CLEMSON — Fourteen and a half years is a long time to spend surfing a website that doesn’t have photos of babies or videos of cats acting obnoxiously cute.

Screenshot of Clemson Extension's redesigned Home and Garden Information Center.

Clemson Extension’s redesigned Home and Garden Information Center.

But that’s the total of time in years home gardeners spent on Clemson Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center (HGIC) in 2017. They were looking for tips for maintaining their lawns, battling vegetable diseases, attracting pollinators or just about anything else they might want to learn about South Carolina gardening, food safety or canning — even how to create a charcuterie (shahr-cute-uh-ree) board for the next picnic.

Now HGIC has been redesigned for the first time since way back when the internet was more commonly known as the “world-wide web” or the “information superhighway.”

With users hitting the site 3.3 million times in 2017, why did Clemson Extension feel the need to spend a year reinventing the wheel? Because in 1999, when the website was first launched, iPhones, Android phones and other internet-enabled devices were barely even a notion.

“The previous HGIC website served our clients well, but the research shows that the vast majority of its users are viewing it on smartphones and tablets. The old site wasn’t optimized for mobile use, but the new site works beautifully no matter how you view it,” said Millie Davenport, Clemson Extension agent and HGIC director.

Information on the new HGIC website is categorized by Landscape, Fruits & Vegetables, Indoor Plants, Food and Entomology. A more robust search function allows users to search by keyword across all categories. The homepage features seasonal content and Hot Topics. And, if you don’t know what a charcuterie board is or how make one, check out the HGIC homepage.

All of the 823 published factsheets and other content is created and curated by Clemson Extension agents and specialists with subject matter expertise, so visitors know they are getting the most accurate and current information for South Carolina’s varied climate and soil conditions, Davenport said.

While site analytics show that people visit HGIC from far outside the Palmetto State, Davenport has a reminder: “We get site visitors and client calls from other states, but we always remind those people that the horticultural and entomological information on HGIC is South Carolina specific.”

Clemson Cooperative Extension director Thomas Dobbins said the HGIC redesign is a necessary step in Extension’s race to keep up with changing technology and serve its clients efficiently.

“The mission of Cooperative Extension is to impart research-based knowledge to South Carolinians. The old HGIC website was an excellent tool for doing that. The new HGIC is even better,” Dobbins said.

The idea for HGIC was born in response to a 1994 Clemson College of Agriculture strategic plan that called for the establishment of an “electronic information system” to handle the information needs of its clientele. A strategic planning committee was formed, money was found, and HGIC was launched as a website and toll-free number in 1999.

“We needed to find a way to efficiently answer home horticulture questions. The state of South Carolina was becoming increasingly urbanized and agents were serving two different types of clients: homeowners and farmers. The population was growing and the Extension service was shrinking. We needed to do more with less,” said James Blake, Extension associate and founding director of HGIC.

HGIC has become the go-to information resource for the South Carolina Master Gardeners program. Mary Fraley of Greer has been gardening for 35 years and became a certified South Carolina Master Gardener in 2014. She’s also co-chair of the state’s Ask A Master Gardener Program and a team leader for a pilot program called Rent A Master Gardener.

“I use HGIC often as I’m giving advice to friends and family, and we often recommend HGIC to people seeking advice at farmer’s markets and other events. We know that HGIC contains useful fact-based information. A lot of the people we meet have moved to South Carolina from other states. They’re unfamiliar with South Carolina growing conditions and HGIC is a great resource for them. Whatever the question, there’s usually a factsheet to help,” Fraley said.

Top HGIC fact sheets for 2017

  1. 1216 Bermudagrass Maintenance Calendar
  2. 1215 Centipedegrass Maintenance Calendar
  3. 1256 Planning a Garden
  4. 2217 Tomato Diseases & Disorders
  5. 2053 Camellia Diseases & Insect Pests
  6. 2310 Managing Weeds in Warm-Season Lawns
  7. 1217 Zoysiagrass Maintenance Calendar
  8. 2206 Cucumber, Squash, Melon & Other Cucurbit Diseases
  9. 1083 Tea Olive
  10. 1563 Kalanchoe

Top 10 cities with the most HGIC pageviews

  1. Charlotte
  2. Charleston
  3. Atlanta
  4. Clemson
  5. Columbia
  6. Raleigh
  7. Greenville
  8. Mount Pleasant
  9. Summerville
  10. Nashville

Top 10 metro areas with the most HGIC page views

  1. Greenville-Spartanburg-Asheville-Anderson
  2. Charleston
  3. Charlotte
  4. Columbia
  5. Atlanta
  6. Raleigh-Durham (Fayetville)
  7. Florence-Myrtle Beach
  8. New York, NY
  9. Washington DC (Hagerstown MD)
  10. Savannah