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Abiotic Diseases

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Hot weather, inadequate moisture, drifting of herbicides, freezing temperatures, transplant shock, compacted soils, mower injury, and lack of nutrients are examples of factors that can cause abiotic disease problems. Abiotic diseases are caused by factors other than living (biotic) agents.

To diagnose abiotic disease problems, it is important to evaluate the characteristics of the site, past weather conditions, and the care practices. In some cases, more than one abiotic factor may contribute to the poor health of a plant. Plants that are growing under stressful conditions may also be more prone to certain biotic disease problems, such as fungal cankers.

A good understanding of the growing requirements of plants and selecting the right species for the conditions of the site can help prevent problems with abiotic stresses. Unfortunately, weather extremes cannot be controlled and are common. The season this year started with untimely cool temperatures and excess moisture. As the season progressed, hot and dry conditions caused stress to plants.

Freezing temperatures caused the tender young foliage of many plants to turn black and wilt. In a few cases plants were killed. Fortunately, most plants recovered, putting out new green leaves.

You may have been faced with waterlogged soils this spring. Strings of cloudy days delayed the drying of the soil, depriving plant roots of life-sustaining oxygen. The lack of oxygen can cause roots to die and plants to wilt. This damage can appear suddenly or show up more slowly, as is usually the case with large plants such as trees. Plants often grow poorly and have leaves that are abnormally yellow.

Good care practices, including using proper techniques when watering, fertilizing, pruning, planting, and mowing, can help prevent abiotic disease problems. Although symptoms of browning caused by factors such as drought stress or freeze injury cannot be reversed, later-emerging growth will typically show recovery when normal conditions return.

(This resource was added July 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180