Marla Faver of the Auburn Extension Plant Diagnostic Lab can help residents with pests and diseases.

By John Mullen

June 13, 2019 – Orange Beach, AL - (OBA®) – People new to the southern tip of Alabama and looking to garden and grow plants as they did back home quickly learn this is an entirely different environment.

“A lot of the people that move down here from the Midwest or more northern areas, they’re used to very, very different climate and environment,” Auburn University’s Marla Faver said. “They will want to grow plants down here that did well in the north. For some of them, it’s just not going to happen. Some of the ornamental plants do well in the springtime but when we get to the hot humid temperatures they’re done. They are used to them going throughout the growing season.”

Faver is a Regional Extension Agent II working out of the Plant Diagnostic Lab at the university’s new campus on Gateway Boulevard in Gulf Shores. She one of a few employees now but expansions in staff are coming in future months. Also, on-site is a referral veterinary clinic with state-of-the-art imaging equipment, surgery suites, recovery suites and other amenities.

Faver is available to consult with residents about a variety of problems with their lawns or plants when it comes to helping combat insects and diseases.

“The services that we provide solely have to do with plant material, insects, mites and diseases,” she said.

And giving advice on when to grow, information locals and northern transplants can use.

‘Like for tomatoes,” Faver said. “We have spring tomatoes and we have fall tomatoes. Tomatoes don’t do anything in the heat of the summer. That’s different for them. The fertility requirements and the watering requirement are different for them.”

Even watering plants in the coastal environment is different, she said, and too much can be just as harmful as too little.

“Another thing that unfortunately people aren’t aware of is our water table is very close to the surface,” Faver said. “Water just percolates through sand much, much faster than in the loamy clay type soils in the northern part of the country. Anything they put on their lawn or gardens they really need to read the labels carefully because the labels will tell them how much and how often to use something to avoid it going into the water table and in runoff.”

Faver is available for some home visits to analyze problems but with an ever-expanding coverage area for the lab, her time for visits will depend on the samples brought to her for study.

“Samples are going to start picking up and they are going keep increasing the area until all of southern Alabama samples come to this lab,” she said. “But they’ve just done a smaller area right now so we could get the lab opened and not be overwhelmed with samples before we’re ready but that is coming. Anyone in the southern part of the state that wants to send samples to this lab they will be processed and managed.”

Those getting higher priority will be farmers who have questions about diseases or pests hampering their crop.

“As you get busier and when you’re talking about people’s livelihood I’d have to prioritize,” Faver said. “I may have to go see a tomato producer or a cotton producer and I might could work in a homeowner while I’m out.”

Most of the problems she’s seeing this spring are the result of a warm, wet winter followed by a hot, dry spring.

“We didn’t have winter and the abundance of rainfall can really contribute to problems showing up now,” Faver said. “Then it turned off really hot and dry and the plants get stressed and maybe they get overwatered. Because it’s so hot people think they need more water than they actually do. Or they go the other direction, the plants get stressed and that opens the doorway for disease and insects.”

Some samples have shown that residents are using too many chemical treatments on their lawns and it’s showing up in tests at the lab.

“Also, in the spring the grass is weakened and they do over the top herbicide treatments and it’s just a combination of things and it causes a die back in that grass,” Faver said. “We didn’t find any disease problems on the samples that came in and some of the samples you could actually see where fertilizer and herbicide had been applied because it was more or less in strips. When you looked at the whole lawn you could see that. Centipede doesn’t like high fertility and so they added fertility.”

Some of the other problems seen at the lab have included rust diseases on lilies, root rot diseases and bacterial diseases on some ornamentals, Faver said.

“I’ve had termites, carpenter ants and armyworms on tomatoes and peppers,” she said. “It starts earlier here. All those kinds of things are what extension is challenged with to educate. And do that education based on university research and recommendations.”