Abiotic Environmental Disorders

Our ecosystem involves the constant interplay between the biotic and abiotic components. The abiotic components, such as sun, water, temperature, or oxygen will effect the biotic components (diseases, insect, soil organisms). Identifying and preventing the negative effects of the abiotic component is important to the success of your garden or orchard.

Negative Abiotic Disorders

Sunscald in a thin barked tree Sunburn - Just like us humans, plants can also get sunburned! Sunburn on plants look like brown patches and can happen on the foliage and even the fruit. To prevent your plants from getting sunburned, make sure your plants are located in areas that are properly shaded, or you can use shade cloth. Sunscald - damage to the bark of trees, mostly found on the south/southwest facing part of the tree. Sunscald occurs when the sun warms the cells of the tree, causing them to prematurely "wake up" making them vulnerable to frost damage and other diseases and insects. Especially vulnerable are young, thin-barked trees such as apple, cherry, peach, elm, horse chestnut, linden, oak, willow, beech and walnut trees. You can use tree wraps or white washes to help protect trees from sunscald.

Frost Damage - caused by freezing temperatures, however the amount of damage to the plant will depend on the stage of growth and development, the duration of cold temperatures, how fast the temperature drops, location of the plant in the landscape (i.e. at the bottom of a slope, since cold air settles), and the health of the plant. During periods of extreme cold temperatures, protect your plants from frost damage by covering them with frost blankets, or bringing them inside a garage or greenhouse if possible. Over-Watering - If the soil is over-watered, that extra water will fill the air space in the soil preventing the roots of the plant from absorbing enough oxygen, thus, suffocating the plant. Signs of over-watering are plants that look wilted even though they have plenty of water, leaves that turn brown and wilt, stunted growth and yellowing leaves. Check the soil moisture before watering. A soil moisture meter can be used, or just use your finger! Drought stress in plants Under-Watering - If it's possible to over-water, it's possible to under-water! Common symptoms of under-watering are wilted leaves, curled leaves, brown leaf tips, thinning canopy, and leaf drop. Long term under-watering can lead to stunted plants, diminished crops, diseases, and the worst of all - dead plants! Water deeply to encourage roots to grow deep into the soil. Placing mulch around plants will help reduce evaporation, and providing organic matter to the soil helps it to soak up water like a sponge!

Allelopathy - is the beneficial or harmful effects of one plant on another plant. A typical example of allelopathy is the negative effect black walnuts have on the growth of some sensitive plants. Refer to our article on Companion Plants that Tolerate Black Walnut Toxicity for more information. Compacted Soil - causes retarded root growth, in turn limiting the plant's ability to take up water and nutrients resulting in stunted, less productive plants. Compacted soils can also increase water runoff and increase in soil erosion. Resources: Controlling Sunscald on Trees and Vines, University of Idaho Sunburn, Sunscald or Excessive or Inadequate Light, UC IPM Soil Compaction: Causes, Effects and Control, University of Minnesota Drought photo by Robert L. Anderson, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

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