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Garden advisers hold summer office hours

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 1, 2010
— A philosopher asks, “What is the meaning of life?”

A scientist asks, “What are the limits of our knowledge?”


A gardener asks, “What is eating my tomatoes?”


Fortunately, volunteers from the Rock Prairie Master Gardener program have answers and are happy to share them during special summer office hours at Rotary Botanical Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive.


These plant health advisors are equipped to take questions about everything from anthracnose to late blight, Japanese beetles to hydrangea headaches and weeds to watering.


They excel at identifying mystery plants: Is it a weed? A valuable native? Poison ivy?


Mike Maddox, horticulture educator for the gardens and UW Extension, developed the program.


“I’m not always available, and we wanted somebody to answer questions,” he said. “This has allowed us to broaden our services to the public.”


So, what are the limits of their knowledge? All master gardeners undergo 60 hours of basic training. Plant health advisors participate in additional course work.


If an advisor isn’t sure how to answer a question, it gets passed on to Maddox—who is considered the guru of all things green.


“The ‘stumped’ stuff goes on his desk,” said Barb Converse, a third-year plant advisor.


If Maddox is stumped, he sends the question to professional horticulture educators around the state.


If they’re stumped it’s on to UW-Madison.


“Just this past week somebody brought in a pear tree with what looked like black smut (a fungal disease),” Maddox said. “I delivered it to Brian Hudelson at the disease lab (at UW-Madison). It was actually the result of spider mite feeding.”


The homeowner was happy; he was about to pay for disease control when what he actually had was an insect problem.


This year’s plant problems have included the usual variety of issues—bugs, tree problems, late blight, Converse said.


Often, the UW Extension has a “help sheet” that thoroughly covers the problem.


“This year we’ve had a lot of identification questions,” Converse said. “People are taking a lot more interest in what’s out there. They want to know what a plant is—native, weed or invasive.”


Converse recommends Freckmann’s Herbarium website, wisplants.uwsp.edu.


“For plant identification, it’s really helpful if people bring in the whole plant—the root system, flower, fruit—everything,” she said.


For other kinds of garden problems, walk-in customers should be prepared to answer questions about the history of the problem—the who, what, when, where and how. People are encouraged to bring as much of a sample as they can.


As for that first question at the beginning of this story, just try a warm tomato fresh off the vine. You’ll have your answer.


For more information

Plant advisors will host office hours at Rotary Botanical Gardens, 1455 Palmer Drive, until Labor Day. Walk-in questions are welcome.


Hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and from 5 p.m. to close Tuesdays.


Question also can be submitted by calling (608) 752-3885, Ext. 16, or by visiting fyi.uwex.edu/rockhort. Calls will be returned in two to three days.

Mike Maddox, horticulture educator for Rotary Botanical Gardens and UW Extension, also will host office hours at these locations: throughout the Arrowhead Library System. Those times will start at


-- Hedberg Public Library, 216 S. Main St., Janesville, at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays, July 15 and Oct. 14.


-- Edgerton Public Library, 101 Albion St., Edgerton, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19.


-- Beloit Public Library, 605 Eclipse Blvd., Beloit, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 26.



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