FAYETTEVILLE — No one wants to let go of a beloved member of the family any sooner than they have to — even if that member has woody roots, seasonal fruits or flowers that bloom in spring.

The Arkansas Plant Health Clinic is here to help.

The clinic, which is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service, works with state plant pathologists in an effort to help growers diagnose their plant problems.

Attachments to plants

Sherrie Smith, the plant diagnostician at the clinic, said many homeowners feel emotional attachments to their plants.

“If we’re able to save a tree that was planted in memory of a loved one, or has some other sentimental value, we feel we are doing a real service to that person,” she said.

A successful diagnosis in an ailing plant can also make or break an effort to keep the bottom line in the black for a farm or nursery, officials said.

The clinic can save farmers and ranchers millions of dollars by helping them to control and mitigate diseases through management practices, said Craig Rothrock, the interim department head for Plant Pathology with the Division of Agriculture.

Anyone, from farmers to homeowners to nurserymen, can submit samples to the Arkansas Plant Health Clinic, Rothrock said. The diagnoses are provided free of charge.

Produce better, healthier products

Keiddy Urrea, a plant pathologist and program associate for the Arkansas Plant Health Clinic, said that if growers heed the clinic’s advice after a diagnosis, they could produce better and healthier products for sale. Even if a disease is already an epidemic or no longer treatable, growers can improve disease management practices for next season, Urrea said.

People can either go directly to the clinic at Fayetteville or they can give a sample to an extension agent, available in every county, Urrea said. The extension agent will then submit the sample through the Distance Diagnostics System, a digital imaging database.

The type of submission depends on where on the plant growers observe symptoms, she said. Sometimes people submit whole plants to the clinic, and sometimes it’s parts of a plant, such as the leaves, stems, roots, etc.

For more information about plant sample submission, visit https://www.uaex.edu/publications/pdf/FSA-6114.pdf.

“(The clinic) catalogs the presence and frequency of diseases in the state,” Rothrock said. “When a disease is detected for the first time, there may be management issues that need to be developed or we may try to eradicate that pathogen.”

Gathering information

All of the information the clinic gathers is passed on to the National Plant Diagnostic Network, Smith said. The National Plant Diagnostic Network’s mission is to “enhance agricultural security through protecting the health and productivity of plants in agricultural and natural ecosystems in the United States,” according to the NPDN website.

The clinic also releases newsletters to keep people informed about seasonal diseases and health problems, Smith said.

Smith also has a portable diagnostic lab she takes to flower and garden shows, field days and master gardening events, where residents can bring plants directly to her. She also offers lectures and training to master gardeners, county agents and the Arkansas Green Industry Association.

“We improve capacity by getting the word out that we’re here and the services we do, and that’s why I write the newsletter and why I take the diagnostic portable lab around to events,” Smith said.

Every year, the clinic diagnoses and makes recommendations for about 3,500 samples, Urrea said. The clinic has reported diseases Arkansas has never seen before, which helps jump start new lines of research to understand the disease and its management, she said.

“We feel every time we diagnose a sample and help a grower save a crop or their plant that that’s an accomplishment,” Smith said.

Visit the Arkansas Plant Health Clinic online at https://www.uaex.edu/farm-ranch/pest-management/plant-health-clinic/.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.

— Meleah Perez is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.