Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Should I Stay or Should I Go? Coming To Terms With Aster Yellows Disease


Darling you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be here til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?--The Clash, 1981

I really didn't want to have to talk about this. It's not something I've been looking forward to. But I had to reach out for help before it's too late and I'm 'taken out'. Literally.


*If my Echinacea could talk, this is what it would be saying right now!

I am a Coneflower. Echinacea purpurea, to be exact. I am a magnet for pollinators!



Over the last several years the head master gardener here, Jan, has come to realize the importance of native plants and began adding me and my pals to the gardens.



Here in Just-Be Gardens, I am mostly true-to-the-native-form (but a couple of my friends are cultivars, such as E. 'Pink Double Delight', above.)



Along the way, my head master gardener was intrigued by some of the new cultivars and brought home several, such as E. 'Pixie Meadowbright', E. 'Kim's Knee High', E. 'Magnus', E. 'Cocunut Lime'--but many of them did not return the following year.


That has been 'OK' with Jan, because she learned that pollinators have a lot of difficulty entering those fluffy, frilly cultivars and that in many cases, they are sterile and don't produce much pollen to begin with. And being sterile means they produce no seeds to reproduce themselves or most especially, to feed the birds such as goldfinches, that are looking to snack on their seedheads...such as these Rudbeckia--Black Eyed Susan's--provide in a different area of Jan's garden:


But I will say, strictly speaking as a coneflower, E. 'Pink Double Delight' has been a highlight of my time in Just-Be Gardens. She has come back year after year and even though she's got 'frills', she's always covered with my insect friends.


It's not that it isn't okay to have some of the cultivars of Echinacea, if you like them...just be sure you also provide some natives so my pollinator friends can actually get some substantial sustenance like pollen and seeds!


At any rate, there's a big problem lately here in Just-Be Gardens, and the head master gardener seems to think the only way to solve it is to rip us out.


We all seem to be plagued by a new 'oddity' that has never entered these gardens before. Jan has tried to ignore it, claiming to 'accept' us with our flaws and not judge only by outward appearances.


After talking to some other gardeners and doing some research, however, my Echinacea friends and I are afraid she has come to the haltingly grim conclusion that we have got to go!  (We wondered what she's been doing this past year in her Master Gardener classes...and now we're not so sure we're happy with some of her new-found knowledge)!


We really don't look THAT ugly, do we? What harm can come from letting us stay, I ask you?


It seems that we've got something called Aster Yellows. It's a disease caused by an organism called a phytoplasma--similar to a virus or bacteria.


The phytoplasma is sucked up by leafhoppers, which feed on us and then pass it from plant to plant.


Perhaps you've seen something like the white substance on the hosta shoot, below? Ever wonder what that was? It's not a disease...it's leafhoppers! Leafhoppers don't really hurt the hosta...so they can just be hosed off, wiped off, or allowed to stay, if you're ok with their visiting.


But leafhoppers carry the phytoplasma organism from this damaging Aster Yellows disease to many other plants, particularly Echinacea...but also to Rudbeckia, along with hundred of other kinds of plants in a variety of families.


I have to agree with the head master gardener here, it would be sad if our disease was transmitted to her other plants, which would not only make them look deformed, but continue the cycle even further.


If we aren't yanked pulled up out of the ground and thrown in the garbage disposed of, we won't necessarily die this year, but next year when we produce our flowers they will likely still have the disease, and it might even be worse than what we have now.


So, I guess this is goodbye from all most of us Echinacea at Just-Be Gardens:( The head master gardener has said she won't rip out any of us that aren't showing signs of the disease, but will be keeping a close eye on us and the first time she spots it again, out the next ones will go, too. This isn't something to fool around with and Jan is right to throw us out bury us. But she has said she is going to continue to grow us, because she loves us.

Sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love, I guess. Such is life in the real world, and in the gardening world.

Since native plants are important to me and included in the subject of this post, I've added it to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme at her Clay and Limestone blog.

Until next time,


Words and photos ©Thanks for today.™, by Jan Huston Doble @ http://www.thanksfor2day.blogspot.com/
Not to be reproduced or re-blogged without express permission of the author.


43 comments:

  1. Rip them out!! I had the same problem last year and ripped out every coneflower that was infected. This years batch is much healthier. :o)

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    1. Thanks for your support...that's just what I'm going to do; but I don't 'want' to have to do it!!

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    2. It's heartening to know that the next years batch came back healthy!

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    3. Just a thought....I had this problem and didn't know what it was for a couple of years. Then when I figured it out, I couldn't bring myself to get rid of the plants I had been tending in anticipation of making extracts. So I experimented. I cut all my echinacea back almost to the ground and sprayed the stubs with a 15ppm solution of coloidal silver. The next spring as they started coming back I sprayed them again and no more aster yellows on them. Unfortunately, this year I am beginning to see it on my lantana, so I plan to cut out the infected parts and spray them with the same solution. I think my mistake was in not spraying my garden tools as well.

