soil line. This group of fungi attacks hundreds of different species of plants. Stress (like drought, cold or mechanical injury) predisposes many woody plants to colonization by this organism, which most of the time is living off of decaying wood (dead roots) in the soil after trees have died or been cut down.

There is no fungicide treatment for Armillaria. I’ll replant something in those spots, but not camellias, and take steps to reduce possible future infections by removing as much of the old root system from the area as possible, and keep the new plants as vigorous and stress free as possible.

Finally, another common fungal disease that causes rapid wilting of tomatoes, peppers and several other vegetable crops is Southern Blight. It struck a poblano pepper plant, loaded with fruit, in one of my patio container boxes. Fine one day, and wilted (but not dead) the next. Watering did not help, and the other peppers in the box are still fine. Southern Blight is easy to diagnose by the white fungal mat that colonizes the stems right at ground level.

High temperature and wet conditions promote Southern Blight. Spores can survive in the soil for several years. Good sanitation (including removing and disposing of infected plants), extended crop rotations, and careful water management are key elements in controlling this disease. So, no peppers in this box for a few years, or, I’ll just replace the soil. Hopefully the other peppers will not be infected this year. No fungicide treatments for this disease.

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