The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Learning to “read” plants through the Master Gardener program

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

One way we grow as gardeners is in our ability to "read" plants. Not in a "reading tea leaves" kind of way but more in a "are they healthy" kind of way. Leaves are excellent indicators as to plant health. In autumn deciduous trees and shrubs naturally lose their leaves; therefore we lose one of our gauges.

Fall of 2015 has been exceptionally warm and dry. Many plant leaves have the green of September rather than the reds and yellows of October. Initially this may seem like a good thing, but add the elements of lack of rain and plants can suffer from drought even in October.

It's not too late to help trees and shrubs through watering. For plants in the ground for more than three years the goal is to provide at least 1 to 2 inches of water every two weeks. It takes about one inch of water (about one half-gallon of water per square foot) to wet the top 6-15 inches of soil where most tree and shrub roots live. New transplants may need water every day as long as they retain leaves. Evergreens can be particularly susceptible to fall drought stress.

If you would like to learn more about how to "read" plants and then share your newly found knowledge with others, join our University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program.

You don't have to be a gardening expert to become a Master Gardener volunteer. All you need is an interest in gardening, some time to volunteer in the community, and a desire to share your knowledge with others. The program is more about connections…. connecting people with other gardeners, with their community, and with reliable information.

Master Gardeners are a vital link in providing practical research-based horticulture information to the public through local University Extension offices throughout the U.S.

Master Gardeners participate in over 60 hours of daytime training on vegetables, fruits, lawns, diseases, insects, soils, fertilizers, pruning, trees, and flowers. University of Illinois Extension educators and specialists conduct most of the training.

Once training is completed, Master Gardener interns have many opportunities to complete the required 60 hours of internship to become a certified Master Gardener. Volunteering includes answering questions from gardeners in the local extension office. Master Gardeners are not expected to know all the answers "off the top of their heads", but where to find the answers.

Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion Counties may also conduct annual garden walks, give talks to civic groups or work with kids or senior citizens in local community gardens such as the Champaign County Nursing Home and Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center in Urbana, Prosperity Garden in Champaign, The Onarga Library Idea Garden in Onarga and Douglas Discovery Garden, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Healing Garden and Danville Library Children's Garden in Danville.

Master Gardeners also provide excellent opportunities for home gardeners to learn at Atwood House Garden and Bunker Hill Herb Garden at Kennekuk Park in Danville and The Idea Garden at U of I Arboretum in Urbana. Master Gardeners plan, plant, and maintain the gardens and present hands-on workshops. The demonstration gardens are places for experimenting with plant varieties and gardening techniques.

The Master Gardener program emphasizes practical gardening experience teamed with research-based information of University of Illinois Extension to help people put knowledge to work.

Training for Master Gardeners in Champaign, Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties starts the end of January 2016 in three locations; Champaign, Danville and Onarga; however, applications are due November 27, 2015. Check out our web site for more information and to apply online Questions? Contact Ava Heap (217.333.7672) or Jenney Hanrahan (217.442.8615)

For information about other county programs, check with your local UI Extension office.

University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in its programs and employment.

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