Cone flowers are a disaster!

Sheil(Z5 IL)August 31, 2004

My cone flowers are a disaster this year. It's their 3rd yr. Last yr. they were beautiful. This yr.; however, they blossomed early, and some started to turn brown before they were even all bloomed. Two of the plants have deep purple leaves - not like that last yr.

About a mo. ago one of the plants just fell over and when I tried to pick it up, some of the stalks came right out of the ground - w/no roots! I saw grubs in another part of the yard early in the season, but when we dug last mo. we found beetles, no grubs. Are these Jap. beetles?

For the last mo. they are turning from brown to black. They look terrible, almost like you would expect to see mold, although I haven't. I would cut them down, except that 2 unusual yellow birds come each day to eat the seeds, although those are almost all gone, as well.

Is it the crazy weather or what? Is it okay to cut them all back b/c they really look bad. I haven't been able to tend to my yard much this yr. b/c of surgeries I had in spring, but everything got at least minimal care.

I also missed the butterflies, which covered my cone flowers last yr. But I just read a post about the lack of butterflies this yr. I wonder what that's all about.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, as I love these plants. Thanks!

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veronicastrum(z5 IL)

Sheila, you may have more than one thing going on here.

First of all, if you have japanese beetles they would be eating the foliage, not doing other damage. Do a Google image search on japanese beetle and see if this is what you saw in your garden.

Your description of pulling the stalk out of the ground with no roots sounds like you had a stem root problem. Since this is caused by a fungus that overwinters in the soil, I would clean up any remnants of the dead plants and then drench the area with a garden fungicide. You can find this at any garden center and use it according to the label directions.

The purple leaves on the other plants may just be a reacton to some of the cool temps we've had lately. Some areas in northern Illinois have dipped into the 40's and this could be the result.

The unusual yellow birds are probably goldfinches; they love the seeds of purple coneflowers.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   August 31, 2004 at 11:53AM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

The Japanese beetles ate the flowers of my coneflowers. I had to go out there several times a day and pick them off, at the height of the problem. They left the leaves alone mostly.

Mine did pretty well, all in all, but looked kind of ragged from the bugs. I also saw an unusual mutation or something, where multiple (what looked like) green flower heads grew out of the centers of individual flower. Some of the flower heads had like a dozen of these secondary heads coming out of them.

My black-eyed susans have the leaf fungus some. Not too bad. I hate to clean out all the leaves, though. Besides to attract wildlife, one of the main reasons I planted these species was winter interest. I like to see them standing out there in the winter time. They are lovely with snow on the seed heads.

If you want to keep your goldfinches around, get an "upside down" goldfinch feeder. It takes expensive thistle seed (I think it's been irradiated, because we don't get thistle coming up around the feeder at all), but you only get the lovely goldfinches. Other birds cannot eat hanging upside down, like they do, and eventually give up. I have dozens of them regularly.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2004 at 2:47PM
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I had that weird growth out of my coneflowers a few years ago. Each year there was more, so I decided to destroy all affected plants, and it hasn't been back since in the coneflowers. Now my liatris seem to have it. I hate to pull my liatris before monarch season is over, but I really should. On some other forum someone mentioned aster yellows, a disease that causes this deformation. Just thought you might like to know.

I love watching the goldfinches eat the seeds too.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2004 at 1:18AM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

Braveland, thanks for the info. I will keep an eye on the coneflower growths; it's hard with plants you grow specifically to attract birds -- they always stand on them with their feet, and whatever they put their feet in that day goes on your seed head.

When we lived in Arizona, one common situation like this was birds depositing mistletoe seeds on tree branches. The mistletoe is a parasite and eventually kills the tree. Birds are so nice, and often they and squirrels have entertained us on dreary winter days. But it's a trade off.

We only have five coneflower plants, and they are only two years planted. I guess I feel like I can't afford to pull them out yet. I added a photo of them to my home page if you want to take a look. Click on the thumbnail for a bigger view.

Your page here is very interesting. I'll probably drop by and send you an email. I had never heard of "pellies" before and went looking for them around the web.

Here is a link that might be useful: Our Coneflowers this year

    Bookmark   September 1, 2004 at 11:10AM
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Sheil(Z5 IL)


Thanks so much for the good information. This week-end, w/the help of my family, I'm going to clean everything up and use the fungicide where necessary. The leaves on the plants are fine (I guess I don't have Japaneese beetles), so I hope the fungicide does the trick. I liked the purple leaves on the one plant, as it provided a nice contrast to the other green-leaved plants.

