Solving Your Gardening Problems
When you phone us...
“OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer. How may I help you?”
This is the beginning of every interaction that the Master Gardener Phone Clinics have with people seeking help with gardening issues. The master gardener in the office is usually poised over a piece of paper, pencil in hand, to make notes about the call. As the caller describes their problem, the master gardener begins to make notes. If the office isn’t busy, another volunteer may be looking over their shoulder, ready to grab a reference book that might help. If they are lucky, the master gardeners in the office may be able to provide an answer immediately. It feels good to have pulled the answer out of the many books surrounding them while the caller is still on the line.
Often, however, the volunteer master gardener will ask clarifying questions, looking for more details that will help separate one possible problem from another. The caller may not know the answer, and promise to call back or email further details. In many cases, the additional information will arrive after the volunteer who initially answered the phone has left. Fortunately, the phone clinics have a rigorous method for documenting ongoing problem-solving sessions. The master gardener who takes the follow-up call can usually put their finger on the initial write-up quickly, and more information is added. This may well lead to a request for yet more information, or often, a request for a photograph. The widespread availability of smartphones has made this process much easier.
Finally the group of master gardeners looking at this problem come to at least a preliminary conclusion. There might be a another question or two of the caller to verify the result. In the case of difficult problems, the master gardeners at the phone clinic may refer the problem to a group of experts who are available for consultation. Before long - usually within 24-48 hours of the original question, one of the master gardeners writes up the answer and has another double check it. The answer then goes to the caller, and the caller can be sure the answer is research-based and accurate.
Sometimes it is easier. There are some issues that come to the clinics often enough that the master gardeners on duty can quickly reach for an existing write-up to short-circuit the process. You can view some of those answers in Seasonal Gardening Problems section of this website.
Whether your question is in this list or not, know that there are master gardeners sitting by the phone, waiting to tackle your problem. Whether they grab for an existing answer, or refer the issue all the way to the experts, you’ll get an answer you can trust.
Bring in a Sample?
"It was a huge, tiny little thing with either 6 or 8 legs. I couldn't see underneath, and didn't want to get too close. It didn't have any hair, was brownish, blackish, and fuzzy. What was it?"
We encourage you to call, email, or visit us with your gardening problems, but there are things you can do ahead of time to improve your chances of a solution.
Whatever your initial viewpoint of the problem is, take a wider look at it. Be ready to describe the surroundings. Notice sun/shade patterns, notice other plants in the vicinity, and their state of health. Recall recent weather events as well as gardening activities such as fertilizing. Also take a closer look. If you have a hand lens, inspect it as closely as is reasonable. One of the first steps in dealing with a problem is to identify the characters, and often plant and animal identification hinges on small details.
A very useful thing you can do is to provide one or more pictures. Be sure to have a general (wider) picture to establish context, as well as any close-ups you can capture. These can be emailed along with the description of your problem.
There is one thing better than pictures, and that is the actual plant or bug that is the focus of your problem. This does require you to first collect the plant or bug in an appropriate manner, and then transport it to the clinic. The clinic office has a downloadable file which contains recommendations for collecting and transporting your specimen. You can download that file here, and be ready with the answers the Master Gardeners will need.
Contacting the Master Gardener Clinic
You can call the Multnomah County Master Gardener helpline, send us an email, or visit the office:
Address: 2701 NW Vaughn St. Suite 450 Portland, OR 97210
Hours: 11AM - 1PM Monday - Friday (October 2014 - February 2015)
In February, our hours will resume to 10am - 2pm