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  2. Jan, This is the second post about aster yellows I've read in the last couple of weeks; it's so sad to see these formerly trouble-free plants suddenly become a source of disease in your garden. Let's hope that if you rip out the infected ones, you'll be able to keep it under control.
    (I hope you were in Maine for the week of good weather rather than for the week of cold, rainy weather or the week of blazing hot, sticky weather!)
    -Jean

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jean! Yes, it is sad...but I guess it has to be done! Apparently, this happens from time to time. I just have to take it in stride...as all gardeners would have to, should it strike in their garden.

      We were in Maine on a PERFECT week! The one day there, it was the hottest on record...but otherwise, it was just beautiful! Even the 'hottest' day was much easier to tolerate than the 'hottest' day here in Virginia;-) We went to Acadia in Bar Harbor and the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay. Also went whale-watching, something we'd never done in all the years we'd traveled to Maine;-)

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  3. Oh, I feel your pain. I have been seeing Aster Yellows on my coneflowers, too. I have had it for several years, but I think I am in denial. I cut them back hoping they will be better the next year, but they are not. I have ripped out the worst of them, but I need to be a little more ruthless and rid my garden of every speck of it. So sad. It was encouraging to hear that next year's batch might be healthier...if I can get any to seed.

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    1. Sorry to hear that, Toni. So you didn't pull them out right when you first noticed it? I still haven't pulled them out, but everything I read told me it's futile to allow them to stay. I've thought about just cutting off the flowers that show the disease... but hearing you say you cut them back and it still came back shows just how persistent this is. I hope you are able to resolve your problem, too:)

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  4. That is awful Jan. I can't seem to get them to grow here. Maybe it's too hot & the humidity is awful. I do like them.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Lola. I'm sorry you can't grow them in your climate. They are usually wonderful plants.

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  5. I was in denial for a number of years that the weirdness of some of my blooms was aster yellows. Finally, I saw some more photos that made me realize I better be taking this seriously. I pulled the worse ones out, but there are probably some more that I better be pulling out. I am also glad to hear that there is hope for the ones left to be healthier. Thanks for this post, Jan.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue, you sound like most everyone who has commented, including myself...being 'in denial'! I haven't wanted to take this seriously, either. I really hate the thought of ripping them out! It seems that if we don't take out all the diseased plants it will just continue to spread and stay with the plant long term. I do hope the plants that don't show signs of it will continue to thrive and not get it. I hope you can get a healthy group of them going...and I'm sorry that you've been dealing with this, too.

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  6. Same problem here. I lost many of them, but planted some new in a different location this year and will wait and see.

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    Replies
    1. So sorry to hear you've had this too, Donna. I'm not sure if I'm going to plant new plants or just see if some of the 'good' ones will reseed. I was actually planning to keep them in the same location and 'hope for the best', because it's about the only sunny area in my yard. Good luck with your new ones, I hope they'll do well for you this year.

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  7. I was sitting on the porch this morning, trying to wake up with a cup of decaf coffee, when I saw a chickadee come up from one of the coneflowers, eating a seed, I'm assuming. I suppose it could have been an insect on there, but the way the plant swayed, I think it lost a seed. It made me feel sad, because I was also seeing more plants that will need to be pulled out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sue, be sure not to pull out the plants unless you actually see this disease on it.

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  8. This is the first year that I've found aster yellows in my garden. I ripped out 3 of the 6 'Pow Wow Wild Berry' that I bought from Lowe's last year.

    Fortunately, the disease hasn't shown up on any of the others coneflowers...and, I have so many and so many seed-sown varieties as well as a few "designer" echinacea.

    The Goldfinch are loving all the rudbeckia hirta, coneflowers and verbena bonariensis in my garden. Broken stems, but they are being fed.

    Freda

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    Replies
    1. So glad you haven't seen it on any other varieties, Freda. It seems to be fairly common lately, at least when you talk to others about it. I hadn't had any problems until this year either. Sorry about all of your broken stems but knowing your providing food for the birds is uplifting;-) Many of my plants are bent and broken too, after our recent storms.

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  9. I hadn't heard of this before. I will be keeping an eye out for the possibility. I have just a few coneflowers including a pink one brought by the birds. I'll keep my eye on them.

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    Replies
    1. I hope you can remain disease-free, GSS. Ideally, you won't see it at all. I had read about it a while back but had never actually seen it 'in person' until this year. I hope you never have to;-)

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  10. Oh Jan this is awful...Mine look awful but they are being eaten by Japanese beetles...yours is much worse. I would be devastated but what can you do...it is what it is and they have to go...but being wonderful natives they will grow beautifully again...can you plant the new ones in the same place as the old and do you have to do any treatment to the ground?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna, Japanese Beetle damage is the pits. They can be so destructive. I'm sorry you are having that problem! I have seen a few here and there but nothing overwhelming in that regard. As I write this note, I still have not removed my Echinacea. It seems like a big step to take so I'm still mulling it over in my mind...Yes, I think you can plant in the same place. I don't believe the soil is diseased but rather, just the plant. If I find out differently I will let you know.

