Book Review: What's Wrong With My Plant?

One of the first lessons of gardening that most gardeners learn all too soon is that “bad” things can happen to plants. They can be attacked by a lawnmower, eaten alive by rabbits and bugs alike, or come down with some serious malady which could be a blight or a wilt or a you-name-it that you've never seen before.

In my own garden, I suspect that my roses have blackspot, a lilac has some kind of bacterial issue like fireblight, the peonies have powdery mildew, the columbine suffer from leafminers, a forsythia has something causing whole branches to blacken and out in the vegetable garden, the freeze last weekend finally did away with my blighty looking tomato plants. Add to that a bad case of rabbiteatitis* that affects the lettuce and green beans some years and it is a wonder that I don’t hang up my gardening gloves and switch to a pestilence-free hobby like hoe collecting.

Even though I long ago took classes in plant pathology and entomology, I still look at some of these ailing plants, wonder what’s wrong, and then walk away hoping it will get better on its own. I do this not so much from laziness, but from not knowing or remembering exactly what to do. (Okay, I’ll admit that a little bit of it is laziness and wishful thinking that the problem will just go away.)

Late last week, the excuse for not doing anything because I didn’t know exactly what to do was taken away from me when I received an advanced review copy** of a new book, What’s Wrong With My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It): A Visual Guide to Easy Diagnosis and Organic Remedies by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth.

The title is accurate. It's a visual guide. It's easy to use. It's organic. And it provides help with both diagnosis and cure. The book is divided into three parts:

Part 1 includes flowcharts to help you determine what the problem is. The charts are a series of drawings with questions that you answer yes or no, then follow that answer to the next question until you arrive at the diagnosis.

Once you have a diagnosis, you go to Part 2 which includes information on solutions and remedies, all of which are organic. Where organic based sprays are suggested, the authors have a strong emphasis on safety and rank the solutions with signal words of “none”, “caution” , “warning” or “danger” and advocate that any sprays with the last three signal words be used only if needed and not “just in case".

Each chapter in part 2 also describes a particular type of problem, such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, mites, etc. and provides interesting background information on each of these. The authors also offer a lot of good, basic plant culture information to help prevent some of these problems from occurring in the first place.

Part 3 has photographs of plants with symptoms of many of the problems described in the book. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words and they don’t hold back, including pictures showing signs and symptoms on roots, stems, fruits, flowers, and leaves of real plants. I even noticed a picture of an onion with nematodes and realized that I’ve seen that same thing on some onions in my garden.

But that’s okay, I can flip back to Part 2 and find some organic solutions for this problem, along with the other problems I’ve identified.

Where does this book belong on my bookshelf? Front and center. I want to be able to easily get to it as I stroll about the garden being just a bit more observant noticing the signs and symptoms of possible problems. I have no other book quite look this one that includes so much disease and pest information, so I’m sure it will end up being well-read and oft-referenced.

(Added: For other reviews of this book, check out Dee/Red Dirt Ramblings review for and Mr. McGregor's Daughter's review.)



* I made up the word rabbiteatitis, pronounced "rabbit-eat-i-tis". That word and this review are my thoughts alone.

** ”Advanced review copy” means what you think it means. The publisher sent me this book at no cost to me, to do with as I wished. I’m sure they hoped I’d review it on my blog, but did not explicitly, overtly, or otherwise ask me to do that, nor did they give any guidance on what to include in a review, should I choose to do one.


  1. Sounds like a useful book! I like the fact that the include the safety ratings on the different treatments -- too often people assume that organic means safe, which sometimes it doesn't!

  2. This is definitely a book I need to purchase! I can easily identify rabbiteatitis, which I didn't have this year, thankfully, but I wondered all spring what was wrong with my Knockout roses. Only later did I find out from the garden center that I probably had sawflies. If I had had this book, I probably could have taken care of the problem earlier and had some beautiful roses...until the Japanese beetles came:)

  3. Sounds like a handy reference to have. I really like the flowchart idea because sometimes very different problems can give you the same end result in a plant.

  4. looks like an awesome book. I am looking for it now! thanks, Carol!

  5. Thanks, Carol. As if you really need a disclaimer; yet sad that you "need" a disclaimer. Sounds like a very useful reference book. Will watch out for it.

  6. Thank you, Carol, for your kind words about our book - What's Wrong With My plant? We appreciate your thoughtful consideration, and look forward to hearing how it works for you. We hope your readers will find the book useful.

    David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth

  7. Carol, sounds like a great book to have on hand. I especially like the fact that they give solutions that don't use harmful chemicals.

    How nice of them to thank you for your review. That being said, we are coming to the day when your disclaimer will be standard. And i suspect a lot less of freebies will be handed out. I appreciate your honesty. :)

  8. Carol, this seems like a handy book to have. Thank you for the review!

  9. Looks like a good book. I, too, like making up words. Fun!


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