What Is An Extension Service: Using Your County Extension Office For Home Garden Information

By: Nikki Tilley, Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden

(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)

Universities are popular sites for research and teaching, but they also provide another function – reaching out to help others. How is this accomplished? Their experienced and knowledgeable staff extend their resources to farmers, growers, and home gardeners by offering Cooperative Extension Services. So what is an Extension Service and how does it help with home garden information? Keep reading to learn more.

What is an Extension Service?

With its beginnings in the late 1800s, the Extension system was created to address rural agricultural issues, but it has since changed to adapt to a wider range of needs in both urban and rural areas. These typically cover six major areas:

  • 4-H Youth Development
  • Agriculture
  • Leadership Development
  • Natural Resources
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Community and Economic Development

Regardless of the program, all Extension experts meet public needs at a local level. They provide economically sound and environmentally friendly approaches and products to anyone who needs them. These programs are available through county and regional Extension offices supported by NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture), the federal partner in the Cooperative Extension System (CES). NIFA appropriates annual funds to state and county offices.

Cooperative Extension Services and Home Garden Information

Each county in the United States has an Extension office that works closely with experts from universities and helps provide information about gardening, agriculture and pest control. Anyone who gardens knows it can present unique challenges, and your local County Extension Office is there to help, providing research-based, home garden information and advice, including information on hardiness zones. They can also help with soil tests, either free of charge or low-cost.

So whether you’re starting a vegetable garden, choosing appropriate plants, needing pest control tips, or seeking information about lawn care, the Cooperative Extension Services experts know their subject matter, resulting in the most credible answers and solutions to all your gardening needs.

How Do I Find My Local Extension Office?

Although the number of local Extension offices has declined over the years, with some county offices consolidating into regional centers, there are still nearly 3,000 of these Extension offices available nationwide. With so many of these offices, you may wonder, “How do I find my local Extension office?”

In most cases, you can find the phone number for your local county Extension office in the government section (often marked with blue pages) of your telephone directory or by visiting the NIFA or CES websites and clicking on the maps. In addition, you can place your zip code into our Extension service search form to find the nearest office in your area.

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So, What Is Your Local Extension Office, Anyway?

Photo courtesy: Your Garden Showoff

I’m a novice gardener. We moved to Southern Delaware after living 20 years in New York City. I struggled there to keep a couple of potted houseplants alive in our small apartment with UV-filtered windows. But I have interest and ambition now that we have plenty of place to experiment on our nearly half-acre lot.

As I browse through gardening information at the library and on the internet, I’m often referred to my “local extension office.” Local extension office? Really? Never heard of it. But it must be a big deal, because it’s seemingly referenced everywhere. So, what is your local extension office anyway, and what can it do for you?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot.

The Cooperative Extension System is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture in collaboration with land-grant universities and state and local governments. Its mission is to provide research-based information to the public on subjects relating to agriculture and food, home, family, the environment, community economic development and youth. The 4-H Club is under its auspices, as well as the Master Gardener Program, which trains volunteers to be horticultural educators in their communities. Need information about organic agriculture? Your local extension office can help you with that. Food safety? Yup, they’ve got that. Animal reproduction? Uh-huh. It’s kind of overwhelming what all it covers.

Local Extension Office soil test

So, what can your local extension office do for you?

Well, if you’re a novice gardener, like me, or even a not-so-novice gardener, there are many things you can dial up your local extension office for help with. And you’re paying for it with your tax dollars, so you should.

Local Expertise – Your local extension office agent knows your area and has knowledge about the climate and successful plants, as well as common pests and diseases and ways to manage them. You can get frost dates for your area, as well as plant recommendations and wildlife deterrent information.

Soil Testing – Almost all local extension offices will, for a small fee (around $10), mail you a kit to send back a sample of your soil for testing. You can get information about your soil’s pH and nutrient levels, along with advice on how to amend it for what you are planting.

Master Gardeners – The Cooperative Extension gives extensive training to Master Gardener volunteers in plant pathology, soil health, cultural growing requirements, sustainable gardening, and pest and wildlife management. They provide information to the public over the phone, at public events, and at educational facilities.

Fact Sheets and Publications – On soil, pest control, sustainable agriculture, bee-keeping, canning, and much, much more.

Most every county in the US has a local extension office, with some being combined into regional offices. Regardless, your local Cooperative Extension is an incredible resource, and you should feel free to liberally take advantage of it. You can find your local extension office by visiting the Cooperative Extension. Happy gardening to all!

Find your local office

Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) connects communities with research from Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and the College of Human Ecology to enrich and empower New York state neighbors, local businesses, towns and cities. With a presence in all New York state counties and the five boroughs of New York City, local CCE offices provide programming and resources tailored to the needs of their communities. To find the people, resources and opportunities in your area, contact or visit an office near you.

Local Offices

Extension brings information, education, and knowledge to you — wherever you live in the commonwealth. Follow the links below to your local office, or visit a 4-H Educational Center or Agricultural Research and Extension Center from the links on the right.

If you're not sure which office serves your area, use our search at the top of the page.

  • Accomack
  • Albemarle / Charlottesville
  • Alexandria
  • Alleghany
  • Amelia
  • Amherst
  • Appomattox
  • Arlington
  • Augusta
  • Bath
  • Bedford
  • Bland
  • Botetourt
  • Brunswick
  • Buchanan
  • Buckingham
  • Campbell
  • Caroline
  • Carroll
  • Charles City
  • Charlotte
  • Chesapeake
  • Chesterfield
  • Clarke
  • Craig
  • Culpeper
  • Cumberland
  • Danville
  • Dickenson
  • Dinwiddie
  • Essex
  • Fairfax
  • Fauquier
  • Floyd
  • Fluvanna
  • Franklin
  • Frederick
  • Giles
  • Gloucester
  • Goochland
  • Grayson
  • Greene
  • Greensville / Emporia
  • Halifax
  • Hampton
  • Hanover
  • Henrico
  • Henry / Martinsville
  • Highland
  • Isle of Wight
  • James City
  • King and Queen
  • King George
  • King William
  • Lancaster
  • Lee
  • Loudoun
  • Louisa
  • Lunenburg
  • Lynchburg
  • Madison
  • Mathews
  • Mecklenburg
  • Middlesex
  • Montgomery
  • Nelson
  • New Kent
  • Newport News
  • Norfolk
  • Northampton
  • Northumberland
  • Nottoway
  • Orange
  • Page
  • Pamunkey Indian Tribe
  • Patrick
  • Petersburg
  • Pittsylvania
  • Portsmouth
  • Powhatan
  • Prince Edward
  • Prince George
  • Prince William
  • Pulaski
  • Rappahannock
  • Richmond City
  • Richmond County
  • Roanoke / Salem
  • Rockbridge
  • Rockingham
  • Russell
  • Scott
  • Shenandoah
  • Smyth
  • Southampton
  • Spotsylvania
  • Stafford
  • Suffolk
  • Surry
  • Sussex
  • Tazewell
  • Virginia Beach
  • Warren
  • Washington
  • Westmoreland
  • Wise
  • Wythe
  • York / Poquoson

4-H Educational Centers

Agricultural Research and Extension Centers

  • Alson H. Smith, Jr.
  • Eastern Shore
  • Eastern Virginia
  • Hampton Roads
  • Middleburg
  • Reynolds Homestead
  • Shenandoah Valley
  • Southern Piedmont
  • Southwest Virginia
  • Tidewater
  • Virginia Seafood

District Offices

Virginia State University Extension Programs

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Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, United States M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg, VA, United States.

© 2021 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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