Garden Calendar: 10 reasons to join Master Gardeners

Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners are accepting applications for this fall’s training class, and area residents are invited to join the community service/education organization.

Here are some reasons you might want to become a Master Gardener:

Reason 10: Learning new lingo and acronyms to impress friends and neighbors.

After just a few classes, you will have full understanding of soil tilth, evapotranspiration, angiosperms vs. gymnosperms, mycorrhizae and floriferousness. Imagine your family’s reaction when you come home and explain that the Acer rubrum in the yard is at risk from TGRs!

Reason 9: Learning the difference between friend and foe.

Lady beetle larvae may look like little alligators, but they are probably eating aphids if you see them on your plants. You can also make friends with earthworms, beneficial spiders, micro organisms, and plants.

More social types might make friends with other people in the 150-member organization, and there are opportunities for social interaction through both volunteer and education activities.

Reason 8: Gardening that benefits the community.

Creating an attractive landscape at your house certainly brightens up the neighborhood, but does it contribute to the greater good?

The Demonstration Gardens at the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds, maintained by Master Gardeners, provide habitat for beneficial insects and wildlife, reduce stormwater runoff, and produce food that is donated to a local food pantry.

The gardens also demonstrate sound maintenance practices and recommended plant varieties for our area if you just want to learn.

Douglas County Extension Master Gardeners also maintain Monarch Waystation No. 1 on the Kansas University campus. The Waystation provides habitat for Monarch butterflies and serves as a model for additional Monarch gardens. More than 5,000 replica Monarch Waystations have been built since the garden’s inception.

Reason 7: The grapevine.

Master Gardeners always know who has the least expensive geraniums or that hard-to-find heirloom tomato variety. They know where to get the best planting containers, when mulch goes on sale, and they already have the annual compost sale marked on their calendars.

Reason 6: Getting your hands dirty.

In class, you can touch real soil with your bare hands through some of the educational activities. As a volunteer, you can work in the gardens (see Reason 8), plant veggies with youths, build terrariums, play (I mean teach) with worms and grow some things on your own to donate for plant sales and the Plant-A-Row program.

If you want to stay clean and still call yourself a gardener, there are also education and volunteer activities for which you could even change out of your gardening shoes. Master Gardeners are often out answering questions at the Farmers Market, local garden centers and community events. They provide educational programs including an upcoming Gardening 102 class in August and speak to local organizations.

Reason 5: You might save a dying plant.

The Horticulture Hotline brought in nearly 2,000 calls, emails and walk-in questions about plants and gardening in 2011.

Although tree problems are the most popular, Master Gardeners helped area residents with flowers, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, moles, caterpillars, bees and many other garden maladies.

Had you been a Master Gardener, you could have been the one on the line talking someone through their plant problem! The Master Gardener hotline has an extensive library of gardening resources, and the training helps volunteers sort out the good, bad and ugly information that is online.

Reason 4: Master Gardening is good for the pocketbook.

Learning better gardening practices will save you money on fertilizer, water and pest management, of course. Master Gardeners also provide a service that saves tax dollars — cumulatively volunteering the equivalent of about four and a half full-time employees. There is a fee for the basic training, but it is only $100 for the entire 13 weeks and covers a book and other educational materials used in class. The advanced training sessions that are required to continue as a Master Gardener are offered free to members of the organization.

Reason 3: Be the superhero you always wanted to be.

Flying is difficult, but so is keeping a plant alive in the wrong hands. Becoming a Master Gardener will provide the opportunity to share your awesome radish-growing or shrub-pruning abilities to youths of all ages. I know the first-graders are always impressed when condensation accumulates in their terrariums thanks to my super gardening abilities.

Reason 2: Confidently call yourself an expert.

People will really listen when you explain just what it takes to get an orchid to bloom or why their strawberry plants stopped producing — unless they are your parents, children, spouses, close friends or others who knew you when you lost that one plant several years ago.

Reason 1: You care about learning and the community.

Many Master Gardeners enjoy gardening, but some will tell you their only skills are pulling weeds and scooping mulch. If you have a real desire to learn more about horticulture and are willing to make a commitment to give time back to the community through Master Gardener activities, I hope you will join us this fall. Once in a while we even have fun — they let me teach some of the classes.

The 2012 training is Aug. 21 to Nov. 13, meeting once a week on Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Classes are held at K-State Research and Extension–Douglas County, 2110 Harper St., Lawrence. Stop by 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, call 843-7058 or visit our website at for more information.