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Master gardeners are available to answer your plant, soil and insect questions.

Penn State Extension in Lancaster County has reopened its Garden Hotline for office visits and sample drop-offs.

During the COVID-19 office closure, master gardeners worked from home, answering garden questions from Lancaster County residents via email. Now, with advance notice, you can bring in a sample and consult with our hotline in person. Whether you’re new to the Garden Hotline or a “regular,” here are a few of our frequently asked questions to help you prepare for your visit.

What can you tell from a plant sample?

Diagnosing plant problems does not exactly work like “CSI.” The master gardeners will need answers to a series of questions, including where the plant is situated and how long it has shown symptoms. The sample should include both the healthy and “sick” parts of the plant. It’s important to call the office before bringing in your sample to ensure that someone will see it while it is fresh. If appropriate, the hotline may send your sample on to the Plant Disease Clinic at Penn State.

What about insects and other “creepy crawlies”?

Identifying insects is often the key to controlling them. A high-quality photo may be enough, but you can also bring us samples in a container with a tight lid. As with plants, the hotline will ask questions about where and when you found the insect. If we cannot immediately identify it, we may send it on to the Insect Identification Lab at Penn State. One exception — we cannot identify ticks for medical purposes. For tick ID, we recommend ticklab.org.

What types of questions are master gardeners getting the most of this summer?

— Due to frequent 90-degree temperatures over the past few weeks, many residents are seeing trees dropping leaves and outdoor plants wilting. Plants will probably recover, but may need supplemental water, especially if they do not appear to recover at night. A long soak is much more beneficial than a daily spritz with the hose.

— Many residents are noticing scale insects on shrubs. These may resemble tiny cotton balls or small hard discs. Treatment depends on the type of scale, so identification from good photos or a sample is important.

What is the Garden Hotline’s best advice for gardeners?

Right plant, right place! Many of the problems master gardeners see are due to conditions such as too much or too little moisture, inappropriate light conditions, insufficient space, planting too deeply, choosing plants from outside our hardiness zone — in other words, human error. These conditions make plants more susceptible to diseases and pests. We also often recommend a Penn State soil test, which provide specific fertilizer and pH recommendations for your garden.

Soil tests can be purchased for $9 at the Penn State Extension office.

Penn State Extension — Lancaster County is located in the Farm and Home Center, 1383 Arcadia Road. Please call before coming in to visit our Garden Hotline: 717-394-6851. Emailing us questions and photos is also still great option; you can reach us at LancasterMG@psu.edu.

Lois Miklas is an area coordinator, for several counties including Lancaster, for the Penn State Extension Master Gardener program.

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