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  11. Wow, good to know, Jan! Thanks for the information. One of these days I'm planning to go through the Master Gardener program, too. Seems like you've found it helpful for many reasons. I haven't seen the Aster Yellows disease yet, but I will be on the lookout. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you won't ever have to deal with the disease, Beth! It's fairly easily recognizable, though. Some of the flower heads look like new flowers are growing out of the current flower. They are all mixed up. I hope you'll find time to become an MG. It's been great fun for me, and I've met the most interesting and fun people along the way.

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  12. Thank you for sharing this - I haven't seen it on plants here (yet). This is a truly informative post - thank you for showing us what to look out for in such a memorable way.

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    Replies
    1. Good thing you've never seen it before, Gardening Shoe. I hope you never do! I am happy you found this informative and memorable, truly a compliment I appreciate. Thank you for stopping by;)

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  13. Thanks, Jan. I have seen the disease on them. I have noticed that plants will come up right on top of each other, though, so I'm not clear if all of the ones in each clump have it. I may try to leave some when I do more pulling to make sure I don't take any that don't have it. Also, it is probably best to figure this out before the petals fade, because they all look bedraggled once they've gone to seed, and it's kind of hard to tell.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. From what I've been reading, the disease doesn't get into the soil and it isn't passed on through the seeds. Only through the plant matter that remains from those that actually have the disease. So there does seem to be hope...

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  14. Nicely done, I almost feel sorry for the poor flowers, but there's not much you can do I guess, better rip out a few now than alot later.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Gra. I kind of feel sorry for the plants, as well! To have to rip them out is sad. But it's the only way to deal with this.

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  15. You have shared great information! I have had it occur twice, once here and once in VA. Breaks my heart to pull out the infected plant.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry, Janet. Breaks my heart too...

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  16. Hmm... this is sad. It makes me wonder about the constant stream of new Echinacea cultivars being introduced. Maybe, like roses, they're weakened by all the breeding and not as resistant to pathogens of their predecessors. I'll keep my fingers crossed that it doesn't spread. It's all such a learning experience, isn't it?

    On another note, I am looking at your weather gadget. It's 9:12 PM here so it's midnight where you are and it's still 88 degrees. Sikes! I feel for you.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Grace. It does make one wonder about the cultivars, but this happens in the pure native variety, as well -- so I don't think it's just a matter of weakening by breeding. It surely is a learning experience though! And yes, it was in triple digits for over a week but finally we got a little rain last night and the temps have gone down a bit. There for a while it was 'ugly' outside.

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  17. I've been keeping a close eye here because my echinaceas seem to struggle mightily lately. Odd for such a hearty plant! So many of mine did not even return after our very mild winter, making it even more odd. Guess I'd better get out there and double check again for this insidious disease.

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    1. Good luck, Robin. I hope you don't find the disease on yours! Sometimes when they don't return it could be due to either not enough sun, or being a little too wet. At least those have been some issues for me.

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  18. I've been wondering what that white stuff is on some of my plants- you read my mind!

    When you say you have to pull out the infected echinaceas, does that mean roots and all? Or just cut off the affected flowers?

    I have a sad looking pink echinacea, and a beautiful peach one, and two white ones (Swan White, maybe?) and the pollinators seem to love the cultivars as much as the regular pink ones! :)

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    Replies
    1. Glad you found the answer to one of your questions, Samantha. Leaf Hoppers look like a white powdery substance on the hosta but when you touch it, 'they' all disperse! Yes, Aster Yellows requires complete eradication of the entire plant, not just cutting off the blooms that show the disease. There are some pretty cultivars! I'm fine with them...but as I stated, some are more difficult for the insects to locate pollen/nectar from and others are sterile. Thanks for stopping by.

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    2. Thanks for your reply! So not only do I have that white stuff on my hostas, but also something else on many other plants that is more of a whispy spider webby consistency. No clue what that is- but I'm sure it's not good! And with my echinacea cultivars, I tried to stay away from the more ornamental looking ones- I hoped if the structure of the plant was the same, that some wildlife would benefit from it! :)

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  19. A few years ago, my Susans started to grow in deforming manners. I ended up pulling and tossing them as I would spot them. I had enough re-seeders that I did not miss too many the following year. Those beauties have popped up all over my gardens and I love them…Gee, thanks, now that darn song is stuck in my head…

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  20. It's always a very sad day in my garden when I have to rip out a plant...but with Aster Yellows, it's totally necessary. I remember back when I lived in Nebraska I had planted half a dozen or so tiny Echinacea one spring...the following fall they were show-stopping! I've literally never seen such big, full Echinaceas before (or since), they were so happy. The following spring, I noticed this same weirdness (and this was back when the internet wasn't quite so "polished", so figuring out what was wrong took a little while. Needless to say, it was Aster Yellows, and I had to rip out ever single plant...it was so sad. These days, I'm hyper-vigilant...I always figure it's better to loose one plant than to risk losing dozens. Still...it's always sad when you have to rip something out JUST as it starts to bloom...sigh. Good luck with yours!

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  21. I hadn't heard of that kind of flowerdisease before. I hope your flowers will get rid of it.

    Satu from Finland

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  22. Very informative posting, Jan. Ripping out the diseased plants is a no-brainer really. I hope I never see Aster Yellows in my garden!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to comment! Please enjoy your TODAY and all of the gifts in YOUR garden of life!

Jan

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