This article by Brenda Harvieux originally appeared in the March/April 2019 issue of Northern Gardener.
Master gardeners in Anoka County offer plant and insect diagnostic clinics at the Bunker Hills Activities Center in Andover. On Wednesday evenings, June through August, they answer common horticulture questions and assess samples for community members, who need help identifying plants—often weeds—and tree-related diseases and pests. “New homeowners often need help figuring out what plants they’ve inherited, and everyone wants to know what’s eating their plants,” says Lynne Hagen, Anoka County Master Gardener program coordinator.
People ask what they can spray to fix the problem. If it requires treatment, the master gardeners explain the best timing to minimize the effect on pollinators. Often treatment is unnecessary. “People don’t want to spray—they’re just glad to know that the problem won’t kill the plant,” says Lynne. “If they are concerned about a beloved tree or plant, and we tell them that they don’t need to worry, it’s a huge relief.”
During the clinics, volunteers pair up to ensure they are able to diagnose plant problems correctly. They have a cart of resources to reference as well as some cool technology, including a digital stereoscope, an optical microscope designed for low magnification observation of a sample. “It’s incredible to show clients the spider mites running around on the screen, the insects and fungal spores,” says Lynne. Clients are allowed to submit two to three samples per visit.
Of course, the master gardeners come across challenges, in which case they research it further after the clinic and consult with University of Minnesota Extension educators and industry professionals to help diagnose plant problems.
“We really get our nerd on when we get a strange sample!” says Lynne.