The mission of Cooperative Extension is "to extend non-formal educational opportunities to the citizens, both youth and adult, of Pennsylvania. Educational programs provide clientele with information and knowledge on alternative opportunities that
will enhance income-producing skills, improve quality of life, and develop leadership skills."
The Master Gardeners are a vital part of Cooperative Extension. We are the front line diagnosticians and gardening educators in the Penn State system. As Penn State Master Gardeners, our job is to share our knowledge about research based gardening and environmental practices to the community. As such, one of our largest program areas is our Garden HotLine. This program
gives residents an opportunity to ask gardening questions and learn unbiased information concerning their problem or question. Our Master Gardeners are in the Adams County Extension office on Mondays and Fridays from 10am Ė 2pm each week beginning in April and completing the season in October.
Samples and phone calls come in frequently. Over 100 inquiries came into our office this season. When it comes to culture of a plant or other general information, often times a phone call or email is all we need. However, if we are diagnosing a plant or insect problem or identifying a plant, samples are imperative so we can better answer your questions.
So what makes a good plant or insect sample? If it is a question of insects, live samples are best. Alternately, a preserved bug in alcohol, or one that has been frozen for several days is acceptable. Many times we have received smashed bugs or ones collected on tape, and unfortunately we are unable to identify the insect properly. Key identifying features may have to
do with the antennae, the hairs on the surface of the insect, the mouth parts, etc. Smashed bugs make it impossible for a proper identification. Information about the insect is also a huge help. Let us know where you found it, what it may have been feeding on, and how frequently you have seen it.
If itís an weed or plant identification, fresh plants are best with all plant parts. If it is a flowering plant and blooming at the time, be sure to bring in the flower as well as the leaves. If it is in seed, bring that in as well. Let us know where the sample was collected and what the growing environment is. The more information you can provide, the more accurate
your identification will be. Many times we have received samples that were in the car for the day before it was dropped off at our office. This causes the tissue of the plant to deteriorate, making it much more difficult to identify, or cause an improper identification.
When you have a plant problem, please bring a sample that is living that shows symptoms of the problem. A dead plant or plant part is just dead. Itís nearly impossible for an accurate diagnosis. The sample should have several leaves and stem. Just a leaf sample does not give us a good picture of what is happening with your plant. The location of the plant, where it is
growing and what the environment is like is key to properly diagnosing a plant problem. Any activity like construction, pruning, or transplanting should be shared with us so we get an overall vision of the plantís situation.
Turf grass problems are particularly difficult, as often times we just see grass blades. The best sample is to collect a few 4" x 4" squares throughout the affected area so we have a good overall idea of the symptoms. The sample should be brought into us immediately. The fresher the sample, the better the diagnosis will be.
Pictures of the problem are sometimes enough for a good diagnosis or identification. If that is your choice, be sure the pictures show an overall view of the problem, close up images of the symptoms, as well as pictures of the soil or mulch around the base of the plant.
If the Master Gardeners are unable to solve the problem, we will send the samples to Penn State University Diagnostic Lab. There is a $5.00 fee for us to send the sample, or we can give you instructions on collecting the sample and sending it to the university yourself. If we send it, we may ask you for a fresh sample, depending on the state of the sample at the time
This service is a free service provided by Penn State Extension, manned by the Master Gardeners. Be sure to utilize our diagnostic services so you can make the best choices for your plants and your environment.
Read other articles by Mary Ann Ryan