Gardening Helpline Hits a Five-Year High

A basket full of colorful vegetables and fruit including zucchini, apples, strawberries, kale and carrots.

Since its start in 1991, the UVM Extension Master Gardener program has offered a Gardening Helpline, where trained volunteers respond to home and community gardening questions from Vermonters throughout the state.

Over the past few years, the helpline has pivoted from a telephone call-in service to going completely online during COVID-19, and in 2022, to a blended service. Vermonters can either call in or ask their questions online through Ask Extension (a national initiative created and maintained by the Extension Foundation).

A chart displaying the number of questions UVM Extension Master Gardeners received from Vermonters, from 2018 to 2022.It may come as no surprise that the blended service helpline responded to a record number of gardening questions in 2022: it served 1,069 Vermonters, a five-year high for the program!

The types of questions volunteers receive range the gamut of home and community-based landscape and gardening topics. During 2022, the top questions helpline volunteers addressed were about:

  1. Trees – 17 percent.
  2. Insect, weed and disease pests – 17 percent.
  3. Vegetables and berries – 15 percent.
  4. Ornamental plants – 15 percent.
  5. Soils and soil test report guidance – 12 percent.

Volunteers also responded to queries on insect and plant identification, lawn care and pollinators, and many other topics.

Using a replacement calculation approach, if the helpline services were terminated, it would cost the university $42,461 in faculty and staff time to respond to these questions. What an amazing contribution by Extension Master Gardener volunteers!

The plan is to continue the blended Gardening Helpline services in 2023. In fact, volunteers have already responded to four gardening questions during the first week of the new year.

Two UVM Extension Master Gardener volunteers are sitting at computers in an office and answering gardening questions.
UVM Extension Master Gardener volunteers Susan Stanne (l) and Gina Scafa (r) staff the Gardening Helpline phone-in service in Jeffords Hall during the 2022 gardening season. Photo credit: Lisa Chouinard.

Vermonters can ask their gardening questions and post photos of pests or diseases by visiting the helpline website. The call-in service will reopen on Thursday mornings starting April 6, and will accept online questions 24/7/365.

Appreciation goes to Drs. Ann Hazelrigg and Margaret Skinner for providing technical information to the helpline volunteers, as well as a very special thanks to Lisa Chouinard who supports the helpline and makes sure the volunteers have everything they need. The helpline is supported in part with funds from the USDA NIFA Crop Protection and Pest Management Program.

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