En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
1 rating

Tuesday - May 19, 2009

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Sooty Mold on Beauty Berry
Answered by: Nina Hawkins


We recently planted a beauty berry plant (among others) to attract birds in our backyard. We have had a lot of rain (probably 5-7 inches) since planting a few weeks ago if that might have something to do with the problem. There appears to be black mold on the underside of the leaves. How can I rid the plant of the mold and not poison the birds? I read that I should spray the plant with malathion but that worries me since we are attracting birds.


The black mold that you are seeing is probably sooty mold.  Sooty mold is usually caused by the honeydew excretions of sucking insects such as aphids and scale, which often suck plant juices from the protected undersides of leaves where you noticed the mold on your plant.  The mold is likely less harmful to the plant than the insects are.  Your least toxic choice for controlling scale or aphids is to release their natural predators into your yard, such as lady bugs or parasitic wasps, which are available at many plant nurseries and through mail order.  Follow the instructions that come with the insects - they should tell you to release the insects in the evening and to water beforehand to encourage them to take up residence in your yard rather than fly off to someone else's.  Your next option is to use an insecticidal soap or horticultural foliar oil, depending on whether you have aphids or a type of scale. You should only use these sprays on the infected plant, because they will also kill beneficial insects.  I have attached some links below to a similar Smarty Plants question and to a few websites that will help you determine what insect you are dealing with and what method of control will work best for you.  If these methods don't work, the plant is likely too stressed to ever do well, even if you were to use a more agressive pesticide that could harm other insects and the birds that you are trying to attract.  In that case, you may want to cut your losses and replace the diseased plant with a new, healthy specimen.  Happy bird-watching!

Control of sooty mold from aphids in Crape Myrtle

What's That Bug? - Aphids, Scale Insects, Leaf hoppers, and Tree hoppers

Texas Agricultural Extension Service - Scale insects on ornamental plants

Audubon - You have a choice!


More Diseases and Disorders Questions

Problems with non-native weeping willow from Hazlet NJ
July 03, 2013 - Leaves turning yellow on weeping willow planted in May. What causes this and how can I fix it? Mother's Day gift after SANDY uprooted huge tree.
view the full question and answer

Trees failing to prosper from Denham Spring LA
December 23, 2013 - I live in Louisiana. Out of all of the native trees that we grow, there are two in particular that always struggle no matter what the conditions are in which they grow. The first one, sassafras, is ...
view the full question and answer

Need to identify leaf extensions on the leaves of an elm sapling in Houston, Tx.
May 22, 2013 - I have an elm sapling which grows strange leave extensions on its leaves. Can I send you a picture? Tree looks healthy
view the full question and answer

Stressed live oaks from Lakeway TX
August 19, 2013 - I have some Live Oaks who appear to be stressed (Ball Moss is becoming very prevalent on some of them) during the drought in Central TX. How often and how long should I water them? Thank you very much...
view the full question and answer

Tip Dieback on Lonicera sempervirens
August 14, 2013 - I have a Lonicera sempervirens (coral honeysuckle) vine in Virginia which does well early in the season, but then around July, the very tips of its shoots (just the last 1-2 inches) wither, turn black...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center