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Berks Master Gardeners Are Answering Questions Through Garden Hotline

by Penn State Extension

May 04, 2021

HAVE A GARDENING QUESTION? Master Gardeners in Berks County are available to answer residents’ questions on a variety of topics regarding their home gardens. Whether you have a question about the pest feeding on your tomato plant, want to know which peppers are best grown in pots for small spaces, or how to interpret soil test results, Master Gardeners are here to help.

You can reach our Garden Hotline team in a few different ways. As in the past, you can send a detailed description of your question to our Hotline email address ([email protected]). While we are unable to accept plant or pest specimens in-person at this time, with our offices remaining closed, you may attach two or three clear photos to help with diagnosis. Master Gardeners will retrieve your email and respond as soon as possible.

In addition to reaching our Master Gardeners by email, we are excited to continue offering real-time communication with our Master Gardeners through phone or video chat appointments. What are the benefits of these options? For phone calls, you can be sure that Master Gardeners are available to address your question at a specified time, when you know you will receive the personalized guidance you expect from our Penn State Extension Master Gardeners. With the video chat option, you can bring the Master Gardeners into your garden through the video feature on your cell phone or tablet. To learn how easy it is to video chat with one of our trained Master Gardeners, check out this quick video (

Currently, we are accepting phone and video chat appointments on Wednesdays between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. and between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Master Gardener Coordinator Natalie Marioni says “The Zoom appointment options are a terrific way for residents to get truly personalized guidance from our volunteers in a way that we hadn’t thought to explore before. While we can’t send volunteers to personal residences to evaluate what’s going on in someone’s garden, this is the next best thing. Sometimes seeing the whole plant or tree as well as the surrounding area helps the Master Gardeners best diagnose an issue. Some things are just hard to capture in a clear photo that video chatting would allow us to see.”

For those unfamiliar with our Garden Hotline, this was established to provide Berks County residents with home gardening guidance by Master Gardeners who receive advanced diagnostic training to address questions related to lawn care, landscape plants, houseplants, fruit and vegetables, herbs, and more. In addition to plant care, the hotline can advise on insect and disease issues, and can provide identification of unknown plants or insects. All advice is based on Integrated Pest Management strategies and environmentally-friendly approaches. Garden Hotline volunteers are trained to gather the necessary information to tailor advice to each individual situation.

Whether you decide to email, call, or video chat with a Master Gardener, here is some information that would be helpful to collect before reaching out:

  • What is the category of your problem or question? Is your question most related to a plant (vegetable, flower, bush, tree, etc.), insect, or something else?
  • What is the physical description of the affected plant or insect?
  • Describe the location of the problem: sunny/shady, near any structures, wet/dry area, how much sun does it get during the day, what else is growing around the area, type of soil (pH if known).
  • When did you first notice the problem? Did anything recently change in the affected area (i.e. fertilizer, chemical treatment, construction, landscaping, etc.)?
  • Is the problem limited to this plant or insect or are others affected?

Here are some helpful tips when taking photos to send to the Garden Hotline:

  • Take both closeup and whole plant photos.
  • Include a photo of your garden area. Being able to see what is around your affected plant could help inform the solution to your question.
  • Make sure photos are clear and in focus. If the photo is too bright or too dark, important details may not be discernable.

Any information you can gather ahead of time, following the tips above, will help our Master Gardeners diagnose and address your questions in the most efficient ways possible. To set up a phone or video appointment, please contact Dawn Knepp at 610-378-1327 or [email protected].

The Pennsylvania State University encourages qualified persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities. If you anticipate needing any type of accommodation or have questions about the physical access provided, please contact us at 610-378-1327 in advance of your participation or visit.

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