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aster yellows/phytoplasma

Paramus, NJ

I live in North Jersey and began growing rudibeckia, echinacea and Queen Anne's Lace almost 30 years ago. They were beautiful, plentiful, colorful and the birds (especially goldfinches) and butterflies loved them. They reproduced themselves by reseeding and often survived lesser winters. The wind and birds carried them throughout the yard and I would dig plants out of the lawn and hedges to replant in my beds or give away. I ended up with multiple colorations and configurations of rudibeckias. Some of the rudibeckias produced green petals. I sometimes bought different variations and/ or attributed differentiation to self hybridizing.
The last year has been extremely trumatic. I am sure my yard has become entirely infected with aster yellows/phytoplasma. The variations I had rationalized as 'hybridizing" became grossly apparent as sickly mutations of the rudibeckias and echinaceas; include giantism, brooming, severe petal deformations and absences, bloom upon bloom formations, etc.-leaving no doubt. I had also begun growing milkweeds-the tall type with purple flowers and the short bright orange type. The tall milkweed were extremely attractive to hummingbird moths and monarchs. I stopped using all commercial pest adversives, even Neem oil (I used to use a miticide on the rhododendron and rose dust)as it was deemed not in the best interest of the butterflies. I was able to raise 14 caterpillars (13 monarch and 1 black swallow tail) to chrysalis and mature butterflies for release). Perhaps warm winters, and lack of pest controls have allowed vector insects to infect the entire yard. I now believe I must destroy all of the plants, seedlings, seeds. 1) I don't know how to do that; 2) I don't understand how extensive the disease infection is. Does the bacterium infect the soil and root stocks? Does it extend to trees and shrubs (rhododendron, azalea)? Anyone with experience? The NJ Agricultural Extension service has not replied.

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