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Thursday, May 18, 2006 02:32 pm

Find the answer

Remember: Plants can’t tell you what ails ’em

At this time of year, gardeners are full of questions: When can I prune my lilac bush? What can I do to get rid of these weeds? I found this bug — what is it? Will it ever warm up so my tomatoes will grow? But even though garden information is everywhere — books, magazines, television, the Internet — each of our gardens has a unique set of growing conditions, and that’s why it’s important to get gardening advice from local sources. Searching the Internet will net you thousands of answers, but not all of the information will be appropriate for central Illinois. Local gardeners have several places where they can get questions answered. Many local nurseries have well-qualified individuals who will answer plant questions. Another option is to call or visit your local University of Illinois Extension office. Most county extension offices have a master-gardener program. Master gardeners are volunteers who have successfully completed diversified training in insects, diseases, trees, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, flowers, lawns, and houseplants. The Sangamon-Menard Extension Unit has an excellent group of master-gardener volunteers who enjoy the challenges of diagnosing plant diseases, identifying plants and six-legged creatures, explaining proper pruning procedures, and giving general gardening advice. Master gardeners may not know the answer to every question, but they’re ready, willing, and able to find the answer when they’re stumped. When trying to diagnose a problem with a sick plant, be prepared to play “20 Questions.” It is important to know the plant’s name (preferably the scientific nomenclature), when was it planted, where is it planted, light and soil conditions, and how much water the plant receives. Knowing the progression of the problem is also important — did the damage occur bottom to top, top to bottom, or all over the plant? Are other plants affected by the same problem? Pay close attention to your plants, noting slight changes before they become big problems. Remember, unlike people, plants cannot tell us what ails them. Gardeners may call the local extension office, bring samples to the office, or send photos. The University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard office is just a phone call (217-782-4617), click ( or short drive (Illinois State Fairgrounds) away. If your master gardener is stumped by a plant problem, consider sending a plant sample to the University of Illinois Plant Clinic. The clinic accepts samples, along with a detailed description of problems or symptoms and growing conditions, May 1 through Sept. 15. A fee of $12.50 covers most diagnoses. For more information or to get a clinic form, visit If you are a do-it-yourselfer, check out gardening information on the University of Illinois Extension Horticulture Corner Web site, Don’t let gardening questions continue to bug you or take information from inappropriate sources — get answers from a reliable, local research-based source.
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