Got gardening concerns? Talk to the Masters

Gardening is generally associated with warmer weather, but if you ask any Master Gardener, research and preparation in the colder months is important to having a successful yard or garden.

Not sure where to begin?

This year the Columbus Botanical Garden is teaming up with the local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Office to offer Gardening with the Masters, a nine-week series of classes with topics ranging from plant selection to organic gardening to pest control.

All the classes are taught by Master Gardeners, a group of people who have gone through an extensive program of instruction and testing, and will be held on Tuesday mornings at the Botanical Garden, 3603 Weems Road, March 3 through April 28.

“It’s supposed to be fun and informative,” said Jennifer Davidson, Columbus’ local ag agent, of the Gardening with the Masters program. “It’s meant for people of all gardening abilities so it actually starts at the very beginning ... and then (we) go through some highlighted information and end up at specialty gardening.”

While Alice Barkwell, who has been a Master Gardener for two years, isn’t teaching any of the classes, she said she is even interested in taking the specialized class on hydrangeas. “I can always learn more,” she said.

Barkwell also recommends participants make the most of their class time by doing some research in advance. “Just be real prepared, ask lots of questions and prepare to have fun with something you love.”

This time of year is when people should be researching and planning their garden, said Joyce Fowler, a Master Gardener who will be teaching the course on plant selection on March 17.

“Too many people, and I’ve seen it, I’ve probably done it,” said Fowler. “I’ll be in a garden shop and I’ll see people come in and say ‘Oh, that’s so beautiful. I’m just going to have to get at least three of those, or maybe four.’ They’ve not planned, they’ve not read the label on the plant.”

By evaluating your yard or garden space, you will develop a better idea of the amount of sun and shade and the composition of the soil, allowing you to choose appropriate plants.

Fowler brings in many of her plants over the winter, that way she’s not starting fresh when the next growing season begins.

Because becoming a Master Gardener is a commitment many people don’t have the time for, Gardening with the Masters was developed as a less intense and more flexible alternative.

“If you don’t have time to do the entire Master Gardener program,” Fowler said, “this will help.”

Davidson pointed out that the information given in the classes is specific to local gardening, an added bonus that is hard to find in national publications or information online.

Some of the difficulties of gardening in the South, such as droughts and extreme heat, can be better addressed and discussed by people who have been working in those conditions for many years.

“We want to give people real-world knowledge,” information they can use at home, said Davidson.

While Master Gardeners have held some gardening classes, Davidson said this is the first time they’ve done something so comprehensive. If all goes well, she would like it to become an annual event.

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