I've never seen a goldfinch around here before. I love watching them from my kitchen window.

Oswegian, Thanks for the suggestion of the bird feeder. I also have that "weird growth" on my coneflowers. I thought it looked kind of neat. But since I'm cutting everything back, hopefully that problem will be taken care of, too.

Braveland, I didn't realize those growths were a problem. Now I can save my coneflowers. Everyone loves them and I would hate to loose them. My liatris had a hard time this yr., as well, so I already cut them back. I think between the crazy weather and my inability to really get out there, things have suffered. But that's the challenge for next year.

Thanks all for the great info. Next year I bet everything will look better than ever.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2004 at 1:00PM
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Aster yellows have been bad this year. Some of the descriptions I've read sound like that's what your plants are afflicted with. It's a virus that will not go away and cannot be treated. In fact, it will spread to more plants if the proper sanitary procedures aren't followed. Check out the link below if you want to educate yourself on this disease.

Here is a link that might be useful: the dreaded aster yellows

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 8:49PM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

leaveswave, that is exactly what my coneflowers have, and now I think it's what's wrong with my coreopsis. The coreopsis is much worse off than the coneflowers. Last year, they bloomed right through fall, but this year they have looked nearly dead. Thanks. I'll go out there tomorrow and cut them down.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2004 at 11:03PM
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Oswegian, just cutting them down isn't enough. The plant is infected for life, kinda like malaria or AIDS, and will do the same thing next year if you keep it, plus the leafhoppers will end up spreading it from those plants to others. Roots and everything have to go, unfortunately.

I just ripped out a dozen echinacea so I know the pain.

    Bookmark   September 6, 2004 at 2:51PM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

Oh. :-(

Well, thanks for the info. Do I have to dig out the coreopsis, too? The blackeyed susans don't have it, that I can see.

What can I put there that won't get it?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2004 at 4:10PM
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It's not the location that's the problem. The virus is spread by leafhoppers (picture: and unfortunately there aren't any really effective controls.

Here is a link that might be useful: University Extension Brief about Aster Yellows

    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 2:27PM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

Well, I was asking what I could put there, not where I could put it. I have already looked up a lot of stuff on the web about aster yellows. I only found three plants that are resistent, which are yarrow, mint, and one other, which I can't remember. I posted it at the pest and disease forum, asking the same question.

What I would really like to know is if woody plants, like shrubs can get it. The articles I found said grasses are even at risk and that Kentucky bluegrass, for heavens' sake, is a favorite. They lay their eggs in grasses and overwinter that way, even in Canada. It sounds like a real nasty thing, and I don't care if my husband did ask for the coneflowers, they are history to me.

I wanted all woody plants to begin with; but no, he wanted prairie plants. And it looks like prairie plants are just frosted cake for the phytoplasm and leafhopper. All kinds of compositae and even stuff like bee balm. Gawd, it sucks.

Veggies get it terrible, like carrots, celery and lettuce. The cabbage family, too. So, weeds like wild mustard carry the disease, and that stuff and carrot family is every freakin where. Like somebody said, 400 kinds in 40 families. I'm hoping it doesn't like shrubs.

    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 3:49PM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

My husband found a horticulture page at North Dakota State U. that says there's a good chance they will outgrow the disease next year. That sounds the opposite of the discussions I've heard here about it.

It's the last Q &A on the page at the following link.

Here is a link that might be useful: NDSU horticulture page

    Bookmark   September 8, 2004 at 8:31PM
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hengal(z5 / IN)

I posted last summer about the same type of odd growth on my coneflowers and was told it was a virus and I needed to dig up the plants and get rid of them. Well, summer ended, fall and winter came and I never got around to it. Low and behold the flowers came back - along with their mutated seed heads. They will be ripped out before cold weather gets here this year.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2004 at 2:03PM
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Oswegian, the information in that link is incorrect. I'm certain if you contact Ron Smith about it, he will correct it. Or, since you live so far away from me, _I_ have no objection to you keeping those diseased plants to see what they look like next year, but your gardening neighbors might not appreciate it.

Deb Brown is a horticulturist with the University of Minnesota Extension Service:
Deb Brown, here, on aster yellows on purple coneflower: Ron Smith is a really good horticulturist, but I think he's off on this plant path recommendation. When you see these symptoms, the best course of action is to rogue the plant... pull it out and destroy it. There is nothing that will cure it.

