Plant Diagnostic Center ready with answers

Linda Benedict, Morgan, Johnny W.  |  7/25/2012 8:02:39 PM

It only takes one sick plant to spoil your home landscape or garden. But before you attempt to treat, you need to find out exactly what's going on from an expert in plant diagnostics. And that's when you want to turn to the LSU AgCenter’s own "plant doctor," Raghuwinder Singh.

Singh heads up the Plant Diagnostic Center, which is a one-stop-shop for all plant health-related problems in home gardens and landscapes. Whether it’s an insect, a weed, a nematode or a disease, the center can provide the answers, Singh says.

The center provides an accurate and rapid diagnosis of plant health problems for Louisiana residents and is supported by the Department of Plant Pathology and Crop Physiology.

“I have a plant pathology background, an entomology background, as well as soil science and weed science,” said Singh, who is known as the plant doctor. “So if a plant comes in, I work like a human doctor to try to find what’s wrong with it.”

Whether it’s a plant pathogen or a soil-related problem, the center has the expertise to find the answer to what’s ailing most plants.

“I try to diagnose all the problems that come in, but if I can’t, I send it to someone who can,” he said.

The center has an excellent team of specialists that include plant pathologists, nematologists, entomologists, horticulturists and weed scientists.

“Our diagnostic center is here to diagnose plant health problems, and we are open to the public,” he said. “If you suspect there’s a problem, you can bring a sample to your local LSU AgCenter county agent, or you can contact us directly, and we’ll make a diagnosis.”

The cost of having a routine diagnostic test run at the center is $20, and the costs of more advanced tests usually range from $40-$100.

At AgCenter-sponsored garden shows and some field days around the state, visitors have an opportunity to meet the staff of the center and get answers to their plant health-related questions.

“We try and advertise the center in as many areas as possible,” Singh said. “At the various garden shows we also look at the plants some of the attendees bring in to diagnose their problem.”

There are several common problems like leaf spots on ornamentals, phytophthora root rot, large patch of turfgrass, bacterial wilt of tomatoes, early blight of tomatoes, bacterial leaf scorch.

If the homeowners suspect the plant to be diseased they should dispose it off properly. Compositing diseased plants or plant parts may not be a good practice. Some pathogens, especially soil-borne, may survive for longer periods in the absence of a host and infect the susceptible host under favorable conditions.

In addition to the center being a place for consumers and businesses to bring their plants for diagnosis, it’s also on the front line in the nation’s fight against bioterrorism. To maintain national security, there are five regional plant diagnostic centers. In the southern region of the country, 13 states are connected to be regional plant diagnostic center where all samples are sent after diagnosis. The information on these samples is also sent to the national plant diagnostic center.

“We are part of the National Plant Diagnostic Network, which has as its mission national agricultural security, which prevents bioterrorism,” Singh said. “Once I diagnose a problem, I send the results to the client, but I also send that information to the national plant diagnostic database so we have a record of all activity.”

Learn more about the Plant Diagnostic Center.

Here's how to collect a sample.


Achievements at the plant diagnostic center are helping both commercial and homeowners identify and solve problems:

–The number of routine diagnostic samples increased from 351 in 2011 to 402 in 2012.

–The center now provides a paid internship in summer for undergraduate students interested in plant health diagnostics..

–The center is a member of the Citrus Clean Plant Network, which includes Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii and Texas. The goal of this network is to detect pathogens such as Citrus tristeza virus and citrus greening disease.

–The Plant Diagnostic Center is a member of the National Plant Diagnostic Network. The mission of this network is to enhance national agricultural security by quickly detecting and identifying introduced pests and pathogens. 

The LSU AgCenter is one of 10 institutions in the Louisiana State University System. Headquartered in Baton Rouge, it provides educational services in every parish and conducts research that contributes to the economic development of the state. The LSU AgCenter does not grant degrees nor benefit from tuition increases. The LSU AgCenter plays an integral role in supporting agricultural industries, enhancing rural areas and the environment, and improving the quality of life through its community, family and 4-H youth programs.

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