Marion’s free plant clinic a gardener’s treasure chest

Jean Tyler plants marigolds as a natural pesticide as she plants vegetables in her section of the garden during the winter planting event at the West Ocala Wellness Community Garden on West Silver Springs Boulevard in Ocala, Fla. on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. The purpose of the City of Ocala Recreation and Parks West Ocala Wellness Community Garden is to educate residents on how to plant a garden and provide an opportunity for citizens to plant, cultivate and harvest vegetables for their families. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted May 28, 2021 | By Jennifer Odom, Contributor

Maybe you’re a local gardener with a single question. Or you’ve recently moved to Florida—but, oh dear, nothing is the same down here. Back home, all your flowers, grass, weeds, and even the soil were so different.

[Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Who can you call for gardening advice?

Well, never fear, the Master Gardeners are here. Each weekday, these volunteers answer calls like yours at the Plant Clinic of the Marion County Agricultural Extension Office at 2232 NE Jacksonville Rd in Ocala.

To a newcomer, the differences here can be quite shocking at first.

“The Florida soil was just sand,” said Gloria Hebert, who moved from Maryland years ago. “It had no worms and was pretty terrible. And this Florida grass does not look like northern grass at all.”

She has since adjusted and is now a five-year veteran of the Master Gardener program helping others.

But the retiree still longs for certain things from back home, especially one.

“I’d love to have some lilacs,” she said.

And wouldn’t we all?

When you call the clinic, volunteers will either answer your questions or will track down an answer for you—one based on UF research.

According to Maxine Hunter, the Marion County Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator, “the aim of the Master Gardener Volunteer Program, (sponsored by IFAS, or the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science–University of Florida) is to increase or extend the service and output of information offered by the Cooperative Extension Service. Master Gardeners will make recommendations to homeowners based on information generated by the University of Florida/IFAS Extension.”

“When I first came here, the Master Gardener Plant Clinic ‘hot line’ saved me hundreds of dollars in gardening mistakes. It’s a gem, and it’s free,” said Gloria Oest, who came from Vermont.

Clinic callers will frequently end up joining the program. Oest retired, fell in love with the program and is now a 14-year veteran with the Master Gardeners.

Maybe like Oest, you’d enjoy the same opportunity—a chance to learn about many gardening subjects, be around other gardeners, and help others learn. That’s the life of a volunteer Master Gardener. There’s no need to be an expert. Just be a willing learner.

If that sounds like fun, this is your once-a-year opportunity—with a June 25 deadline.

The Plant Clinic is not the only place Master Gardeners can serve. They volunteer in the greenhouse and learn plant propagation, serve in the demonstration gardens, the vegetable gardens, serve on the speakers’ bureau, the public schools, participate in Florida Friendly Gardening tours, take informational classes and field trips, work events such as the Spring Festival and more. There is no end to their fun.

But if all you want is the answer to a question, there’s no need to sign up for anything. Just realize, you are not alone. People at the Plant Clinic are there to help.

So, dial them up at 352-671-8400 and see what they have to say. If they don’t have the answer, they can track it down for you.

Those interested in applying to join the Master Gardener Volunteer program can visit Explore more at Master Gardeners – UF/IFAS Extension (

Jennifer Odom is an avid gardener and an Ocala-based author. Her novels “Summer on the Black Suwannee and “Stranger with a Black Case” are available now. For information visit

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