Photos of various problems in the landscape will help observation and diagnostic skills, so here we share photos of issues we have encountered over the years in home landscapes.

As you will quickly see, not every problem in the garden has to do with insects and plant diseases.


Cold damage

Cold damage on a Weeping Beech
Brown Leaves
Cold damage on the new growth of this weeping beech was caused by two consecutive nights of below-freezing temperatures. It is easy to protect plants from frost damage by covering them, but freezing temperatures are a much more serious problem.

Dead branches

Cytospora Canker on a spruce tree
Cytospora Canker
Colorado Spruce trees are hardy and reliable, but their 'Achilles heel' is a fungus that attacks lower branches first, and works its way up the tree. Here we see a Spruce in advanced stages of the disease. Branches will have white sap on them with the appearance of bird droppings. When pruning an affected tree, sterilize pruning tools between branch cuts with rubbing alcohol.

Deer browsing

deer damage on daylilies
Chewed Off!
Deer have a way of knowing when to stop for a snack
on your tender flowers and evergreens. Above they
have chewed off the tender new foliage of daylilies
emerging.   They also have a tendency to reshape
arborvitaes in winter as seen in the photo below.

deer chewed arborvitaes

Drought damage

Drought lawn damage
Curb Burnout

Even home lawns with irrigation systems tend to burnout along street curbs during summer drought. Curb areas usually have shallow soil zones due to heavy gravel bases beneath the curbs. Add in the heat factor from the hot pavement and you'll often see lawn burnout.


White Haze
Unfortunately, some precast stone products begin to show efflorescence after a few years. Efflorescence is the growth of salt crystals, appearing as a white powder on the surface of some precast walls as well as other masonry products. While it can be easily removed with power washing, it will usually reappear within a year.

Herbicide Damage

Herbicide damage on a Yew
Non-target Plants
Improper application of a broadleaf weed killer to a
lawn can result in damage to nearby plants.

Invasive weeds

Thistle in junipers
Above: Weed control is much more difficult when weeds are mixed with ornamental plants, since you can't get an herbicide spray on the weeds without hitting the desirable plants. Here we see thistle and grass growing up through spreading junipers. Sometimes the weeds can be 'wiped' with an herbicide without contacting the desirable plants.

Below: This home lawn has patches of lighter colored undesirable turf, that was probably brought in with the seed or the sod. Usually the only solution is to spray the unwanted turf patches with a nonselective herbicide labeled for this use, and replant these areas. Always read and follow label directions.
Invasive lawn grasses



Wet weather greatly increases the chance of mudslides. An effort should be made to divert water at the top of a slope so no extra water is added to the slope face.

Lawn problems

Wrong application rate

Herbicide damage to a home lawn
Calibration Error
Applying a fertilizer/herbicide combination product at the wrong rate can spell disaster. Calibrate your spreader before making an application, since too much herbicide will kill the weeds and the grass you're trying to make look better. 

Wrong weed killer

Whooops.... this homeowner used a "non-selective" herbicide instead of a "selective" one!
Nonselective Herbicides
Some lawn herbicides are "selective" killing only the broadleaf weeds and not the turfgrass. Other herbicides are "non selective" killing everything. Guess which one this homeowner selected?

Red Thread

Red Thread lawn disease
Red Thread

This lawn disease prefers red fescue and is clearly visible in the morning when there is dew on the grass. It's one of the few lawn diseases where fertilization is part of the cure.



Spruce tree struck by lightning
Lightning Damage
This large Norway Spruce was struck by lightning, causing the bark and wood to explode off one side of the tree. Notice the small vertical crack in the middle of the trunk toward the top of the photo. When the tree was cut down, it turned out the crack extended all the way through the trunk, as seen in the cross section below.
tree trunk split by lightning strike

Mulch problems

 Yuk!  What is it? 
Physarum, Fuligo, or Stemonitis
Most people call this creamy to orange colored blob 'puke fungus' or 'dog vomit' fungus. It is relatively harmless to plants unless the 'blob' blankets plant foliage. Scoop it into the garbage to get rid of it. Technically, it is between a bacterium and a fungus.

'Vomit' fungus on shredded wood mulch
Slime Mold on
wood mulch

Slime mold growing from mulch onto an Oak trunk
Slime Mold on a
Pin Oak trunk

Fungus growing on shredded bark mulch that looks like dog vomit
Some folks refer to it as "dog vomit fungus"

 'Artillery' or 'Shotgun' Fungus 
Sphaerobolus stellatus

Artillery fungus spores on a painted surface

"The fruiting body points itself toward strong light sources such as sun-reflecting glass and light colored buildings and cars. Five hours after opening, the inner cup inverts and violently ejects the spore mass as far as 20 feet... The spore masses, which are sometimes mistaken for insect frass, adhere to any surfaces they contact."