Craig Winters, a Master Gardener in West Otter Tail:
I have not heard that aster-yellow infected plants will 'outgrow' it. I have not seen this happen. It is a disease with no way to treat. Any infected plants I pull out immediately and throw (NOT compost). I usually get about 4-6 coneflowers a year get infected. But I probably
have about 20 new ones from seed each year!

Barbara Gasterland, an MG in Hennepin County:
If it is aster yellows then the plants will NOT grow out of it. They may not have the same distortion next year if they winter over but it does not go away. You did the right thing by yanking the infected plants. I can sympathize it's tough to do sometimes. If left in the garden the plants will probably be less hardy and not make it through winter. And the longer you leave it in the garden it is just letting the leafhoppers spread it from that plant to another. At least that is my understanding. Ah yes a search sez I hit it right. Here's a Info U link on Aster yellows to confirm. Would it be nasty to send it to the Extension in ND?

Paula Denman is another MG in Henn. Cty:
I've always been told to remove them ASAP. It's herbicides that plants can "outgrow." Unless we've new info yet to be released! It's a little unnerving to see this recommendation in print from an Extension horticulturist.

I think you get the idea; I'll spare you the rest of the responses I expect to get over the next few days.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2004 at 10:53AM
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Oswegian(Z5 IL)

The reason I am having a hard time selling this to the husband is that he sees coneflowers everywhere and doesn't think people would have them if they were just doomed to get a fatal disease after you put them in. Someone said aster yellows were bad "this year" -- does that mean most years they are not? Are leaf hoppers usually not so prolific, or what? I'm willing to pull the plants out, but I have to put something back in when I do.

I would appreciate it if someone tried to answer my question about what I could put into the coneflowers' place that would be on the order of the same size and shape and yet would not be susceptible to the disease. And also if someone would try to comment on my question of whether woody plants can get aster yellows and if not, whether some and which of those would work in their stead.

My sister-in-law came down from Wisconsin last week and said that the coneflowers on the UW campus looked like mine do, and they probably have a load more plants than the five I have and haven't dug them out. They are closer to you. My gardening neighbors may well have given the disease to mine, because my coreopsis and coneflowers were healthy last year.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2004 at 5:27PM
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cantstopgardening(Zone 4/5 WI)

I have irises, stargazer lilies, and Stella d'oro in the vicinity of my first batch of echinacea that got Aster-yellows a few years ago. They do not seem to be affected.

Way up, you asked what 'pellies' are, I should have explained. That's a nickname for pelargoniums, which is the proper name for the plant commonly called geranium. True geraniums are a native perennial, in the same Order as pelargoniums. Zonal geraniums, hothouse geraniums, bedding geraniums are also nicknames for pelargoniums. True geraniums are also called Cranesbill. There was an error made when botinists were coming up with binomial nomenclature on pelargoniums, and by the time the error was realized, the name geraniums was firmly planted in the Victorian gardener's mind. Due to increased popularity of true geraniums, many gardeners are becoming aware of the distinction. But my bunnies love the 'pellies', no matter what they are called!

Good luck with your plants. I see I will have to go yank my native liatris too. It's a shame, as it was absolutely beautiful last year, and six foot tall. Just loaded with monarchs. Not as tall this year, then I cut many of the stems. I see after reading all the above posts, I will have to let it go. sniff.

Jean, formerly Braveland 4-H

    Bookmark   October 1, 2004 at 2:31PM
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Here's some info...

Here is a link that might be useful: some susceptible plants

    Bookmark   October 5, 2004 at 3:33PM
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with lots of good information...

Here is a link that might be useful: includes list of less susceptible plants

    Bookmark   October 5, 2004 at 3:34PM
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Yes, it has been a bad year (or a good one, from the perspective of this phytoplasma); I've never had them in my half-acre garden before.

Woody plants not so likely to get it. For replacements, I suggest browsing a good plant book or online plant selector for something that appeals to you.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2004 at 3:39PM
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This year when my cone flowers bloomed some bloomed white and others green and a few dark red it was beatiful but a little odd... they looked fine and here i didnt have a problem with japanese beetles at all maybe it waws the crazy weather

    Bookmark   October 11, 2004 at 6:16PM
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I have tons of coneflowers, and they also bloom and then start to dry and the stalks will "pull" right out of the ground....First of all, YES...Cut them back as soon as the flower heads dry out...I have found that by doing this, my coneflowers bloom 4 times a season. Also, are they too heavily mulched??? These flowers perfer good drainage...don't let there feet get soaked. If mulched more than 2" deep, rake some away from them.
The more you keep the spent parts of the plants removed, the better they will produce and spread.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2004 at 5:17AM
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