THE MASTER PLAN
UNCE volunteers are great assets to area growers.
WRITTEN BY BARBARA TWITCHELL
PHOTOS BY JAMIE KINGHAM
They are like superheroes, minus the capes and masks, helping us fight everything from aphids to zucchini bugs.
Armed with a wealth of resources, these champions are ready and willing to provide excellent, free, research-based advice on any gardening conundrum, just for the asking. In everyday life, we call them master gardeners.
So what exactly are master gardeners? They are volunteers who are trained and certified by the cooperative extension offices of land grant universities in the fine points of home gardening and horticulture, in order to provide information and technical assistance to gardeners in their respective communities. Nationally, there are almost 95,000 active master gardeners who donate about 5 million volunteer service hours annually.
To earn the title of Certified Master Gardener from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, candidates must attend more than 50 hours of classroom instruction, followed by 50 hours of volunteer work. To maintain certification, master gardeners are required to volunteer an additional 30 hours each year.
Despite what you may think, people from almost any walk of life may become master gardeners.
“One big misperception comes with the title,” says Wendy Hanson Mazet, coordinator of the UNCE’s Master Gardener Program. “People think that master gardeners are all experts in gardening, or they have degrees, or they’ve retired from professorship. But the reality is that the program teaches members of the community who have a real passion for gardening, who want to expand their knowledge and give that knowledge back to the public.”
A legacy of service
The Master Gardener Program was created to meet the high demand for urban gardening and horticulture advice that was flooding Cooperative Extension offices. Volunteerism is the heart and soul of the program, which is now in its 40th year at UNCE.
Hanson Mazet has trained and guided these dedicated volunteers for 15 of those years. It’s no small task. In 2013, she had 260 active master gardeners under her wing and trained another 50 in spring 2014. That’s more than 300 volunteers currently serving Carson City and Storey, Douglas, and Washoe counties.
With such accessibility, these volunteers have become a vital component in UNCE’s ability to provide the community with accurate gardening information, education, and guidance. Baffled gardeners can call, email, or walk into the UNCE offices to seek answers about horticultural issues, including plant care, soil management, turf management, tree care and pruning, edible gardens, water-efficient landscaping, container gardening, and identification and control of insects, pests, weeds, and plant diseases. A master gardener gladly will help.
If they don’t have the answer, they will research and find it for you, Hanson Mazet says. If they still can’t find it, they will ask the UNCE staff for help. The goal is to provide the customer with the best research-based solutions.
“We are non-biased,” Hanson Mazet adds. “We are neither pro-chemical nor pro-organic. We give people all the different scientifically based options, and they make the choice.”
People in glass houses
In addition to answering questions, master gardeners also conduct plant workshops and demonstrations, coordinate community presentations, and provide technical assistance to community garden managers. But one of their most popular activities is the advanced greenhouse project, in which the volunteers learn the science of raising vegetable seedlings for garden transplant.
“A really good piece of news is that the master gardeners were granted greenhouse space again at the university, which we haven’t had for the past two years,” Hanson Mazet says. “The public will be really happy because that means our very popular plant sale comes back in May.”
In addition to selling the greenhouse plants to the general public, UNCE donates a flat of 25 plants to each school garden in the area. The master gardeners also provide technical assistance to those school projects.
Hanson Mazet is justifiably proud of her master gardeners and what they are able to accomplish. She admits that she wouldn’t be able to provide anywhere near the amount and quality of current customer service without them.
“Our goal is to educate as many people as we can,” Hanson Mazet says. “I’m only one person, but with these volunteers we can reach so many more people.”
Freelance writer Barbara Twitchell admits to being one of those often-baffled gardeners. She is relieved to now know that there is somewhere she can go to find out how to get rid of those pesky vole holes that keep popping up in her lawn.
Classes and programs to help local growers.
The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension offers a variety of classes and programs to meet the diverse needs of the Reno-Tahoe gardening community. Anyone is welcome to attend, though UNCE-trained master gardeners are specifically trained in Nevada-based horticultural issues. Below is a list of current and upcoming offerings:
For Home Gardeners
Grow Your Own, Nevada! A statewide program of eight weekly classes, offered twice per year, to help Nevadans garden for food in our state’s desert climate.
Master Gardener Training Program Master gardeners learn advanced horticultural science skills through 50+ hours of classroom instruction offered yearly in early spring through UNCE. After training, they volunteer to provide free, research-based horticulture information to area residents.
To receive services offered by master gardeners (e.g., free plant diagnostics, free plant/insect identification, or low-cost soil testing), send an email to Mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu, call 775-336-0265, or visit http://www.Growyourownnevada.com/ask-an-expert
Gardening in Nevada: The Bartley Ranch Series These free classes are cosponsored by Washoe County Regional Parks and Open Space and UNCE. They are held yearly, every Tuesday in February and March from 6 – 8 p.m. at Bartley Ranch Regional Park (600 Bartley Ranch Road) in Reno.
For Green Industry Professionals
Green Industry Training A series of entry-level green-industry professional development classes offered yearly in early spring. Participants can select individual classes or enroll in the entire course. Companies sending multiple employees receive discounted rates.
Green Industry Continuing Education Series This series provides the area’s green industry professionals with current, accurate, and useful continuing education information. Classes offer continuing education units and are held year round from noon to 1 p.m. on the second or third Wednesday of the month.
To learn more and receive email notifications for these classes, visit http://www.Growyourownnevada.com
For those living in Northern California communities between Davis and Lake Tahoe, the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources provides classes and master gardener services that specialize in the needs of these unique climate areas. For details, visit http://www.Ucanr.edu/gardening