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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI Plant Protection Clinic cures sick gardens
Plant experts identify pests and diagnose
diseased plants and turf

KINGSTON, R.I -- May 11, 2000 Do your houseplants need a medical checkup? Is your lawn looking a little under the weather? Are your shrubs or perennials harboring harmful pests? If so, then you should consult with the plant doctors at the University of Rhode Island's Plant Protection Clinic.

Established nearly 25 years ago, the clinic diagnoses more than 200 diseased plants and pests each year and recommends treatment or control methods.

URI Plant Protection Specialist David Wallace and his volunteer team of students and graduates of URI's Master Gardener program identify the oddly named pests and diseases using state-of-the-art microscopes, digital cameras, and an extensive library and computer database.

"About half the problems we see are environmental too much or too little water or light, too hot or too cold," he explained. "Most of the rest are caused by either fungi or insects."

And many of the problems occur in bunches.

"During last year's drought, we got far fewer diseases but more insect problems than usual," said Wallace. "But in 1998, when we got all that rain, we attributed many of the problems to El Nino."

In addition to diagnosing individual pests or diseases, the Plant Protection Clinic maintains a database that allows it to track diseases and pests as they move around the region. A new beetle pest from Japan that kills arborvitae, for instance, was recently discovered in Rhode Island. Though it's been found throughout Connecticut for several years, its occurrence in Westerly means it's now on the move.

"Our emphasis is on non-chemical controls and treatments," Wallace notes.

Not every problem the clinic sees can be cured, though.

"We're about 80 percent effective at providing ways to save diseased or insect-ridden plants," said Wallace. "But some problems, like red pine scale, can't be cured. We tell them they've just got to cut down the tree. Then we'll suggest replanting with a similar plant that's resistant to disease."

It's not just homeowners who use the Plant Protection Clinic. Commercial lawn and garden care companies are regular clinic visitors, too.

"Sometimes one of their residential customers will claim the company killed their grass or shrubs," said Wallace, "and we'll diagnose whether they did or not. The companies come to us to find out if they are at fault."

Wallace encourages residents with pests or dying plants to bring samples to the URI Cooperative Extension Education Center on the Kingston campus. Walk-in customers can usually have their samples diagnosed immediately. The clinic is open Tuesday through Thursday from 9 to noon.

For those who can't make it in at that time, samples can be mailed in.

"About half the samples we see come in through the mail," he said, "but we have specific guidelines on mailing. If people just put an insect in an envelope, after it goes through the mailing machine, we just end up with crumbs."

Wallace recommends putting insects in an empty film canister, while fresh plant samples should be placed in a plastic bag without water. Both should then be mailed in a soft-sided envelope.

When sending in dying plants or turf, it's important that samples are collected from the transition zone between the healthy and the dead section, since it's often impossible to identify and diagnose a completely dead branch. It's even better if a photo of the entire plant or section of turf can be included.

The cost for diagnosing each sample is $10. Samples can be mailed to the URI Plant Protection Clinic, CE Education Center, 3 East Alumni Ave., Kingston, R.I. 02881. For more information on the Plant Protection Clinic, call the URI Master Gardener Hotline at 1-800-448-1011 or visit the clinic Website at


For Information: David Wallace 874-2967, Todd McLeish 874-7892


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University of Rhode Island

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