The Ohio State University Extension’s Consumer and Urban Horticulture program used to have a narrow focus when it first started years ago, according to Amy Stone, OSU’s Extension educator.
In the 1990s, when Stone started her job, the program focused on gypsy moth eradication and control management.
“It’s amazing to me how things have evolved. It’s very broad now. We’ve expanded to urban forestry, and this year, we’ve noticed a real increase in questions on growing food in people’s backyards,” said Stone.
The office’s Consumer & Urban Horticulture hotline at 419-578-6783 is a free service for Lucas County residents who have questions about trees, insects, shrubs, perennials, vegetables, weeds, fruits, turf, annuals, wildlife, and Emerald Ash Borer disease.
Most of the calls made to the hotline, she said, have to do with trees.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is to remove the trees and pick trees that will do well in situations,” she said. “We really like to get homeowners and municipalities to the forefront to make sure they’re putting the proper trees into the right of way or landscape.”
The office is getting more questions from people planting fruits and vegetables in their yards, she said, due to the recession, or because they just want to provide their own food.
“We’re trying to be that resource to people, also, on the hotline,” she said.
The office also frequently fields questions on soil testing, she said.
“Why it’s really important is we want to make sure especially that phosphorous levels stay low within the county. Green industry professionals watch very closely what they’re putting down because that product costs them money. But sometimes homeowners will just go out and buy a bag and put it down thinking they’re doing the right thing without soil testing. High phosphorous levels that run off can lead to algae blooms and other issues. So we’re really trying to promote soil testing and walking homeowners through it. They can actually save money in the long run because often most of those nutrients are already there in the soil for the plants. They don’t need to add more,” she said.
The office also assists homeowners with plant, insect and disease “diagnostics.”
“We have lots of samples that come into our office. We train volunteers to help us because I couldn’t do that all on my own,” she said. The office also makes pesticide recommendations and makes sure homeowners are using the right chemicals, “if that’s what they choose to do, and it’s timed properly, so we’re not adding more pesticides into the environment than we have to.”
For homeowners who don’t want to use pesticides, the office will suggest organic treatments that have the same effect.
Stone said the office is also helping homeowners, along with the Department of Agriculture, to identify trees that may have been affected by a herbicide made by DuPont called Imprelis, which the Environmental Protection Agency pulled from the market.
“Imprelis was applied through local landscapers and arborists. It’s a weed killer, and it does a fabulous job on weeds, especially on hard to kill weeds. We don’t know for sure if it was weather related when applied or if there was some misapplication because it’s a very small amount of product that needs to be put down - but trees and evergreens in the landscape were dying,” she said. DuPont has sent out representatives to help homeowners determine if the trees can be saved or if they need to be removed.
A growing concern among homeowners and hotels, she said, is how to get rid of bedbugs.
“We are dealing with that,” she said. “If anyone travels and stays in a hotel and you don’t do a bedbug check before you move your suitcases or your family into that room, you’re asking for trouble. Our researchers and scientists say one in four people will definitely have some interaction with bedbugs. So the best thing to do is leave your suitcases outside, go into the hotel room, peel back the sheets and look at the edge of the bed. Near the headboard is the number one place they are found.”
Heat treatments and acquiring the services of a bedbug sniffing dog are effective, she said, against bedbugs.
“You’d have to have a professional come in and do the heat treatments at high temperatures,” she said. Putting clothing and sheets in the dryer for 30 minutes will also kill bedbugs, she added.
A homeowner in Ottawa Hills used a bedbug sniffing dog after her daughter brought them home from college, she said.
“We’re working with homeowners on all income scales. It doesn’t matter if you have one of the nicest homes in the county or you’re living in HUD housing,” she said.
Participating communities in the Consumer and Urban Horticulture program that are in The Press circulation area include the cities of Toledo and Oregon, and Jerusalem Township.
The horticulture hotline is open year round on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for residents and commercial businesses, including green industry professionals, in Lucas County.