Master gardening a little-known way of community volunteerism

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Kim Archer
 
| Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Less than a month after record sub-freezing temperatures swept across the plains, Oklahoma weather is quickly shaping up for spring planting.

Asparagus, broccoli, lettuce, onions and turnips will likely go in a little late this year because of the cold and snowy February. But other crops — okra, potatoes, squash and tomatoes — are great for April planting.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, gardening has become more popular as an activity that can be enjoyed outdoors while reaping the rewards of fresh, homegrown produce.

David Hillock, state coordinator of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Master Gardener Volunteer Program, said rapid urban growth — along with increased interest in gardening and the environment — has generated a rising number of public inquiries about gardening and landscaping.

There are too few Extension staff members to answer each question, so Master Gardener volunteers fill the gap, he said.

“Without these volunteers who are not only passionate about gardening but eager to share their knowledge, we could not reach as many Oklahoma citizens,” Hillock said. “They are vital in our efforts to provide programming to the public.”

Oklahoma’s Master Gardener program initially started in Oklahoma County in 1978 and now has expanded to 27 active counties, including Washington County.

As of 2018, nearly 8,000 Oklahomans have become certified Master Gardeners through the program.

“Oklahoma’s Extension Master Gardener volunteer program is one of the largest and most well-recognized extension programs throughout the country,” Hillock said.

Master Gardeners gain useful training and skills to benefit themselves personally as gardeners. In addition, they are able to interact with other gardening enthusiasts, help their neighbors in the county and develop a resource base of information.

Betty Turner, who has been a Washington County Master Gardener for 17 years, said it has enriched her life.

“I had a desire to be more successful with my plants and realized that Extension training would provide reliable, researched information for me to learn more about gardening,” she told agricultural educator Katie Hughes. “These goals have been met, many times over. I have gained multiple new friends in the process.”

Whether a beginner or seasoned gardener, anyone interested in gardening or volunteering can join up to become a Master Gardener.

The program offers a minimum of 45 hours of instruction that covers a range of topics, including lawns; ornamental trees and shrubs; insect, disease and weed management; soils and plant nutrition; vegetable gardening; home fruit production; garden flowers; and water conservation.

Once completing training and passing the final exam, certified Master Gardener trainees begin an internship that requires 45 to 56 hours of volunteering.

Master Gardeners can be found participating within all kinds of programs, including demonstration gardens, help desks, seminars and workshops, beautification projects and community gardens.

“Through these programs, we are able to help people be more successful at gardening, which in turn lessens negative impacts on the environment, increases community pride, improves personal health and creates a healthier workplace and community,” Hillock said.

For horticulture questions or more information about the Master Gardener program, contact the OSU Washington County Extension Office at 918-534-2216.

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