Master Gardener training for 2014 begins early next year

Published on Wednesday, 16 October 2013 22:36 - Written by By Keith Hansen Keeping It Green

It’s that time year again when the Smith County Master Gardener program is seeking applicants to become part of a highly trained core of volunteers who assist the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in conducting gardening educational programs and projects in Smith County.

Consider this: Do you like to share with friends, young people or others your interest in plants and gardening? Would you like to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants? Would you like to participate in a practical and intensive horticulture-training program? Do you have time to attend a two-month training? And, are you willing and able to complete 72 hours of volunteer work for the AgriLife Extension Service-Smith County office within a year after the training?

If you answered yes to all these questions, the Smith County Master Gardener program is for you. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service-Smith County program is seeking gardeners who would like to use their gardening knowledge and experience to teach and help others the joys of gardening in exchange for some of the best training in horticulture available.

The Master Gardener program, sponsored by AgriLife Extension, is a volunteer program whereby trained volunteers provide research-based home gardening information to the residents of Smith County. This is done through programs and activities such as workshops, speaker’s bureau, school projects, gardening publications, research and demonstration gardens and answering individual requests for gardening information at the Smith County Extension office.

If you are a resident of a nearby county, please contact your own county Extension agent, because there are Master Gardener programs in all of the counties surrounding Smith.

Applicants selected to be Master Gardener trainees will receive instruction in home horticulture from AgriLife Extension specialists, staff, Master Gardeners and local experts.

The program offers 72 hours of instruction covering plant growth and development; lawn care; ornamental trees, shrubs and flowers; insect, disease and weed management; soils and plant nutrition; vegetable gardening; home fruit production; composting; plant propagation; pruning; diagnosing plant problems; landscape maintenance; and more.

The $150 fee includes the 450-plus-page “Texas Master Gardener Handbook.” After completing the initial training, the learning continues through the volunteer service in projects and programs. Interns give 72 hours (within one year) of volunteer service in Smith County for Extension-approved activities in areas of home horticulture.

There are many opportunities to use your talents and serve the community through the Master Gardener program. The type of service varies according to community needs and the abilities and interests of the Master Gardeners. Master Gardener interns continue to further their education during their first year, helping telephone callers and walk-in visitors in the Extension office seeking information related to gardening, and working with experienced Master Gardeners in our demonstration gardens in the Tyler Rose Garden.

Other service opportunities include staffing plant clinics and information tables, or creating educational displays for community events such as the “Our Secret Garden” exhibit, part of the AgriWorld at the East Texas State Fair. This exhibit teaches children about the role of horticulture and garden plants in their lives.

Master Gardeners speak to local groups and clubs on gardening, conduct workshops and seminars and lead tours in Tyler Rose Garden. They may work with 4-H, Junior Master Gardener and other youth or school groups.

Examples of major Smith County Master Gardener activities include sponsoring the annual Home Garden Tour in spring, and the Fall Gardening Conference and Bulbs & More Sale in the fall.

Other Smith County Master Gardener projects include producing the yearly Northeast Texas Calendar, Garden Journal and Planning Guide (on sale now for 2014); helping neighborhoods or schools establish gardens; and horticultural research assistance at Texas A&M at Overton. You may have seen the “Master Gardener Tips,” and “In Our Garden” articles written by Smith County Master Gardeners in this and other Smith county newspapers.

Currently, there are 151 certified and interning Master Gardeners in Smith County who also enjoy getting together monthly to share knowledge and plants through an association.

Master Gardeners are representatives of AgriLife Extension, which is part of the Texas A&M System. In all volunteer work related to the program, Master Gardeners follow and provide only research-based recommendations of AgriLife Extension. The title “Master Gardener” can be used by volunteers only when engaged in Extension activities.

Participants become certified Texas Master Gardeners after they have completed the training and internship by fulfilling their volunteer commitment. The certification is good for one year and is renewed through continued participation in horticulture classes and volunteering.

The 2014 Smith County Master Gardener class will begin Jan. 7, 2014. Most, but not all, of the classes will be every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon from 1 to 5 p.m. through March 18.

For a complete schedule, more information and an application, call the Smith County Extension office at 903- 590-2980, write, or come by the office at the Cotton Belt Building, 1517 W. Front St., Suite 116, Tyler, 75702. Applications can be downloaded and printed. Go to the “Programs” section of East Texas Gardening website,http://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu , located under “Educational Programs and News.”

The deadline for submitting applications is Dec, 13. Applicants will be notified of their status in the program by Dec. 20. Class size is limited and preference will be given to qualified Smith County residents.

An orientation meeting is scheduled for 2 to 3:30 p.m. Nov. 21 at the Extension office meeting room. You can learn more about and ask questions regarding the Smith County Master Gardener program. All applicants are required to attend this meeting. No pre-registration is required.

Keith Hansen is Smith County horticulturist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. His web page ishttp://EastTexasGardening.tamu.edu . His blog ishttp://agrilife.org/etg .