The Doctor is In
Take your droopy plants and ugly bugs to the Extension Service for a diagnosis
MOST ALL OF US KNOW WHAT TO DO for the common cold, scrape and burn. When we don’t know what to do about our ailments, or they have gone on far too long, we haul ourselves to the local clinic or doctor.
You can do the same thing in Sandpoint for your sick plants or worrisome bugs. And, unlike a clinic or doctor, the service is free. Tucked behind the Idaho Extension building, in the little house that sits to the right of the Bonner County Fairgrounds is a plant clinic. They will even let you through the front door. It is tongue-in-cheek when I say the clinic is staffed by doctors, nurses and medical aides, but it is close to the fact. You can bring in your ill plant or predacious bug and the staff at the clinic will not only diagnose the illness, they will prescribe you several cures, both chemical and natural. You get to decide what is best for you and your plants. Not only do they treat garden plants, they will also advise you on houseplants.
While I was working as an Aide Thursday last we identified a “bee” that seemed to be all over the dandelions in one Clark Fork resident’s yard. With actual trapped “bees” we started looking carefully at our patient. He had four distinct stripes on his belly, a tiny “waist” and a funny round head. While the Nurse (Master Gardener) looked on the internet, one of the Aides looked though the volumes of bugs. It was decided that the bee was not a bee at all but a Syrphidae or Hoverfly. He was a beneficial fly busy pollinating everything he could and at the moment it was the dandelions in Clark Fork. After a careful diagnosis Mike Bauer (our resident ‘Doctor’) from the Extension Office confirmed the identification. The Clinic members then called the concerned resident with the good news.
While two of the Master Gardener team were diagnosing the Syrphidae fly a lovely woman came in with a box of her commercially purchased compost. She was sure a tiny bug had hatched inside and the compost wasn’t any good. With tweezers in hand one of the Master Gardeners spread the compost sample carefully across a blank sheet of paper. Nothing alive could be detected and what she thought might be an egg seemed rather to be a timed released fertilizer.
A third party brought in their purple Early Girl tomato plant. The plant appeared healthy with the exception of a light purple color streaming down the veins on its underside. This seemed to baffle the Master Gardeners and again, after careful questioning of the tomato’s “parent” it was discovered that although the tomato plant had not frozen it had gotten chilly. The diagnosis here was that the plant should recover once the weather heated up.
“If” your plant or bug problem is so unique that no one can diagnose it—it can be sent to the University of Idaho’s plant laboratory in Boise. They too will contact the owner about the eventual diagnosis and recommendations all without charge.
The man with the field of tansy did pose a good question. He wanted to get rid of the field, but he got a great deal of information that may help him make an informed decision on a method of control. Tansy has been used for centuries to repel flies and ants and for some medicinal applications. There is a commercial market for tansy. However tansy is also poisonous to humans, livestock and pets if ingested in sufficient quantities and is listed as an invasive species of plant. Some organic gardeners like tansy at the sides of the gardens as it attracts bugs that otherwise would be in the vegetables.
The Plant Clinic staff attempts to give you, the patrons, as much information as they can and the final decisions are left up to you.
Everyone is welcome and we’d love to see your curled leaves, your bugs and any suspicious creepy crawly that you have captured and hopefully zipped into a plastic bag.
The Clinic is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 am to 3:00 pm. Sometimes they close the front door for lunch from noon to 1 pm, but if you have called ahead someone may be available to help you even then. Their phone number is 208-263-8511.
And remember, this is a free service. You can’t get a better deal than free.
Photo: Master Gardener Gail Swan diagnosing a sick tomato. I’m happy to report the tomato recovered!