Master Gardener program encourages members to give back to community

Monday, February 6, 2012
Verla Carr, a Cape Girardeau County Master Gardener, shows off one of her gardening projects at the Jackson Post Office on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012. (Kristin Eberts)

Verla Carr of Jackson liked gardening and wanted to do more for the community. So, in 2003, she joined the Master Gardener program.

"I heard it was a great program," says Carr, who is president of the Cape County Master Gardeners. "I am so passionate about gardening. And I met a whole other group of people who have become dearest friends. It was really a win-win situation for me."

The Master Gardener program is about more than learning to grow pretty flowers and juicy tomatoes, however. Educating the public and doing community work are at the group's core.

The Master Gardener program "prepares gardeners to turn around and help others," says Donna Aufdenberg, a horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension who coordinates the program. "It's a club-like activity, but it is not a club. It's a gardening group that puts in volunteer work in the community. The concentration is educating the public on gardening."

To become a Master Gardener, members must take a 13-week class that covers all topics of gardening such as turf, soils, vegetables, flowers, woody ornamentals and planting. Aufdenberg says after taking the class, interns (potential Master Gardeners) must complete 30 hours of community service in the area of gardening within a year to receive the Master Gardener designation.

"Landscape projects have been with a church, Scouts, the nature center garden," Aufdenburg says. "One group worked on the post office in Jackson. Some people work with youth in schools; others work with the elderly, tilling their gardens or putting in vegetables."

Carr has worked on a number of local projects, including the Jackson post office and the Oliver House. She's also helping with the Eating from the Garden Project, a new program at South Elementary in Jackson. "We teach the students how to grow vegetables and eat healthier," she says. "The kids are really involved."

After completing their 30 hours of community service in the first year, Master Gardeners are required to do 20 hours a year to maintain their standing. In addition, groups have regular meetings, put on spring seminars for the community, hold a spring plant sale and do various other gardening projects.

"Monthly meetings are optional," Carr says. "If you can attend, great. Everybody has a busy life; you participate when you can. We do programs at some of the meetings and also work on continuing education through the Extension Center."

She adds that the spring seminar is coming up March 3 at the Conservation Center at Cape County Park.

The next Master Gardener training course begins Feb. 9 at the Cape Girardeau County Extension Center in Jackson. Classes will be at 6 p.m. every Thursday through April 19 and will last for two to three hours, depending on the topic. The training costs $175 per person or $210 per couple, $50 of which is refundable upon completing the 30 community service hours.

For more information, contact Aufdenberg at 573-238-2420.

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Garden preparation tips

Some of the unseasonably warm weather we've experienced this winter may have you antsy to get your hands in the dirt. Verla Carr, president of Cape County Master Gardeners, and Donna Aufdenberg, horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension office in Bollinger County, offer these tips for preparing your garden:

Soil testing. Aufdenburg says gardeners can begin doing soil testing and adding organic matter like compost to make soil better. "I wouldn't add lyme without a soil test," she says.

Trim work. "I start trimming back some things," Carr says. "Like mums, you can trim back part of the way. You don't want to trim all the way in case there's bad weather. I just started weeding and putting down mulch, too."

Prep work. Carr says if you want to relocate a plant or redesign a garden, start working on those ideas now. "If you're redesigning, do a drawing of where to place varieties of plants for the spring," Carr says. "Then when you're ready to plant, the work is done."

Mark your calendar. Aufdenberg advises following certain dates to know when to plant certain crops. For example, lettuce and greens can be planted on Valentine's Day and potatoes can go in on St. Patrick's Day. She says broccoli, cauliflower and cabbages are cold-tolerant and can be planted from late March into April. But even if the weather is warm and sunny, she says to hold off on tomatoes. "Don't plant tomatoes until May 1 to let the ground get warm," she says. "Planting earlier is not a benefit."

Enjoy. Carr says to go out and enjoy your garden, even when it isn't in bloom. "I love being out, enjoying birds, sunshine, fresh air," she says. "Go out this time of year and check plants. Some are staying greener longer than last winter."

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