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Ever consider becoming a certified Master Gardener?

Ada County Master Gardeners provide free help

Stumped by a plant problem in your yard or garden? Worried about an unidentified bug? Ada County Master Gardeners can help. In this ninth installment of the Statesman's Dig In video gardening series we take you to meet the Master Gardeners. (Video
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Stumped by a plant problem in your yard or garden? Worried about an unidentified bug? Ada County Master Gardeners can help. In this ninth installment of the Statesman's Dig In video gardening series we take you to meet the Master Gardeners. (Video

You don’t have to be a gardening savant to become a Master Gardener.

“We take anybody — if they’ve never gardened in their life or they’ve been gardening their whole lives,” said horticulturist Susan Bell, who has nurtured the Ada County Master Gardener Program for 30 years.

Participants have ranged in age from 20s to 90s, and the current median age is about 45.

“It’s not just retirees,” Susan said. “That’s a misconception people have.”

The Ada County Master Gardener Program is one of more than 30 gardening programs run by the University of Idaho Extension in counties around the state. These programs provide participants with training in basic horticulture so that they can improve their own lawns and gardens — and help field questions the public about plant and insect issues.

The Ada County program is so popular, there’s usually a one-year waiting list. The class runs from September through April. It’s about 3.5 hours one day a week, usually Fridays.

To become certified Master Gardeners, program participants must complete 50 hours of class work and 50 hours of hands-on practicum.

The cost to participate is $175, and that covers a manual, handouts and other supplies.

In this week’s Dig In video, Advanced Master Gardener Debbie Courson Smith takes us to the University of Idaho Extension Office at 5880 N. Glenwood St. in Garden City — and gives us a peek inside the Master Gardeners’ world.

There’s a terrific camaraderie among these plant and bug nerds, who study and discuss items submitted for identification and diagnosis. Many volunteer more hours than they have to for their annual recertification.

Advanced Master Gardener Sandi Perkey, who retired from Hewlett-Packard four years ago, spent part of an afternoon last week entering information from identification/diagnosis forms submitted by the public into a computer database.

She became a Master Gardener two years ago because she decided she wanted to grow all her own food. She got started on that goal before she finished the program.

“I don’t want to rely on the grocery store,” she said. “It’s always nice to say, ‘We’re having salad tonight, and everything came from the garden.’”

Debbie said she has two motivations for becoming a Master Gardener: her lawn (she hated it) and learn how to control squash bugs that were “devastating” her pumpkin crop.

“I did learn how to care for my lawn,” she said. “But I also learned that squash bug control is complicated and success is difficult.”

I sat in on an optional Master Gardener training last Friday. There were about two dozen who participated in a discussion on diagnosing why plants aren’t thriving — everything from water (too much and lack of) to bug infestations (elm leaf miner were the culprit in a couple cases in June).

It’s the only training I’ve ever seen where the participants were so enthralled that no one really wanted to take a break when Master Gardener Program Assistant Kimberly Tate offered one.

Ada County is the only Extension office in the state that offers both Advanced Master Gardener and Continuing Master Gardener programs, the latter allows those who have limited time to maintain their certification.

Want to apply to the program? Pick up an application for the Master Gardener Program at the Extension office, 5880 N. Glenwood St., or get one online, https://www.uidaho.edu/extension/county/ada

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

What Master Gardeners do

▪  Answer horticulture questions — by telephone and in person at the University of Idaho Extension office, 5880 N. Glenwood St. in Garden City, 287-5900.

▪  Promote environmental responsibility.

▪  Bring the joy of gardening to all ages.

▪  Teach classes for large groups, including civic organizations, church groups, garden clubs, schools and others.

Source: University of Idaho Extension

Idaho Victory Garden Class

Free online class offered by University of Idaho Extension-Ada County to prepare your family to grow, eat and preserve fresh, healthy food — and save money. It’s a 10-unit self-paced course.

Registration is open until July 1. For more information, call Montessa Young, (208)-414-0415 or e-mail, montessay@uidaho.edu

Send us your cage photos

A couple readers called after last week’s story and video about tomato cages to share what they do. Gary Holcomb said he makes inexpensive and durable cages from wire mesh used for concrete construction. We’d love to see your cages and show others what y’all do. Send photos to kmoeller@idahostatesman.com. Also, if you have any suggestions for future garden topics, let me know. If you’d rather talk than e-mail, call me at: 377-6413.