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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU plant diagnostic clinic helps solve mystery of 'what killed the plant'

LAS CRUCES - No matter what form of horticulture a person is participating in - professional or homeowner hobbyist - no one likes to have the plants they are nurturing turn brown and die.

Jason French of the NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science plant diagnostic clinic collects a sample of chitalpa tree to determine why the leaves have brown spots. Clinic staff receive around 1,000 samples of diseased plants from New Mexico citizens via county extension agents during the March to mid-October growing season. (NMSU Photo)

New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service and the plant diagnostic clinic in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' extension plant sciences department are here to help answer the questions of what's causing it to die.

The clinic is designed to provide plant diagnostic services for the state. The services include analysis of plant material for plant pathogens and environmental stresses, as well as suggesting appropriate control measures when available. The clinic also facilitates insect and weed identification through referrals to other specialists.

Getting that help is as easy as visiting the clinic's Web site or calling the county extension agriculture agent.

It is better to ask the experts while the plant is still alive than waiting until it is dead, said Natalie Goldberg, NMSU professor and extension plant pathologist.

"Successful plant disease diagnosis is a team effort. Proper diagnosis begins with the submission of a good-quality specimen accompanied by accurate and complete information," she said. "It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine the cause of death from a single leaf, dried or old specimen, or, especially, a dead plant. We're plant pathologists, not plant coroners. We don't do autopsies. We need live plant samples to determine what disease or pest is causing the problem."

There are an array of publications at the plant diagnostic clinic Web site that provide descriptions of common diseases and conditions that affect everything from fruits and vegetables, including chile to ornamental plants and turf. Through the written description and photographs the grower might be able to find the information needed without further help.

The next step, if the web search did not produce the answer, is to contact the local county extension agricultural agent. To learn how to collect a sample to take to the extension office visit http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H-158.pdf for a publication on how to collect and send plant specimens for disease diagnosis.

"The extension agents are our first eyes," Goldberg said. "County agents are well versed in the diseases that plague their area. If they have seen it before they may be able to do a diagnoses without having to send the sample to the clinic."

If the county agent is stumped by the disease's symptoms, they will submit the plant sample to the clinic for further diagnoses by staff members Goldberg, Jason French or Carol Sutherland.

NMSU's plant diagnostic clinic receives around 1,000 plant samples during the growing season of March through mid-October from state clients. Of those, 95 percent of the time the disorder comes from a disease or environmental disorder.

If the disorder proves to be caused by an insect, state entomologist Carol Sutherland is called upon to help provide the solution to the problem. Besides the insect samples from the clinic, Sutherland receives an additional 2,000 samples during the session directly from extension agents and individuals.

"We suggest people utilize their county agent to submit samples," Goldberg said. "They are trained in how to submit an ideal sample, which has some portion of the plant that shows the margin between healthy tissue and damaged tissue."

Visit the website http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/plantclinic/ for further information about the plant diagnostic clinic and fact sheets regarding plant pathology and common diseases.

For immediate help diagnosing a diseased plant contact your county extension agent. Visit http://aces.nmsu.edu/county/ to find contact information for each county extension office.