Rodale Press without a doubt has published some of the most practical and valuable gardening guides available. Rodale Press does, however, have a definite bias towards organic gardening. You will probably never find a Rodale book that recommends using an insecticide to solve a problem. What you will find are books that are well designed, easy to use, and jam packed with practical information to help you diagnose your plant problem (and no, we don't own stock in Rodale Press). Rodale's Garden Problem Solver series is an excellent example of the Rodale Press commitment to quality gardening guides.
Since diagnosis is the hardest part of plant problem solving, and the one that gives home gardeners the most trouble, even those of you who are not organically oriented will benefit from the Garden Problem Solver guides. A word of warning: these are not cheap books (they run about $28.00 apiece) but they are hardback books and printed on acid-free (longer lasting) recycled paper.
Unfortunately, the major drawback of the Garden Problem Solver series is that it is not region specific. For example, the book on fruits and vegetables includes a description of apple scab, a fungal disease that attacks apple and pears but one that has never been found on apples in southern Arizona. To get around this problem, when individual diseases are discussed, the authors usually list the general areas of the country that are most likely to have a particular problem as well as the environmental conditions under which the disease thrives.
The first book in the three part Garden Problem Solver series, Rodale's Landscape Problem Solver. A Plant by Plant Guide (Jeff and Liz Ball. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1989), has chapters on the common problems affecting trees, shrubs, roses, ground covers, vines, and lawns. The authors cover broad classes of plants (for example discussing problems that affect all willows rather than a specific kind of willow) and include a general description of the plant, its light, soil, fertilizer, pruning and water requirements, as well as planting and propagation. All information is short and to the point, but the book covers only 12 trees. Half of which are not recommended for Cochise County. It is still valuable for coverage of shrubs, roses, lawns, and ground covers, if not trees.
The most useful part of the Landscape Problem Solver is the discussion of common insects and diseases that follows each plant description. These are grouped by visual signs such as "plant fails to bloom well" or "dark blotches on leaves, leaves covered with webs" and gives additional diagnostic signs as well as the recommended organic treatment. Once you have diagnosed the problem, you can turn to chapters 6 and 7 for more detailed information of specific insect and animal pests (including when to look for them) and to chapter 8 for ways to prevent disease.
The book closes with a discussion of landscape management including improving soils, watering, nutritional imbalances, mulching, winterizing, and weed control. All of this information is available more completely elsewhere, for example in the Sunset Western Garden Book where it is written especially for desert gardeners. Each of the books in the Garden Problem Solver series includes an extensive list of garden suppliers, a recommended reading list, a copy of the U.S.D.A. hardiness zone map, and an excellent index.
The remaining books in the series are Rodale's garden Problem Solver: Vegetables, Fruits, and Herbs (Jeff Ball, Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press. 1988) and Rodale's Flower Garden Problem Solver: Annuals, Perennials, Bulbs and Roses (Jeff and Liz Ball. Emmaus, Pa: Rodale Press, 1990). Of the three books, the guide to vegetables, fruits and herbs is probably the most useful since it covers many of the edible plants grown in Cochise County. That format is similar - discussion of specific plants followed by their requirements and common insect and disease problems, but the vegetables guide discusses specific diseases in greater depth and is an excellent general guide to edible gardening.
A second major drawback to the Garden Problem Solver guides is the absence of color photographs. Although it is much easier to match a problem to a photograph than to a written description, all of the depictions of plants and plant problems are line drawings. The decision not to include color photographs was probably an economical one: color photographs would have added substantially to the price which is already high at $28 each.