Increasing Confidence in Diagnosing Plant Problems with Diagnostic Updates

Thursday, July 25, 2013: 8:00 AM
Desert Salon 9-10 (Desert Springs J.W Marriott Resort )
Pamela J. Bennett , Ohio State University Extension, Ohio State University Extension, Springfield, OH
James C. Chatfield , Ohio State University Extension, Wooster, OH
Extension offices around the country utilize Master Gardener Volunteers to assist clientele in diagnosing plant problems.  One of the challenges for these volunteers is the lack of training and confidence when it comes to identifying plant problems.  A 2009 survey by the North Central Consumer Integrated Pest Management working group showed that Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) responses indicated that their confidence level in identifying and diagnosing plant problems needed improvement.  More than 72% of the respondents noted that face-to-face training would be very helpful.  With this in mind, Extension Educators and Specialists developed a Diagnostic Update for MGVs and presented this program in five areas of the state with the goal of raising participant's confidence level in the area of diagnosing plant problems. This program was modeled after a successful program for the green industry that has been presented yearly since the early 1990's. The format is a morning session of classes and presentations and an afternoon session of hands-on diagnostic training.  Live plant samples are displayed and participants are given time to attempt to answer the diagnostic question that ranges from identifying the plant to the actual pest problem.  After participants have an opportunity to go through the samples, they then have the opportunity to learn about each one as the educators go through the samples, identify the specific problem or answer the question, and tie the samples to the general diagnostic process.  As a result of these updates, MGV participants indicated an increase in their diagnostic skills.  For instance, 56% indicated that there were not confident at all prior to the class; this dropped to 24% indicating that they were not confident after the class.  There were 0.0% of the participants with lots of confidence prior to the class and 29% with lots of confidence after the class.  Ninety-four percent of the participants indicated that they strongly agreed or agreed that they would use the knowledge learned and 100% of the participants planned to put the knowledge gained into practice immediately, either on the County horticulture helpline or in their own gardening practices.   Additional skills learned as a result of these workshops include:  examine the entire specimen as there can be several things happening at the same time; pay attention to the history of the specimen; where to start the diagnostic process; diagnostics is an ongoing process; and ask more questions before making a diagnosis.