Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners

Arboretum Master Gardener

The New Hanover County Master Gardener Volunteer Association has more than 300 members who volunteer thousands of hours each year, providing information to the community and helping make the Arboretum gardens beautiful.

Master Gardeners answer questions in the Plant Clinic and on the clinic's hotline; help maintain the demonstration gardens by planting, weeding, mulching and pruning; and hold major plant sales that help fund educational projects at the Arboretum. The association also has monthly meetings with educational speakers.

The Plant Clinic provides accurate, research-based information to consumers on topics including how to select the right plants for your site, how to identify weeds, insects, and plant diseases, and how to avoid the overuse of garden chemicals. In 2019 the Plant Clinic served more than 8,000 people.

The clinic's office is housed in the Hutaff Building of the Arboretum and is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm. Master Gardeners also provide seasonal plant clinics at Tidalcreek Farmers Market, 5329 Oleander Drive Number 100, Wilmington, NC 28403.

Plant Problems

The challenge in diagnosing plant problems is getting enough critical information to understand what is going on. Problem identification over the phone is generally unreliable. Getting an adequate sample to the Plant Clinic is important.

Here are some guidelines that will help with proper identification. If you can't follow all of them, bring in what you can and we will try our best to help you!

General Recommendations

  • Collect fresh samples - it is hard to impossible to diagnose a dead or dried-up plant
  • Bring in as much of the plant as possible with material showing all stages of disease (sick to healthy)
  • Provide plant history information, i.e., soil type, irrigation, sunlight, fertilization, and recent environmental changes
  • Photos can help, of the overall plant as well as close-ups of healthy / problem areas

Turf Problem Diagnosis

Bring in a 1-foot by 1-foot sample of diseased or damaged turf with roots that includes a transition area into healthy turf. The transition area may show active pest infestation, and a comparison of unhealthy turf with healthy turf can help in the diagnosis.

Turf and Weedy Grass Identification: Bring in the entire plant including seed heads if possible.

Insect Identification

Bring in live insects (not squished or dried, it may be beneficial and you will want to return it to your garden). If possible, bring in part of the plant with the insects on it.

Soil Samples

Collect about 1 ¼ cups of dry soil for testing. Drop by the clinic for soil sample boxes and instructions, or call for details. The peak season soil test fee is $4 from Mid-November to March. Soil testing is free from April 1 to Mid-November. Soil Sample for Nematodes is $3 - call the clinic for details.

Weed Identification

Herbaceous plants: Bring in fresh weeds (not dried up). Include as much as possible: roots, stems, leaves, and flowers if blooming. Keep plants hydrated - wet paper towels in a bag works well. If you think it may be poisonous, put it in a clear plastic bag.

Woody Plants: Bring in a branch with leaves, and flowers if blooming. Photos can help: the entire plant, close-ups, flowers and fruit.

Plant Diseases: Collect plants in various stages of disease, including healthy samples. Pictures of overall plants and close up of areas can be useful if it is hard to bring in a sample. For smaller herbaceous plants, bringing in the entire plant including roots (dug out, not pulled out) can help identify all potential problems.

When diagnosing plant problems, the culprit often is very elusive and it requires a good detective who can understand all the factors that might be affecting the plant negatively. Things such as watering practices, pesticides and herbicides used in the area, construction activity or other changes in the area (like the removal of a nearby tree) can affect the health of a plant. When the Master Gardeners ask a seemingly endless series of questions, they are doing their best to ensure that the problem is diagnosed properly. The last thing you want is to apply a treatment for the wrong problem. Once the Master Gardeners have a handle on what the problem is, they can compile a variety of alternative treatments from the Plant Clinic reference library and pass this information back to you.

Classes for those who want to become Master Gardeners are conducted each year in February and March. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, contact the Plant Clinic or Danyce Dicks to be put on a list for future classes.