Thursday, April 11, 2013

Master Gardener Hotline Volunteers Answer Public Questions for the Love of Gardening

Written Jeanne Duffey, Master Gardeners of Greene County

“What can be more fun than talking to gardeners about gardening?,” says Anise Butler, one of dozens of trained and certified volunteers who staff the Master Gardeners of Greene County Hotline. The Hotline crew answered about 2,000 questions from home gardeners last year, and is now into the second month of the new fulltime season, staffing the phone and office from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, March through October.

During the off-season, the Hotline is available on a part-time basis. In addition to help given over the phone, the public can e-mail Or stop by the Hotline office in the west end of the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center located in Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park, 2400 S. Scenic Ave., to bring in a diseased branch, leaf or a pest for identification. The phone number is 417-881-8909, ext. 320.

There is no charge for this service provided by Master Gardeners of Greene County, one of the few chapters in the state to host a hotline.

“Problems can be as simple as one gentleman’s who has tried growing vegetables from seeds, whose plants germinate well, but after a few weeks, dwindle and die,” said another Hotline volunteer, Fred Hamburg. “He did not realize that seed-starting media does not contain nutrients and that he should fertilize when the plant has its first set of true leaves.”

Hamburg adds that some questions “can be much more difficult and require research to answer appropriately. These questions always increase my knowledge, so are beneficial to me as well as the caller.”

Hotline volunteer Karen McDonald enjoys “interacting with some of the interesting personalities of callers who are often involved in unique projects. I often feel that I learn as much as they do from answering their questions. Helping solve their problems or identify bugs or plants is rewarding.”

Pat Swackhammer says she learns so much more than the people who call: “By the time I research their questions, I have been exposed to a wealth of information that I am more apt to retain.” Another Hotline volunteer, Ken Turner, agrees: “The best thing I like about working the Hotline is that you learn a lot. There are so many different types of questions, and, after you do your research, you tend to learn about something you didn’t have a clue about.”

The Master Gardener Hotline is recognized as a designated representative of the Botanical Center with the Sentinel Plant Network, a USDA-sponsored collaboration of the American Public Gardens Association and the National Plant Diagnostic Network. The Hotline is one of three core projects of the Master Gardeners of Greene County chapter. The other two are demonstration gardens in Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park and on National Avenue south of Sunshine Street. For more information, go to


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