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Your Friend the Extension Agent

Your Friend the Extension Agent

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You've got a friend. You may not know his or her name, but you pay their salary with your taxes. (See, taxes ARE good for something!) I am referring to your friendly Agricultural Extension Agent. Every state in the US, as well as territories like Puerto Rico and Guam, has specialists in your specific area who are just waiting for you to call and ask for advice about any aspect of agriculture. These are the folk who set up 4H Clubs, etc, but in today's world of urban-suburban living a lot of the resources go into garden advice. That's right. You have expert advisers in your area that you can ask your specific question about your specific garden. And it is free!

This is an absolutely terrific service and, unfortunately, most people do not know about it or do not take advantage of it. These people are experts in your particular climate, often working out of your state university or agricultural college. They know your soils and your weather. They know which lawn grasses are best for you and what problems they may have and how to take care of them. And they are not trying to sell you anything. They are your friend.

How to Find Your Local Extension Agent

Find your local Agricultural Extension Agent with this web site, write down the phone number, and put it somewhere that you can find it when needed: Local Extension Offices.

Sometimes, even with this website, it is just not easy find the right person. It may take a bit of footwork (or browser work) but a few mouse clicks and phone calls should eventually give you that precious phone number of your agent. When calling ask for the Extension Agent for gardening advice for your county.

Some states have their own Extension website. If you are having a hard time finding what you want, try putting "garden" or "gardening" in their on-site search.

Another possibility is to look for the Master Gardener Program. This consists of volunteers who have been trained to answer your questions. Again, it is a free service and works together with the Extension Service. Find your Master Gardener with this custom search:

How to Ask Your Question

Do your homework first and be as informed as possible before asking your question. Get clear exactly what your question is and what kind of answer you are looking for. For example, do you want a lawn recommendation of which kind of grass to plant? If so, get your facts ready. Is it for sun, shade, or in between? Is your soil sandy and well drained or clay and wet? Will the lawn be for rough play or for show with very little traffic? All this type of background will help you get an answer tailored for you.

There are other services your agricultural agent can help with. Perhaps you want a soil test. Your agent can tell you how to take a sample for accurate results and also where to send it. (There may be a charge for the lab work of soil analysis, but it is well worth the cost.)

Perhaps you have a pest problem. Your agent can help with identifying and even with guidelines for solving the problem. Sometimes they may even come out to examine the problem in the field.

Your Agricultural Extension Agent or Master Gardener Program do not take the place of your local nurseryman or your favorite on-line garden advice column (that's me!), but they are a wonderful resource for your special, local conditions and can provide a service that you should take advantage of. Do not abuse this service, but definitely be ready to call when you need to. It can really make a difference in helping you to garden better.

Tips and Tricks

Winter is a great time to get your tools in shape. A light sanding with emery cloth can get rid of rust spots. A light coating of oil will protect from future corrosion. Take an inventory. Are you missing a shovel or a spading fork? Winter is a great time to buy them because when spring comes, you want to be gardening, not looking around for a tool or taking the time to go out and buy one. Don't forget work gloves and a hat for protection from the sun.

Borderline Climate Zones

There always seems to be a tendency to try growing plants that are just not quite hardy in our zone. Be careful of cold clear cloudless nights. The temperature can drop to the point of damaging or worse. When hard frosts threaten, move the more tender potted plants under cover or near the house. Better yet, put them there at the beginning or winter until frost danger is over. If this seems like too much work, then simply grow plants suited to your climate zone and... no worry.

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