October 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // 5TOT4

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Master Gardener Phone Response Manual

A phone response manual has been developed to permit rapid response by master gardeners to the residents of Delaware on horticultural concerns. The 390 page manual took five years to complete with 1,250 volunteer hours and 100 hours of Delaware Cooperative Extension professional time expended. Its five sections cover ornamentals, lawns, vegetables, fruit, and landscape and buildings. Each loose-leaf page is a single entry which is in short phrase form describing the problem and providing control(s). Cultural information has also been included.

Don Patterson
Master Gardener
Delaware Cooperative Extension
New Castle County
Newark, Delaware
Internet address: 74072.510@compuserve.com

In late 1989 a proposal to set-up a Phone Response Team (PRT) was made to, and jointly approved by Delaware Cooperative Extension (CE) and the New Castle County, Delaware Master Gardeners (MG) Steering Committee. The purpose of this MG team was to provide callers with the most current, accurate and consistent information on a broad range of horticultural problems as expeditiously as possible.

A phone response manual was a key ingredient in this proposal. Its development was essential so that MG team members could: (a) provide consistent information to callers on a wide range of horticultural questions, (b) have an easily accessible resource on horticultural matters, (c) be able to provide CE approved information to residents, and (d) have an approved reference source for improving and broadening skill levels needed for rapid response communication.

The manual was to be divided into five sections for organizational purposes and to facilitate finding specific entries quickly. These sections are: Ornamentals, Lawns, Vegetables, Fruit, and Landscape and Buildings. Each section was to have a table of contents by host and its also cross-referenced by disease or insect.

A draft of the ornamental section was prepared in mid-1990. The material was organized into short statements for easy scanning. This section was reviewed and approved by CE. With the approval of this draft section, the other sections were prepared and subsequently approved.

In the completed manual, each section includes entries that cover disease and insect concerns as well as cultural recommendations. Each entry within a section is on a loose-leaf sheet for easy reference and change out. A disease or insect entry includes the following information:

    Host (i.e., tree, shrub, plant)--common name (genus)
  • Specific disease or insect
  • Effects on host(s) (i.e., spots on leaves, flagging)
  • Environmental conditions conducive to infection or infestation
  • Control:
    • chemical or non-chemical control(s)
    • timing of application
    • environmental (i.e., rake-up infected leaves and destroy or compost)

Cultural information and recommendations are also provided on topics such as bulb storage, pruning, planting, transplanting, fertilizing, nuisance animals, new lawn installation, grass cutting heights, weed control, how to select a tree service company or a pest control operator.

Each entry includes a notation of the season(s) in which a disease or insect is active. An entry also includes the references used in its preparation. A total of 97 references were used in the preparation of the manual. These references are listed numerically in a companion reference manual which provides additional detailed in-depth information on the topics covered in the phone manual. These reference sources include information from Delaware CE, USDA bulletins and pamphlets, Maryland CE, Pennsylvania State CE, University of Delaware, and Delaware Department of Agriculture.

Some commonly used reference books and manuals are also listed using a letter code designation with applicable page numbers. They include: "The Ortho Problem Solver," 1989 edition; "Diseases of Trees and Shrubs, 2nd edition," by Sinclair, Lyons, and Johnson; "Insects That Feed on Trees and Shrubs, 2nd edition," by Lyons and Johnson; "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 4th edition," by Dirr.

The landscape and buildings section is primarily devoted to insects which invade the home or pose a problem in the surrounding landscape. Typical examples include cockroaches, termites, ants, and ticks. Cultural topics such as composting, irrigation, nuisance animals, and poisonous plants are also contained in this section.

The manual is reviewed yearly by CE specialists to maintain correctness and relevance. Since registered pesticides and environmental laws can change anytime, the manual must be reviewed at least once yearly to maintain legal compliance. The rapidity of these changes make the manual even more essential to provide residents with current and accurate information.

The first complete edition of the manual was issued in 1991 and has been substantially improved in later editions. Sixty new entries were added in 1993 primarily in the ornamental and vegetable sections to broaden the geographical range of the manual to include all of Delaware. The 1995 edition totals 390 pages. Five years were invested in the evolution of this manual with 1,250 volunteer hours and 100 hours of CE time required for completion. Some 4,000 calls are handled by the phone response team each year utilizing this manual as its primary resource. Analysis of phone response operations from 1992 through 1994 showed that for every hour of CE involvement seven hours is volunteered. A good return for CE's investment is training and back-up.

This manual was not developed to compete with the many books available on horticultural problems. It fills a very specific need, that is, to provide a user-friendly resource for rapid and accurate phone response to residents on regional horticultural concerns. Our next evolution will be to computerize the manual to make it even more accessible.