Common causes of abiotic disorders include too much or not enough water, compacted soil, nutrient deficiency (often caused by imbalanced soil pH), excess soil salinity, too much heat or sunlight, herbicides, air pollution, and mechanical injuries.
Abiotic disorders can develop for several reasons:
- the site was not well prepared before landscaping,
- the plants were improperly planted,
- the plant species is not well adapted to conditions at that location,
- the plants did not receive the correct cultural care.
Avoid abiotic disorders by giving plants the right amount of water, sunlight, and nutrients. You must water plants properly, and the soil must drain well. The soil must contain the correct nutrient levels, pH, and salinity. Fix any extreme light or temperatures issues like too much sunlight. Protect plants from herbicide and fertilizer damage as well as from mechanical injuries.
When you suspect an abiotic disorder, find out both the species and variety of the plant so you know the plant's expected appearance and its specific cultural needs. Inspect the plant and surrounding plants for symptoms. Some abiotic disorders can be recognized by their characteristic damage symptoms (e.g., distorted, discolored, or dying foliage). However, diagnosing the cause of disorders can be difficult. Plants will react differently to abiotic issues depending on their age and specific variety. Different abiotic causes can produce the same symptoms, and more than one cause can affect plants at the same time.
To solve plant problems, it's important to distinguish abiotic disorders from similar-looking damage caused by pests such as insects, mites, nematodes, pathogens, and vertebrates. See Table 1 for details.
|Plants affected||Unrelated||One type or closely related|
|Plant age||Various ages||Same age more likely|
|Pattern of symptoms||Regular or uniform||Random or irregular|
|Rate of development||Sudden onset||Slow, worsens over time|
|Spread||Does not spread||Infectious, spreads on host over time|
|Signs||No evidence of pest or pathogen||Presence of pest, mycelium, mushrooms, rust, pustules, bacterial ooze, honeydew, frass|
For more information about abiotic plant problems, see the UC ANR publications Abiotic Disorders of Landscape Plants and Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs. Content adapted from Abiotic Disorders of Landscape Plants and Pests of Landscape Trees and Shrubs.
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- Author: Anne E Schellman
If you have a gardening question about a plant with concerning symptoms, you can submit details and photos using our Ask a Master Gardener Survey. But what if we can't tell what's wrong from your photos? If this is the case, we may ask you to drop off a sample to our office.
We are located on the corner of Crow's Landing and Service Road, so before you make the trip, please watch this video featuring our Master Gardener Program Advisor, (as well as the Home Orchards and Vineyards Systems Advisor for Stanislaus County) Dr. Kari Arnold. She demonstrates how to take a sample that can help us best solve your problem.
Master Gardener Help Desk Hours
Our Master Gardener volunteers work the Help Desk on Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Please feel free to call or stop by.
When Can I Drop Off a Sample?
You can drop off a sample anytime. Leave it with our front office staff. Make sure to fill out a client contact record with your information and details about the problem (unless you've already done so using our online survey).
When Will I Hear Back?
The sample will be reviewed and you'll receive a call or email (if you prefer) from a Master Gardener within 5 business days. When we call, you will see our number - (209) 525-6802. Emails will come from email@example.com
Feel free to call anytime and leave a message to request a call back about a gardening problem. We look forward to helping you!
UCCE Stanislaus County Master Gardeners
3800 Cornucopia Way Ste A
Modesto, CA 95358
UC IPM has created a diagnostic tool to help easily diagnose pest problems in your garden or landscape.
To get started using the tool, you'll first need to identify the affected plant in your landscape. Then, choose one of the four Plant Types categories that best describes it. To do this, click on the photo directly or use the +Add to my list button.
You will know the choice was made when the main photo is grayed out and your selection is listed in the left-hand column of the screen. To remove a selection, click on the red “X.”
Next, click on the Plant Names bar on the left to view a list of plants in your chosen category. Scroll down through the choices until you find your affected plant, (we'll use broccoli as an example) and then add the plant to your list by clicking on the photo or on “+Add to my list.” Note: you may also view bigger versions of images by clicking on the magnifying glass icon.
Your selection will again become grayed out and will be listed in the left column under Plant Names.
Once you've selected your plant, choose the Plant Parts bar from the left hand menu to view the plant parts choices. In our example, the crown of our broccoli has damage, so we will choose Crown. You can choose more than one plant part, but the more narrow your search, the more precise your results will be.
Once you've selected the plant part(s), click on Damage to see photographs and descriptions of damage that you may be observing on your affected plant. Choose the one that best matches your plant's damage symptoms. Our example plant (a young broccoli transplant) is showing signs of something boring into the crown.
After each selection, you will see a number in the View Results bar. The number of results will get smaller the more you narrow down your choices. Click the View Results bar underneath your selections in the left hand panel to see the diagnosis/es. If you have a handful of choices, you should be able to determine which pest or problem is affecting your plant by inspecting it and comparing the damage to the diagnosis description.
If your search brings up a large number of results, the search was too broad. Narrow down your selections when choosing plant names, plant parts, and damage. This will help you get your results faster and more accurately.
In our broccoli example, there is just one result.
If none of the results seem to match the damage you are seeing, click the “Back to diagnostics” bar and try other damage symptoms. To reset your search and start over, select the Reset All bar. To return to the main UC IPM Home and Landscape page, click on "Home, garden, turf and landscape" in the green bar at the top of the page.