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The world of horticulture is ever changing with an increasing interest among plant lovers for more and more digital media.  While the internet has vastly expanded the amount of plant information available to the public as text, other forms of digital media, such as podcasts, YouTube videos, Facebook pages and even online Master Gardener training, are forging the way for new educational opportunities to expand our experiences with plants.

University of Illinois Extension is always looking for ways to better serve our communities and increase our digital footprint to include new and useful forms of educational materials.  Recently, a new state-wide project was launched right here in Champaign-Urbana to enhance Extension’s ability to answer horticulture-related questions via Facebook.

“We’ve seen a steadily increasing number of horticulture-related questions on our Facebook page in the last few years,” says Erin Knowles, Extension Communications Specialist focused on University of Illinois Extension’s Facebook presence.

In response to these ever-increasing questions, Knowles was looking for an outlet to better field requests and get replies back to Facebook users. 

“Since we already have Extension Horticulture Educators around the state ready and willing to answer plant questions, it was just a matter of finding the right format for more interactive responses,” said Knowles.

Last spring, Knowles reached out to several Horticulture Educators to create a new and interesting outreach effort using Facebook Live.  On May 17, “Facebook Live with the Horticulturist’s” premiered on the Illinois Extension Facebook page, featuring Horticulture Educators Candice Hart and Kelly Allsup as well as myself.  This one-hour, question and answer session is streamed live via Facebook and allows viewers to ask us questions directly by typing them in during the show. 

“It’s certainly a team effort,” explains Knowles. “Candice, Kelly, and Ryan bring a wealth of experience and creativity to share their knowledge with our audience, and our graphic designer and videographer Matt Wiley lends his support in creating graphics and providing technical support before, during, and after the broadcast.”

Candice, Kelly and I have all really enjoyed answering folk’s questions coming in during the show and we’ve even added in questions left on Facebook in-between live events.  We offer a variety of expertise, from Candice’s specialty of ornamental horticulture, to Kelly’s expertise in entomology and integrated pest management, to my own particular area of interest in woody vegetation and native plants.  I have really been impressed with the interesting and timely questions we get from the Facebook community.  It really adds to the content of each episode by addressing questions each season that are relevant to gardeners across Illinois.

Special thanks goes out to Matt Wiley, Extension Design Specialist, for all his help making this show successful.  Matt has been instrumental in the design of each episode and has regularly adapted new technology to meet the needs of our live demonstrations.  With Matt’s expertise, we recorded a live session at the State Master Gardener Conference earlier this fall, including a variety of guests from various roles in the Master Gardner Program.  Our next episode will be recorded live from the Illinois Extension Annual Conference at noon on November 15th and we do plan to interview a variety of folks from Illinois Extension.

Each episode, we do prepare several demonstrations or specific topics ahead of time that we feel are timely based on the season of the year or questions received at our respective Extension Offices.  Last week, we recorded our Halloween themed episode, featuring creepy-crawly insects, carnivorous plants and list of the spookiest native trees.  As we head into the winter season, we plant to incorporate more live demonstrations and examples of horticulture in action to liven things up during the winter doldrums.  

“We definitely have a lot of fun creating the program, and we hope that the audience gets a sense of that fun while also learning something new,” says Knowles.

If you are interested in tuning in to Facebook Live with the Horticulturalists, like the Illinois Extension Facebook page to receive announcements on upcoming shows. An online archive of past episodes is available at: go.illinois.edu/FBvideos. We typically record an episode every few weeks and they are always at noon so people can tune in during their lunch hour.  Don’t miss the horticultural fun this winter!