Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Deformed Flowers on Black Eyed Susan

a brigth yellow black-eyed susan flower with half-sized petals

Hello Fellow Readers, I have an assortment of deformed and dwarfed flowers on my Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) and Coneflower (Echinacea). In addition to distorted petals, some flowers didn’t form at all.  Plus, the ends of others look like something nibbled them off.

The foliage looks terrific this year, unlike last two when riddled with powdery mildew from being overly wet. This summer is on the dry side with plenty of heat, and the happy plants held the promise of a plethora of blooms—instead, its a confusing dilemma. On went the research cap.

a purple flower with dwarfed petals with a bumble bee

Dwarfed leaves on Echinacea

Is the dilemma Tarnished Plant Bugs or Lace Bugs? 

I learned about tarnished plant bugs (Lygus lineolaris) that can disfigure leaves and flower buds on rudbeckias and echinacea, causing them not to bloom. Or the flowers have petals only on one side.

There’s Lace Bugs, a large family of insects that also sucks the sap out of leaves disfiguring them. I’ve seen a few of the small (1/8th to 3/8th an inch long) lacey winged things flying around. But it’s the tiny black spots under the leaves called frass (a polite way of saying bug poop) that points to them maybe being the culprit.

Or, thrips? 

Or tiny thrips (1/25th an inch long) that are attracted to yellow, white, and light-colored flowers sucking the daylights out of them?  In major infestations, the plants themselves become deformed and splotchy. Hmmm, not the case with mine. But if so, like with the beforementioned bugs, insecticidal soap, or my tried-and-true Neem Oil will do the trick. Plus cleaning up the garden in the fall to limit their overwintering there, which is contrary to my desire to keep the dry seed heads standing for our feathered friends.

Sadly, its Aster Yellows for which there is no cure.

After sifting through all these maladies, I’ve narrowed the dilemma down to Aster Yellows, which affects over 300 species of plants, including vegetables like potatoes and carrots. It caused by a pathogen called phytoplasma transmitted primarily by leafhoppers. By the time symptoms appear, initially often yellowing foliage before the deformed or dwarfed flowerheads, it’s too late. There is no cure. Removing the infected plants, including the roots, is the only way to end the cycle of spreading the disease to other plants. Toss all the plant parts into a plastic bag and in the regular trash—a sad end to beautiful plants.

Mary Stone, Garden Dilemmas, Ask Mary Stone,Gardening tips, Garden Blogs, Stone Associates Landscape Design, Garden Blog, Mary Stone with Miss Ellie Mae

Miss Ellie Mae & I at “The Top of the World

A personal note about our dear Miss Ellie

Before I sign off, if I may share news about Miss Ellie, we learned that she has cancer for which there is no treatment. As you know, Miss Ellie is the mascot for our column since we began our weekly chats. She arrived unexpectedly eleven years ago during a tough time of transition. I’m doubly blessed as Curt came into my life about the same time. Together we shared a journey of recovery. Ellie, from the neglect and isolation of living alone in a cage, rarely fed or watered, with no protection from the hot Georgian sun. I from the years of neglect and loneliness of addiction.

Ellie was about a year old when she arrived, which makes her about twelve now— a long life for golden, but it never seems long enough. We will cherish all the days we still have. Thank you, kind readers, for your loving thoughts and prayers. Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)


Though it’s sad to lose beautiful plants riddled disease, there is the hope of renewal and memories that will last forever.

a hot pink echincacea flower with an orance center with a bee.

A Healthy Echinacea

yellow black eyed susan flowers next to light blue hydrangea flower

And, my happy rudbeckia peaking through the hydrangea.

Click through to learn more about Aster Yellows

Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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