Catherine W. Idzerda" />

New office hours available for horticultural help

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Catherine W. Idzerda
May 17, 2008
— Tomatoes got acne?

Trees got a rash?

Grass look like it’s spent the night mixing beer and Mad Dog 20/20?

You need horticultural help, and you need it now.

Fortunately, free, unbiased help is available.

Rotary Botanical Gardens and Rock County UW Extension are offering hort help “office hours” this summer.

Free plant, turf and tree advice always has been available from the extension, but horticulture educator Mike Maddox wants to reach more people.

“It’s very critical to connect with the public when you’re a public servant,” Maddox said. “It’s an important part of my job.”

That’s just what taxpayers like to hear. Especially if they’re taxpayers who plan to spend their economic stimulus checks at the garden center.

“We’re really trying to encourage people to come here or call with their questions,” Maddox said. “It’s researched-based information, and we’re not trying to sell them anything.”

People will get answers—and options.

Here’s an example: Some lawn- or tree-care companies tell homeowners they need to spray to treat that weird-looking stuff all over their trees.

But if that stuff is only anthracnose, it means it’s only aesthetically awful—but not fatal.

“Anthracnose is cosmetic, and you usually don’t need to treat for it,” Maddox said. “But if it is bothering the homeowner enough, I can tell them how to get rid of it.”

Sure, many folks will find it fun to play Stump the Master Gardener or Muddle the Maddox, but to get the most out of an office visit, consider these tips:

Plant identification

-- Submit the entire plant, if possible. Roots could be important for identification.

-- Of course, nobody expects you to drag in a whole shrub. For trees or shrubs, a branch with leaves attached is good. If the plant has flowers or fruit, bring those, too.

-- Bring plant, shrub or tree samples in a paper bag. Bring turf in foil. Do not water.

Insect identification

-- Preferably, insects should be alive and in a small jar or plastic container so they don’t get crushed. Carrying the live insect in your hands would make it difficult to drive.

-- Detailed information about where it was found helps, too.

Disease identification

-- For vegetables, annuals, perennials and other plants, submit the part of the plant with the symptoms and include part of the surrounding branch or area.

-- For woody plants, such as shrubs and tress, bring a branch—both the living and the dead parts—showing the symptoms.

-- Submit in plastic bags and do not water.

In some cases, Maddox and his minions might need to refer to a higher power: The UW-Madison’s diagnostic labs for plant diseases, turf or insects. Or they might suggest that a soil test is in order.

For those services, charges range from $15 to $25.

Five questions

Five most-frequently asked questions and their answers, paraphrased.

1. Why is my tree dead?

Um, more information is needed.

2. How do I prune my ______ (insert plant name here)?

Very carefully. It depends—when does it flower/set fruit?

3. What is this?

Answers vary.

4. Why are there brown spots on my lawn? Why is my grass dead?

Grubs. Lack of water. Wrong seed variety. Herbicide drift. Fertilizer issues.

5. How do I get rid of creeping Jenny/ creeping Charlie?

Good luck with that.

Five issues

Five garden issues a variety of UW Extension experts say we’ll have to deal with this summer:

1. Japanese beetles, right. As usual.

2. Emerald Ash borer, below. Is it here yet? How about now? Is it here now?

3. Powder mildew and anthracnose. Cool moist spring means lots of opportunities for these favorites.

4. Apple scab. Don’t pick at that!

5. Asian lady beetles and box elder bugs. They come back every year, so why should this year be different?

To learn more

If you can’t make it to “office hours” at Rotary Botanical Gardens, e-mail horticultural educator Mike Maddox at or call (608) 757-5696 and leave a detailed message and contact information.

A Master Gardener volunteer or the horticulture educator will return your call in two to four business days. Or you can make an appointment to see them.

They don’t make home visits.

Master Gardener volunteers also will be available most Saturdays at the Janesville and Beloit farmers markets.

To make the most out of your phone call or e-mail, be prepared to answer these questions:

Species: What kind of plant is it? Brown spots on an elm mean something different than brown spots on a maple.

Symptoms: Are the leaves brown? Are they wilting?

Signs: Are there deer tracks near the plant? Is there something that looks like dog vomit growing in the compost heap? Is there bug poop on the leaves?

Seasons: When did the problem start?

Spread: How is the problem distributed throughout the yard or on the plant? Did it start at the top and move down? Is it only affecting the roots?

Site: Is the plant in the sun or shade? Is it surrounded by decorative gravel or mulch?

Story: How did the problem progress?

Office hours

Horticultural office hours are from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. The “office” will be in the Rotary Botanical Gardens visitors center, 1455 Palmer Drive, Janesville.

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