Master Gardeners Help Desk
Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) Master Gardener Volunteers can answer your horticultural and environmental questions year round. Citizens can contact the Extension Horticulture Help Desk.
VCE Master Gardener Volunteers can assist in:
- Diagnosing plant disease or insect problems
- Identifying plants and weeds
- Providing advice on lawn and plant care
- Providing other Virginia Tech VCE research-based information and publications relating to landscape and gardening issues
Submitting a sample of a plant or insect to identify or diagnose a disease is the best practice for researching the answer. The Help Desk MG Volunteers can also assist you by submitting the samples to the Virginia Tech Clinics. Specimens may be submitted Monday through Wednesdays ONLY (so samples don't sit in the Post Office and expire over the weekend - which leads to no results). Note the general collecting instructions at the bottom of this page or contact the volunteers at the office.
View the YouTube video for more information on how to prepare your plant disease/insect sample
If possible, please complete the appropriate Help Desk online (printable) form and bring with you when you visit:
Specimens may be dropped off at the VCE Office. Place specimens and form in the Green Box at the front desk. Ensure that your name is on each specimen.
Collecting Samples (click on the appropriate tab)
- NO live insects will be accepted. Insects may be submitted in the following ways: drowned in rubbing alcohol, drowned in water, frozen (at least a week) or suffocated in a zip-lock bag.
- Submitting close-up pictures are helpful and may be emailed to the Help Desk.
- The insects should NOT be crushed.
- Provide as much information pertaining to infestation, location and number of insects observed.
- Soft insects such as grubs may be placed in boiling water for 1 minute then placed in rubbing alcohol.
- Make sure your name is on all bags/containers so that they stay together.
- Complete the Insect Identification form and submit with your sample.
- Bring the whole plant, if practical. If not, plant parts must be living diseased parts, (all dead = no results) sections of branches, and no single leaves, etc., contained in a sealed bag.
- Collect a separate Ziploc sandwich bag full of soil from around the plant of the root system including living root matter (lab cultures for fungus/bacteria that can be the cause for disease and does basic pH test) from the plant.
- Include printouts or email Extension Help Desk, pictures you have that show the overall health of the plant or close-ups of issues in color.
- Complete Plant diagnosis form and submit with sample.
- Do not include moist paper towels as this increases fungal growth and rot of plant sample before analysis.
- Place in plastic bag.
- Whole plants, stems, leaves, and pictures are helpful.