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ADVANCED TRAINING PROMOTES MASTER GARDENER DIAGNOSTIC CONFIDENCE. L. Sanderson, UF/IFAS Extension, Sumter County, Bushnell, FL

Situation: Central Florida, including Sumter County and surrounding counties, is characterized by at least 71 adult retirement communities some of which have only a couple of thousand homes, and others which are over 50,000 homes.  In Sumter County, many of the 125,000 residents reside in The Villages, an active retirement community.  The Villages, like other retirement communities, are home to residents many of whom have relocated from other states.  These new residents are unfamiliar with Florida’s insects, diseases, warm season turf and landscape plants.  The UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteers in many of the Central Florida counties offer Ask the Master Gardener plant clinics, info booths, helplines and Extension diagnostic labs to address homeowner questions and provide environmentally sound recommendations to protect Florida’s fragile environment.  Methods:  In November 2018, 56 Master Gardener Volunteers attended a full-day multi-county advanced diagnostic workshop, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, which was held in Sumter County.  Five UF/IFAS specialists and agents presented topics specifically selected on diseases, microscopy, turf, insects of ornamentals, citrus and tomatoes.  Results:  81% (n=30) had some diagnostic experience with only 8% (n=3) having none and 11% (n=4) having significant experience.  97% (n=36) felt that overall the advanced diagnostic training provided them with information which will make them more prepared to diagnose plant problems; and, 89% (n=34) noted that because of what they learned during the training, they plan to become more involved with diagnostic work in their Extension office (Ask the Master Gardener plant clinics and booths, helpline and Extension diagnostic labs).  Conclusion: Master Gardener Volunteers are essential for extending diagnostic services to their county’s residents.  An advanced diagnostic training for Master Gardener Volunteers is scheduled for November 2019.

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