2023 – Central District All Faculty Symposium – Horticulture, Florida Yards and Neighborhoods, Florida Friendly Landscaping™
W. Lester, UF/IFAS Extension, Hernando County, Brooksville, FL
Situation: When COVID-19 made it difficult for clients to visit their local Extension offices or Ask the Master Gardener Plant Clinics to have their questions answered, a variety of options were implemented to fill this gap using technology. In Hernando County an online option was created to fill this need temporarily, but its popularity turned it into a more long-term teaching and outreach activity. Methods: In early April of 2020 a weekly Virtual Plant Clinic was created using the Zoom meeting platform. This gave participants the opportunity to ask questions of the county agent, guest agents (25), Master Gardener Volunteers (6) and other guests from county government and state agencies (8). In September of 2020 the clinics were moved to the Stream Yard platform, which enabled the clinics to be shown live on both Facebook and YouTube. This increased both attendance and engagement, with several weekly followers participating over several years. Results: Over the last three years 142 sessions, each lasting approximately one hour, have been offered; reaching 2,971 live participants. The sessions are automatically recorded on Facebook and YouTube for additional viewing, with thousands of views over the past three years. Participants are asked to participate in a Qualtrics survey just once (if regular participants) and 98% indicated that they had learned something new by watching the clinic, 100% indicated that they would implement this new knowledge and 100% follow the Florida-Friendly Landscaping TM principle of planting the right plant in the right place (n= 47). Survey participants indicated that many of them had seen 10 or more sessions (64%) and 60% had seen clinics both live and recorded. Conclusion: This teaching activity has proven to be both fun and rewarding for the agents involved and has grown to involve a loyal weekly following. As of March of 2023, an average of 65 people each week join the clinic live, with an additional 150 views of the recorded session each week. The outreach provided by ongoing virtual plant clinics provides the information and solutions that the residents of Hernando County need to address their lawn and garden questions and many followers express their appreciation for the program and its convenience.