Creeping white DEATH?? Srsly?


Be careful what you wish for. I have the first report from the authors of What's Wrong With My Plant? and it looks like everyone is pretty much in the clear except me! Here, Kathryn Wadsworth and David Deardorff diagnose the first three problems I sent them: 

The Plant Doctors Report

1. Wisteria and Creeping White Death.


I know this is shocking news, Elizabeth, and we’re sorry to deliver it so
bluntly. But the prognosis is not good. Your photos and descriptions of the
odd, white growths on the old wood of your lovely wisteria convince us that the
problem is most likely a fungus. The growths are soft, can be scraped off, and
only occur on old wood. The photos show clearly that these weird white patches
are not lichens.

It looks like a fungus has infected the heart wood, but,
oddly, the wisteria is not yet showing any other ill effects. It’s not stunted,
or declining in vigor, or failing to flower. In fact it flowers abundantly.
Eventually however, fruiting bodies of the fungus, resembling mushrooms or
bracket fungi, will sprout from the base, or directly from the trunks. When it
does, remove the plant and replace it with something other than wisteria. The
fungus will take its toll and the wisteria will succumb. There is nothing to be
done, but in the meantime enjoy and celebrate its extraordinary beauty in

2.  Swamp Red
Currant and the Stalker

Photos of swamp red currant
leaves with large pieces of the blade bitten off indicate your swamp red
currant is being munched on by a large mammal, probably a deer, or maybe your
neighbor’s horse, or cow . . . or goat. Or llama. Your statement that only the
upper leaves of this shrub have been damaged is a good clue that the stalker is
a large animal.

The location, size, and shape of the holes show that the
leaves are bitten cleanly off. They aren’t chewed or nibbled by something like
a caterpillar or a grasshopper. Slugs or snails don’t eat leaves from the edge,
they can’t. They leave raggedy holes in the middle of leaves and also leave
slime trails. Great photos by the way.

There are several tacks you can take to manage this problem.
Put a cylinder of chicken wire or some other barrier around the plant right
away to protect it from further damage while it’s establishing itself in its
new home. This will give you time to identify the stalker if possible. Other
possible protective measures include spraying the plant with a substance that
smells bad and tastes terrible to animals like deer. There are several products
available at garden centers which work well. Fright tactics work also, and can
consist of an electronic device that emits a sound which you cannot hear but
the culprit can, or of a motion activated impact sprinkler head which shoots
cold water at the culprit. A good dog that barks at the intruder is another
fright tactic that works. The ultimate protection, however, is provided by a
good sturdy fence.

3. Tomatoes and Blotchy Leaves.


Heather’s excellent photos of her tomato leaves show the progression from
slight to severe damage by the sun. Lots of people commented on this one.
Nearly everyone thought it was sunburn and they are correct. The plants are not
diseased, just suffering from the move from a protected environment out to the
full intensity of the sun. They’ll recover handily, grow new leaves adapted to
the new light conditions and be fruitful and multiply. So don’t throw them
away, and no need to take them back to the store. Plant them in the ground and
give them a little shade from intense afternoon hot sunlight. Stick a board or
a shingle into the ground on the west side of the tomato plants to shield them
from the afternoon sun then remove it after a couple of weeks.

Stay tuned for part 2, tomorrow. Thanks Kathryn and David! I guess …

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regularly radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world,and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I’ve experienced 2 out of the 3 things listed here, and it’s great to see the pictures and get clear explanations–thanks!

  2. Well I hope my “I am in the clear” comes with a solution. What is the point of daffodils that don’t bloom.

    Just think Elizabeth, there should be a period where you won’t need to hack at the wisteria as much as it loses vigor.

  3. Thanks to all for participating in this exercise. It’s great fun to be a detective and figure these things out. Sorry that Elizabeth’s wisteria is so ill. And sorry that Christopher’s daffodil is a dud but, on the bright side, the daffodil hasn’t got a disease that will infect the rest of the collection. And that’s a good thing.

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