Fungus spores

Don't confuse this larger variety of mulch fungus (photo on left) with artillery fungus. The artillery fungus spore is about the size of a pinhead.

Artillery or Shotgun Fungus

2003 was a damp year around Pittsburgh with it raining quite often. This set the stage for a banner year with artillery fungus. This fungus loves mulch and most decaying wood products, and shoots a sticky ‘tar spot’ onto bright surfaces several feet away. It’s almost impossible to get these spots completely off house siding, but according to Penn State researcher Don Davis, they can be painted over. Some insurance companies are even starting to specifically exclude coverage for artillery fungus from homeowner’s policies. Did anyone mention it also gets on cars?

So what does this enemy artillery prefer? It prefers the mulch on the north side of your house since it tends to be moister there. If you’re like most homeowners these days, you buy the double or triple shredded mulches for their nicer appearance. Unfortunately, these finer ground mulches tend to stay wet longer, thereby encouraging artillery fungus to thrive. 

Professor Davis went on to relate some of the things five years of research has shown during our 20-minute phone conversation in late-January. He said beds that are mulched every year are less likely to see problems. It appears to be the later stages of decay, as seen in beds that are only mulched every two to three years, that have the most problems with artillery fungus. 

Professor Davis said the Penn State mulch studies conducted since the mid-90’s have indicated that some mulches are less likely to get the fungus, but all wood mulches will get it eventually. Their studies indicated the mulches most resistant to artillery fungus are: Large Pine Bark Nuggets, Cypress mulches and Cedar mulches. 

The ‘total solution’ involves removing all the mulch from beds and replacing it with stone underlain with plastic. This is more critical in beds right next to a house or driveway than farther out in the yard. Penn State’s latest research involves Mushroom Manure (new term is SMS—spent mushroom substrate). PSU researchers are mixing varying amounts of mushroom manure with wood mulch products. Early indications are mushroom manure used as a mulch by itself may be resistant to artillery fungus. However, when it is mixed with wood mulches, it may actually stimulate artillery fungus growth on the wood. Disadvantages of using mushroom manure mulch include: ready availability, higher cost, manure smell, creating ‘sweet’ soil pH, and a shorter life providing less weed control. Annual flowers sure love it! 

Whether or not you decide to continue using wood based mulches is ultimately up to you. 

'Killer Bark'  or  'Hot Mulch'

When shredded wood mulch is piled up for long periods of time and left undisturbed, the anaerobic (without air) decomposition process leads to the buildup of toxic fumes within the mulch pile.

This mulch is usually dark in color and has a telltale odor similar to that of household ammonia. If it is spread around newly planted flowers it will 'cook' the foliage and kill the plants.  It also damages turfgrasses and ornamental plants, some more than others. Needle burn on the lower branches of Mugho Pine is a common symptom. 

If you insist on using Killer Bark (for that dark color everyone loves) spreading it out before using it in shrub beds will help dissipate the toxic fumes. Some believe using a garden hose to water down freshly spread Killer Bark will help knock down the toxic fumes and alleviate major burn problems on plants.    

Puff Balls
Puff Balls in rubber mulch beds
Smoking mushrooms

These puff balls are thriving under the dyed brown rubber mulch the home builder installed with the foundation plantings the previous year. The holes in the tops of the Puff Balls indicate that thousands of powdery green spores were released prior to this photo. Physical removal, with a shovel, eliminated these clusters.

Raccoon Damage

Digging for Insects
This sort of damage usually occurs during dry summer months. Raccoons will visit well-watered and heavily-mulched shrub beds and lawns during the night, turning-over large areas of mulch or turf. In the process, small plants (like the petunias above) are uprooted. The worst part is that raccoons usually come back.
Raccoon lawn damage

Shedding Needles

White pine shedding needles
Browning Needles
Sometime from late summer into early fall, pines will shed their older needles. The timing and amount of needle shed depends on the year's weather. If the needle shed resembles the pine above, this is a normal occurrence. However, if the growing tips are also brown, there is just cause for alarm.


Doing Splits
High winds caused these Bradford Pears to split-out. We DO NOT recommend planting Bradford Pears since they are subject to splitting, usually from wind or ice storms. Preventative measures would include thinning and reducing the size of these trees every few years.

Bradford Pear split by a wind storm
(Photos above and below)
High winds in western Pennsylvania
July 2003
Bradford Pear split in half by a wind storm


Wind throw

High winds on Mothers Day 2002 damaged this spruce (above) and other trees in Pennsylvania

Other than keeping older trees healthy, your best defense against 'wind throw' is to have your trees thinned-out by a professional tree service. Thinned trees allow the wind to pass through instead of acting like a sail.

Another spruce dropped by high winds (below)

Spruce tree dropped by high winds



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