Problems in the Garden? Ask These Experts

virus “aster yellows” deforming blossoms

Summer is here and by now you are seeing a host of issues in your garden. If it isn’t Japanese beetles eating your roses, it’s leaf hoppers spreading aster yellows and bagworms covering your evergreens. But don’t worry, there are plenty of resources for help in our DC metro area. One of the first places you should go to is your local Master Gardeners group and county extension agents.

Help in Northern Virginia

In Northern Virginia, there are two Master Gardener groups. People who live in Arlington and Alexandria are probably familiar with the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia. They have an excellent website with plenty of resources. If you have a gardening question, you can contact the Extension Master Gardeners Help Desk via phone, in person at their office, or via email at This is a service for the public. You do not have to be a master gardener, live in those areas, or pay anything. The people answering the questions are volunteer Master Gardeners and County Extension Agents.

Japanese beetles are notorious for decimating rose bushes

The second option is to contact the Fairfax County Master Gardeners Help Desk by calling or e-mailing at This is a service of the Fairfax County Master Gardeners but again, you do not have to be a master gardener, you do not have to live in Fairfax County, and you do not have to pay anything. The reason why there are two Master Gardener groups in Northern Virginia is because the demand for the Master Gardener program is so high. This group also has an informative website.

Master Gardeners staff plant clinics at libraries and farmers markets. Here is the schedule for 2023. Again, free service, visit them and bring a diseased plant and they will help you. They also will help with any gardening question or issue.

Help in Maryland

In Maryland, there is the Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) which is managed by the University of Maryland Extension. You can e-mail via a form and questions are answered by horticulturists. In the form, describe the problem and attach photos, if needed. The website lists a few suggestions: include an object to indicate scale for insects; attach both a close-up as well as the entire plant; send a photo of the entire weed plant with flower or seed head; and, if seeking a plant disease diagnosis, send photos showing the transition from healthy to diseased. This is a free service and the HGIC will assist Maryland and DC residents. This website also has a lot of great gardening information.

Leaf hoppers can spread viruses from plant to plant

Plant clinics are by county so just enter “plant clinic” and the county name to see if there is a schedule. Or the county name and “master gardeners” to see if they provide this service in another format. For example, here is the 2023 schedule for Montgomery County, Maryland.

There is a DC Master Gardener program but they do not provide plant diagnostics which is why DC residents are encouraged to contact the HGIC.

Other Options

One other option is the “Ask Extension” website, which is a portal for the Cooperative Extension System. Your question would be sent to the appropriate extension office within your state. (If you type in Washington DC you will be redirected to the Maryland HGIC.) Questions are answered by cooperative extension/university staff and volunteers within participating land grant institutions across the United States. In Maryland the land grant institution is the University of Maryland and in Virginia it is Virginia Tech. Again, a free service to the public across the country. Complete the form by entering your state, gardening question, e-mail, the county and state where you live, and the images, if needed.

bagworms are little “houses” for worms that will decimate foliage

At many independent garden centers, such as Merrifield Garden Center, there are help desks with staff horticulturists who can help you with your gardening issues. Call your local nursery to see if they have available, professional staff.

Of course, there are always gardening books at the local public libraries. Below are suggestions of helpful books. Remember, do not get stressed about your garden. This is all part of the process. Figuring out what is wrong with a plant is part of gardening because gardening is a learning experience.

  • Bug Free Organic Gardening: Controlling Pests and Insects Without Chemicals by Anna Hess, Skyhorse Publishing, 2019
  • Pests and Diseases by Andrew Halstead and Pippa Greenwood, DK Publishers, May 2018
  • Home Gardener’s Garden Pests and Diseases:  Identifying and Controlling Pests and Diseases of Ornamentals, Vegetables, and Fruits by David Squire, Creative Homeowner, 2016
  • What’s Wrong with My Plant (And How Do I Fix It?) (2009); What’s Wrong with my Vegetable Garden (2011); What’s Wrong with my Fruit Garden (2013), What’s Wrong with my Houseplant (2016) by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth, Timber Press
  • The Gardener’s Guide to Common-Sense Pest Control: Completely Revised and Updated by William Olkowski, Helga Olkowski, Sheila Daar, Taunton Press, 2013
  • The Practical Encyclopedia of Garden Pests and Diseases: An Illustrated Guide to Common Problems and How to Deal With Them Successfully by Andrew Mikolajski, Anness Publishing 2012
  • Good Bug, Bad Bug by Jessica Walliser, St. Lynn’s Press, 2011
  • The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control: A Complete Guide to a Healthy Garden and Yard The Earth-Friendly Way by Barbara W. Ellis, Fern Marshall Bradley, and Deborah L. Martin, Rodale Press, 2010
  • Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver by Fern Marshall Bradley, Rodale Press, 2007
  • Better Homes & Gardens Garden Doctor Advice from the Experts, Meredith Corporation, 2005
  • Garden Insects of North America by Whitney Cranshaw, Princeton University Press, 2004
  • Reader’s Digest, Gardener’s Problem Solver, Miranda Smith, 2004
  • Insect, Disease and Weed ID Guide: Find-it-Fast Organic Solutions for Your Garden by Linda Gilkeson, author; Jill Jesiolowski, editor; Deborah L. Martin, editor, Rodale Press, 2001
  • Pests and Diseases: The Complete Guide to Preventing, Identifying, and Treating Plant Problems by Pippa Greenwood, Andrew Halstead, A.R. Chase, Daniel Gilrein, American Horticultural Society, 2000.
  • Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal, Joseph M. DiTomaso, Cornell University Press, 1997

3 responses to “Problems in the Garden? Ask These Experts

  1. Denise Schreiber

    Weeds of the Northeast is my go to book for weeds. It should be on everyone’s bookshelf!

Leave a Reply