UD Cooperative Extension lawn and garden team gears up for spring

UD Cooperative Extension lawn and garden team gears up for springWith the arrival of spring, the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension Lawn and Garden Program is offering a variety of services to provide information and new research findings from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) to homeowners and industry in the state.

Carrie Murphy, Extension’s lawn and garden leader, said the program offers a wide range of services to help communities create landscapes that are both low maintenance and productive.

“The lawn and garden team provides education to professionals, homeowners, and communities to assist them in designing and maintaining productive, sustainable landscapes,” Murphy said. “We want to promote a balance between native plants that do well in this area and plants that are not native but still good choices for their landscapes.”

Lawn and garden team

Extension’s lawn and garden team is made up of seven primary members, each representing a specific need area — and in some cases crossing interest areas — to best address the needs of the Delaware community.

Dot Abbott, Extension’s renewable resources agent, does a great deal of work with wildlife habitat, backyard composting and urban/rural forest management. Abbott leads the Outdoor Woodland Classroom program, which is designed to get schools and communities outside to experience the natural environment. The 18-stop outdoor woodland classroom is located in Sussex County on the University’s Carvel campus, near Georgetown, but there are others throughout Delaware.

Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and an Extension specialist, is the sustainable landscapes leader and has done much work to develop roadside plantings to replace turf with more sustainable landscapes that promote diversity and utilize diverse plantings, shrubs, and perennials and meadow type plantings. Barton also teaches courses at UD that focus on sustainability and has worked on sustainable landscapes across the campus and on projects to rid it of certain invasive plant species.

Valann Budischak, Extension agent, provides extension programming for the nursery and landscape industry. She coordinates the Livable Lawns program with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) and the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT). She is the statewide Master Gardener coordinator and was instrumental in creating the first statewide training in the fall of 2015.

Budischak works with Barton to team up on various projects. She is the executive director of Delaware Nursery and Landscape Association (DNLA), which partners with Extension on many projects, including expositions and educational conferences. She’s also the education and volunteer coordinator for the UD Botanic Gardens.

Nancy Gregory, Extension agent, works with Brian Kunkel, ornamentals Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist, in the Plant Diagnostic Clinic and focuses on plant diseases, pests, environmental stress disorders, and mushroom and weed identification. Kunkel’s focus is insects and he offers home gardeners and industry professionals IPM education. Kunkel has cooperative research projects across the Mid-Atlantic region that address various nursery and landscape needs.

Gregory and Kunkel present up to date information in the weekly Ornamentals Hotline newsletter, in talks to growers and landscapers, and in training for Master Gardeners. Fact sheets are posted on the Extension website and updates made to the Hot Topics in Plant Health Blog.

Tracy Wootten, Extension agent, is located in Sussex County and, like Murphy, coordinates Master Gardener Volunteer Educators, and provides homeowner and green industry education, working with a more agrarian clientele.

“With the help of trained Master Gardener volunteer educators the lawn and garden team’s reach is extensive. We have a lot of information to share with the public to help them succeed in planting and maintaining their lawns and gardens.” said Murphy.

Lawn and garden services

In addition to training Master Gardeners, volunteer educators and experienced gardeners who provide home horticulture education, the Lawn and Garden Program offers home garden workshops throughout the year and a short course schedule for landscape professionals but is open to anyone who wants to participate.

Courses include everything from basic landscape design to pest walks. Many of the short courses also offer pesticide and nutrient management recertification credits for professionals who need continuing education credits.

There is a garden hotline at each of the county offices that people can call at any time to ask a question. Callers will receive a response that will direct them to what they need or provide them with an answer.

“To complement the garden line, we also have Ask an Expert, which is an on-line vehicle through Extension for asking questions. People can attach pictures; and, for example, if they are looking for identification, as long as it’s a quality picture, we can assist quickly,” said Murphy.

Soil testing and diagnostic program

The soil testing program allows farmers, homeowners and others engaged in soil management and land use the ability to analyze their soil which provides useful information on how best to manage their land. Soil tests can be purchased from each of the county offices, online and from garden centers and retailers in the counties.

The plant diagnostic clinic, run by Gregory and her team, allows for people to bring in plant samples to each of the county offices for disease or pest identification.

“We try to evaluate the samples and provide a diagnosis in the county office but if it’s something that we can’t handle we will get it to Nancy in the clinic and she’ll take a look at it and provide assistance,” said Murphy.

Livable Lawns

The Delaware Livable Lawns program is a project overseen by Barton and Budischak, backed by DNLA and other partners, that promotes good lawn establishment and maintenance and longer term management.

The Delaware Livable Lawns program website has information on appropriate times to seed or sod, and the appropriate times to fertilize. It also promotes soil testing for people to better understand their soil and how to make good decisions to fertilize or amend the soil.

“The goal of this initiative is to reduce fertilizer and pesticide runoff from lawns. By providing homeowners with the necessary information to apply the right product, in the correct quantities, at the ideal time, they will maintain a healthy, beautiful lawn and partner in protecting our environment,” said Budischak.

The program is connected to Livable Delaware, a series of publications that addresses invasive plants, native plants, good plant choices for landscapes, and good management techniques.

Vegetable gardening

The lawn and garden team also has demonstration gardens at each of the county offices that serve as classrooms where workshops and demonstrations are held. Everything in the gardens is labeled and people are free to walk around the gardens.

The group partners with food pantries and the Food Bank of Delaware to get the produce – such as blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers –  to people in need.

In addition, Wootten runs a program in Sussex County called “Garden Smart, Garden Easy,” which is about accessible gardening and provides people with tools and different ways to think about how to set a garden.

Home visits

Lastly, the Master Gardeners in New Castle County organize a program that will make house calls to residents in the county, a lot of times fielding calls from new homeowners who don’t know what plants they have and want help with identification. They also go out and provide design advice, and assist people who may be having problems where they are trying to plant.

“You can contact our office and request a home visit and Master Gardeners will try to accommodate the request,” said Murphy. More information for the program is on the New Castle County Master Gardener website. “It’s a popular program that we have to cut off most seasons. Last year the Master Gardeners visited 35 different home landscapes.”

The UD-Renewable Resources program also provides on-site visits to urban homeowners — including homeowner associations — for assistance with tree care concerns.

In addition, most of the lawn and garden team will be on hand at Ag Day.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.