Free Gardening Advice from Extension Experts
Experts throughout the US provide online answers to gardening questions free of charge through the eXtension Ask an Expert program.
The Caterpillar in Our Garden
Two weeks ago, I noticed a large caterpillar stripping the leaves from one of our knockout rosebushes. It wasn't doing too much damage, but I was nervous.
Last year, a bad case of rose slugs had almost killed one of our bushes. Should I be worried?
I took several photos and compared them to pictures in gardening handbooks on our bookshelves.
In some of the photos that I took, the caterpillar wasn't easy to spot. It looked a lot like a mature rose cane!
What Is That?
In other photos, the caterpillar was easy to see, thanks to its size (It was big!) and its fuzzy yellow spines.
After much debate, we decided that it was either a butterfly or moth caterpillar.
I was leaning toward the caterpillar of a Question Mark butterfly (Polygonia Interrogationis), but I wasn't sure.
According to , Question Mark caterpillars come in a variety of color combinations and patterns. Sometimes they're black with orange spines, sometimes black with yellowish spines and splotches of oranges. The Life Cycles of Butterflies
We Ask an Expert
Our caterpillar was black and beige with yellow and reddish-brown spines.
Was it really a Question Mark caterpillar?
We decided to "Ask an Expert."
What Is Ask an Expert?
"Ask an Expert" is a free online service provided by cooperative extensions throughout the United States. Anyone can use the service, both US residents and those residing outside the USA.
The experts who answer the questions are cooperative extension staff members, university staff members and volunteers, such as Master Gardeners who have been trained through the extension Master Gardener program in a variety of issues related to gardening through coursework and hands-on experience.
The Master Gardener Program
To find out more about the Master Gardener program, check out the Extension Master Gardener webpage. It provides links to extensions throughout the US in the About section. You can also access free webinars, trending questions and other gardening information there.
Ask an Expert is a service of Cooperative Extensions, which serve as links between state land grant universities and counties. Their goal? To provide services, support and opportunities that help people everywhere improve their lives through education.
The Expert's Response
I received a response within the promised 48 hours.
According to the responder, she and her colleagues had studied the photos, done some research and believed it to be the caterpillar of a Buck moth.
She advised us not to touch the spines (They sting!) and to allow the caterpillar to pupate, as Buck moths are rather unusual in Southern Maryland.
Thanks, Ask an Expert!
We hadn't intended to move the caterpillar anyway. The damage it was doing to our rosebush was negligible. Besides, we've been trying to attract more pollinators to our yard.
Although I was hoping for a butterfly, I'll also be happy to see the Buck moth's black and white wings fluttering through our yard.
We also contacted Ask an Expert several years ago when brown marmorated stinkbugs (Halyomorpha halys) first hit Maryland.
I thought I saw one on a tomato plant in our garden, so I sent in a photo and my question. The results were the same: within 48 hours I received a response. (Luckily, it was a regular old stinkbug.)
Ask an Expert gives users the option of making their questions (and Ask an Expert answers) viewable to other users.
How You Can Ask an Expert
Extension Ask an Expert
Have a question about something that's going on in your landscape? You can submit your question online at Extension Ask an Expert.
The advice is free, and the online form is easy to complete. It provides boxes for your question title, question and the email address where you would like to receive your answer.
There's also a drop-down box for selecting your state or country, and another drop-down box for indicating your county. You may attach up to three photos as well.
Although your question may remain private, you can click "Share my question on Ask an Expert" to make it and the answer visible to other users.
And, of course, you can read the questions at Ask an Expert (both answered and unanswered) that other gardeners choose to share.
To learn more about real-life gardening problems and solutions, you can scroll through the questions other gardeners have posed on Ask an Expert.
Question Response Time
The answer to your question will arrive to your email with surprising speed.
First, you will receive an automated email that acknowledges you have submitted a question. Then, usually within two business days, you'll receive an expert answer.
Sometimes, the experts at Ask an Expert need more than two days to research the question. Sometimes they forward the question to other experts who are specialists in the question area. If that happens, they will inform you that they need more time.
One user, for instance, asked a question about a snake she'd seen in her yard. Within two days, the experts on duty responded that they could not give her a definitive answer until their snake expert returned from vacation the next week.
Ask an Expert Near You
You may also submit your questions through the website of the cooperative extension in your state or another state. The online form allows you to select your location when submitting a question, including locations outside the US.
The online form at state extension websites looks the same as the one at the Extension Ask an Expert website. The promise is also the same: "expert answers and help from Cooperative Extension/University staff and volunteers from across the United States."
To find the website of the extension in your state, search by the terms "ask an expert," your state name and "extension."
When I googled "ask an expert Florida extension," for instance, the University of Florida Extension's "Ask an Expert" page was my first hit. Googling "ask an expert Oregon extension" yielded a similar result at the Oregon State University Extension website.
Below are links to other popular extension Ask an Expert pages.
- Ask an Expert - North Carolina Cooperative Extension
- Ask an Expert | University of Missouri Extension
- Ask a Master Gardener : Master Gardener : University of Minnesota Extension
Ask expert Master Gardeners gardening questions
Questions You Can Ask an Expert
Most questions on Ask an Expert go something like this: "Why is the __________ (tree/shrub/plant/turf) in our garden/yard/flowerbed dying?"
But I've seen other types of questions as well, including questions about
- pest damage (deer, squirrel, rabbits, etc.)
- pest management (squash bugs, stinkbugs, aphids, etc.)
- plant identification
- plant diseases (blossom rot, powdery mildew, etc.)
- snake & insect identification
- state & local gardening programs for children and families.
Sometimes people ask "specialty" questions about specific types of plants and crops, such as
- fruit trees
- native plants.
No matter what question is asked, a thoughtful response is forthcoming. And, as noted previously, if the experts can't answer the question immediately, they will respond to say so.
Have you tried Ask an Expert?
Get More Free Info from eXtension
For the latest cooperative extension instructional and informational videos, subscribe to the eXtension Initiative channel on YouTube. Access is free, as is the information.
The eXtension Goal: Sharing Knowledge through Technology
© 2015 Jill Spencer