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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brad McGinley ... the plant doctor

Monday, September 13, 2010

Around 8:30 in the morning, the first patient arrives and the doctor is in.

Glencoe resident Willard Wyatt enters the office carrying the "patient," a green leaf with brown spots on it along with a jar of dirt.

The "doctor" is Fulton County Extension agent Brad McGinley.

One of McGinley's many duties is to examine people's plant and vegetable problems and try to diagnose a cure.

"Each spring, nice green leaves come out but, by early summer, the leaves begin changing color," says Wyatt, talking about the Red Oak he planted about four years ago.

"I've gone through several books trying to see what the problem might be, but I couldn't find anything," Wyatt tells McGinley. "I think something is lacking in the soil."

That is why, at McGinley's request, Wyatt has brought in a soil sample. McGinley suspects the soil around the tree may be lacking in lime. He will send the soil sample to a state lab in Little Rock for analysis.

"That is what is interesting about this job," says McGinley. "Every day it is something different. You never know what is going to come in."

A look around the Extension Agent's office confirms that. On any given day, you will find a clump of weeds on a table dropped off by someone who wants to know what they are and how to stop their advance. There may be a box of dirt owned by someone who wants to know why it is so black and sooty looking. Someone has left a plastic bag full of mulch covered by some slimy, moldy looking stuff.

Then there's the critters.

"I've had snakes dropped off in a bag, rodents," says McGinley. "I get lots of bugs, pests people are finding on their trees and vegetables and sometimes, in their homes."

From past experience, McGinley can often tell what the fungus, disease, or insect is and what to do about it. If he is not sure, there are reference books in his office and the internet is his go-to source for specialists who work for the extension service and are available to help with his investigations.

Spring and summer are especially busy times for the plant "doctor" because people are planting and tending gardens and trees and shrubs.

According to McGinley, "Every growing season is different but I can always count on lots of questions about tomatoes. Almost everybody tries to grow tomatoes and about everybody has tomato problems."

"This year, because it got hot early, we had a lot of newly planted trees in distress," says McGinley, who advised hose watering until Mother Nature cooperated with cooler weather and rain.

"I also got a lot of calls about green beans and tomatoes which were growing and blooming but not bearing fruit," added McGinley. "Green beans and tomatoes quit setting fruit at 93 degrees and about all you can do, when it's that hot for an extended time, is hope for cooler weather."

According to McGinley, all in all, it has been a pretty good growing season. While there have been extended dry periods, there has, generally, been enough occasional rain to keep things growing.

As fall approaches, McGinley is expecting calls about ladybugs who want to move indoors in cooler weather. McGinley's advice: keep the vacuum cleaner handy and suck them up. There is no good way to keep them out, they don't bite or do any harm and they are great to have outside because they eat a lot of aphids and other harmful bugs.

With garden production winding down, McGinley suggests that fall is a good time to give him a soil sample that he can have analyzed. The state lab is less busy in the fall and determining garden soil shortcomings early gives you time to get the soil in shape for next year's planting season.

"I ran out of other options," is Willard Wyatt's explanation as to why he turned to McGinley about his tree problem.

Wyatt first contacted McGinley after the 2009 ice storm, because he was concerned about how ice had bent over pine trees on his property.

Back then, McGinley told Wyatt the trees should eventually straighten up and most have.

McGinley says people he assists spread the word about his services and he always has plenty to do.

You can reach Brad McGinley at 895-3301 or via e-mail at bmcginley@uaex.edu.

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