Hotline reopens as resource for horticultural inquiries

Published 8:18 pm Friday, April 1, 2016

The Beaufort County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners Hotline has reopened for area consumers to use as a free resource for gardening and landscaping inquiries.

Not only does the hotline provide the community with fact-based, research-minded answers to any horticultural questions, it also facilitates a continuing education component, of sorts, for the Extension’s Master Gardeners, according to Gene Fox, consumer horticulture agent at the Extension.

Fox said while he and his team of Master Gardeners, which help him field calls and answer questions from consumers and homeowners, don’t know the answer to every question asked, they have access to a wealth of information and knowledge. But to deliver the right answer, it may take some time.

“Don’t expect to get an answer you’re looking for right away,” Fox said. “Even with me, if I don’t absolutely know something, I will look it up and get the right information. You want to make sure you’re getting the right information to solve the problem. Someone asks a question we may not know, and we research it, and we learn as we’re helping the community,” Fox said.

The reopening of the hotline is consistent with many residents getting back out into their gardens and starting up lawn care, as spring has arrived and is in full swing. In some cases, homeowners are spending significant amounts of money — upwards of $20,000 — on landscaping, making the hotline a valuable guide in diagnosing any issues that may arise in such an expensive project, Fox said.

However, the hotline is not just focused on landscaping nor are the questions received through it primarily based on providing an insurance policy, of sorts, on landscaping project. Many inquiries are centered around gardening and ornamental plant questions, and in some cases, those questions are in an effort to save a plant of sentimental value, according to Fox.

“For instance, I had a call the other day, in which a lady said, ‘I’ve got 50-year-old camellias. My husband planted them when we got married, and it’s the only thing I have to remember him by.’ (The hotline) is not just about an aesthetic value, not just a monetary value — if you have something you’re attached to, there are also sentimental values. That’s something we run into all the time.”

According to 14-year Master Gardener Judy Keohane, the hotline’s peak period is from June to September, on average. In 2014, the hotline received around 125 calls during that period, with around 20 calls per month.

“This time of year, with the nice weather, we are busy. People want to get into their gardens,” Keohane said. “We anticipate a lot of calls.”

The hotline is open Mondays and Wednesdays, from 10 a.m. to noon, but those slots of time are not the only opportunities to have questions answered, according to Keohane. The Master Gardeners set up a booth at Washington Harbor District Alliance’s Saturday Market in downtown Washington each Saturday. The booth is manned by a small group of Master Gardeners, who are available to answer questions.

Fox said those that have specific questions would be better served by bringing in a photograph or sample of the plant in question, whether it is a disease, insect or other issue that is believed to be affecting it.

The Beaufort County Cooperative Extension is located at 155-A Airport Road in Washington. For more information or inquiries, call 252-946-0111.