County Master Gardener program diagnoses plant problems, wins award

Home gardening is a perennial challenge, often done by passionate hobbyists dealing with disease, infestation, weeds, and heat, among many other issues.

A man looks through a microscope at some green leaves.
One of the trained plant diagnostic specialists in the Plant Clinic studies a sample sent in by a local gardener.

But the Spokane County Master Gardener’s Plant Clinic and Resource Center has an award-winning program staffed by volunteers that’s available to help answer any questions home gardeners may have about their plants.

Most of the volunteers are Master Gardeners, people who love growing plants and have taken classes to earn their distinction. But a few of the volunteers go to additional lengths and take special diagnostic training courses. Those specialists will be honored later this year at the International Master Gardener’s conference for winning first place in the Search for Excellence program, Community Service category.

“These volunteers give so much of themselves to this program,” said Tim Kohlhauff, WSU’s Spokane County Master Gardener coordinator. “They really want to be part of this and are incredibly motivated to give back and keep learning. It’s inspiring.”

The program, which celebrated its 10th year with the specialists last year, is available to answer questions from gardeners anywhere, not just those in Spokane County.

“We’ve gotten calls from Mexico,” said Kohlhauff, who is also a WSU Extension urban horticulturist. “The best compliment for us is that we get a lot of repeat customers. They come back because we’ve helped them with other problems in the past.”

A woman stands behind a desk looking down at plant cuttings brought in by a man standing on the other side of the desk.
A volunteer at the Spokane County Master Gardener’ Plant Clinic and Resource Center takes in a plant sample from a local gardener who needs help.

The Plant Clinic has about 160 active volunteers and 22 diagnostic specialists currently. The program is open six days a week from March 1 to Oct. 31, with the busiest season in the spring. They answer questions on plants ranging from ornamental flowers to garden veggies to home fruit trees and more, Kohlhauff said.

“We get dozens of phone calls and emails every week during the early growing season,” he said. “And our regular volunteers can handle most questions. But when they’re stumped, then they’ll reach out to the specialist in the office at that time. It’s a great system that really helps people grow better plants.”