July 23, 2012

Plants can get stressed, too

By JOLENE WALLACE, Cornell Cooperative Extension

---- — Do you ever feel stressed? I imagine you’re all thinking “Need you ask?”

If you don’t ever feel stressed, please call and tell me your secret and I will pass it on to the rest of my readers!

We all know that being under constant stress can wear us down and make us more susceptible to illness. Did you know that the same is true for your plants, trees, vegetables and lawns?

You may not think that your plants have much to be stressed about, but there are many factors that stress the things growing in our yards and gardens. High temperatures, long periods without rain, too much rain, wind, not enough air circulation, too many insects, not enough pollinators, weeds, and a host of other factors can challenge our plants. Sometimes we are aware of these factors and can act to minimize the stress, other times we may be oblivious to them.

None of us like to feel that we are at the mercy of nature when we have spent so much time, energy and expense on our landscaping, but we are. We can’t control the elements but there are some steps we can take to minimize the stress that our plants are subjected to.

The most important step is to put the “right plant” in the “right place.” This simply means that we have to know the requirements of what we are planting and make sure that the area we want to plant in meets the plants needs. You may want a certain plant but if you do not have the right spot to put it you may be sorely disappointed that it does not do well.

The next step is to prevent as many problems as possible by using disease and pest resistant varieties. We have lists of varieties that may help you with this. A little homework on your part can save you lots of work and many dollars.

Assuming you have planted disease and pest resistant varieties in the right place in your landscape, you will certainly have other issues that come up. Each time one does you have options available to you for managing problems. Sometimes the best option is to do nothing at all! If the damage to a plant from insect pests is tolerable to you, you don’t need to treat it. If you have a sentimental attachment to a specimen you may want to pull out all the stops to protect it. Many times when we get calls in the office about problems, especially with trees, our advice is to ‘Wait and see” or we may suggest that you call an arborist. Be assured, we feel your pain when something goes awry with your plants, shrubs, vegetables, lawns, or trees. We have the same experiences that you do.

One thing I discovered this year that pleasantly surprised me is that by doing nothing I was in fact doing the best thing possible. I planted coreopsis several years ago and despite my nurturing it to the best of my ability it had never done well. It would be straggly, not flower worth mentioning, and eventually get eaten up by beetles or caterpillars. This year when it broke dormancy I had a little talk with it. I don’t talk to me plants a lot but this time it seemed necessary. I told it “I put you in the ground, I can take you out!” 

As so often happens, life got in the way of my time in the flower bed and I didn’t feed any of my plants as I usually would. While I was looking through a book to see what I wanted to replace this coreopsis with I came across some eye-opening information. Coreopsis do not like frequent fertilizing! Needless to say the coreopsis is doing great now and I learned something useful.

Sometimes not doing anything is the best thing to do!

Jolene Wallace is the horticulture program assistant for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Contact her at 561-7450 or