Master Gardeners


The New Hanover County Master Gardener Volunteer Association has more than 300 members who volunteer thousands of hours each year, providing information to the community and helping make the Arboretum gardens beautiful.

Master Gardeners answer questions in the Plant Clinic and on the clinic’s hotline; help maintain the demonstration gardens by planting, weeding, mulching and pruning; and hold major plant sales that help fund educational projects at the Arboretum. The association also has monthly meetings with educational speakers.

The Plant Clinic provides accurate, research-based information to consumers on topics including how to select the right plants for your site, how to identify weeds, insects, and plant diseases, and how to avoid overuse of garden chemicals. In 2019 the Plant Clinic served more than 8,000 people.

The clinic, which has served the community since the late 1970s, can be reached by calling 910-798-7679 or 910-798-7680, or by visiting the office in the Hutaff Building of the Arboretum, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Master Gardeners also provide seasonal plant clinics at the farmers’ market at Tidalcreek Framers Market (5329 Oleander Dr # 100, Wilmington, NC 28403)

The challenge in diagnosing plant problems is getting enough of the critical information to understand what is going on. Problem identification over the phone is generally unreliable. Getting an adequate sample in to the Plant Clinic is important.

Here are some guidelines that will help with proper identification. If you can’t follow all of them, bring in what you can and we will try our best to help you!


General Recommendations for plant or plant damage identification

  • Collect fresh samples, it is hard to impossible to diagnose a dead or dried up plant.
  • Bring in as much of the plant as possible with material showing all stages of disease (sick to healthy)
  • Provide plant history information, i.e., soil type, irrigation, sunlight, fertilization, recent environmental changes.
  • Photos can help, of the overall plant as well as close up of healthy/problem areas.

Turf problem diagnosis: Bring in a 1 foot by 1 foot sample of diseased or damaged turf with roots that includes a transition area into healthy turf. The transition area may show active pest infestation and comparison of unhealthy turf with healthy turf can help diagnosis.

Turf and Weedy Grass Identification: Bring in the entire plant including seed heads if possible.

Insect Identification: Bring in live insects (not squished or dried, it may be beneficial and you will want to return it to your garden). If possible, bring in part of the plant with the insects on it.

Soil Samples: Collect about 1 ¼ cups dry soil for testing. Drop by the clinic for soil sample boxes and instructions, or call for details.  Peak season soil test fee $4 (Mid Nov-March) Soil testing is FREE April 1-Mid Nov. Soil Sample for Nematodes is $3, call clinic for details.

Weed identification: (Herbaceous plants): Bring in fresh weeds (not dried up), include as much as possible, roots, stems, leaves, flowers if blooming. Keep plants hydrated, wet paper towels in a bag works well. If you think it may be poisonous, put it in a clear plastic bag.

Woody Plant identification: Bring in a branch with leaves, flowers if blooming. Photos can help-entire plant, close ups, flowers/fruit.

Plant disease identification: Collect plants in in various stages of disease, including healthy samples. Pictures of overall plants and close up of areas can be useful if it is hard to bring in a sample. For smaller herbaceous plants, bringing in the entire plant including roots (dug out, not pulled out) can help identify all potential problems.

When diagnosing plant problems, the culprit often is very elusive and it requires a good detective who can understand what all the factors are that might be affecting the plant negatively. Things such as watering practices, pesticides and herbicides used in the area, construction activity or other changes in the area (like the removal of a nearby tree) can affect the health of a plant. When the Master Gardeners ask a seemingly endless series of questions, they are doing their best to ensure that the problem is diagnosed properly. The last thing you want is to apply a treatment for the wrong problem. Once the Master Gardeners have a handle on what the problem is, they can compile a variety of alternative treatments from the Plant Clinic reference library and pass this information back to you.


Classes for those who want to become Master Gardeners are conducted each year in February and March. If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, call or visit the Plant Clinic or contact Danyce Dicks at or 910-798-7662, to be put on a list for future classes.

NC Cooperative Extension and Arboretum: 6206 Oleander Drive • Wilmington, NC 28403 • Phone 910-798-7660 • Fax 910-798-7678
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