A group of Hays County Master Gardeners tend to a vegetable garden. Photos courtesy of Joe Urbach
Growth in Gardening: Becoming a Hays County Master Gardener
Is the Hays County Master Gardener program for you? Do you love to garden? Are you interested in lifelong learning and the science of gardening? Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge with others? Do you want to grow your own cutting garden? Do you want a better, greener, healthier lawn? Are you thinking about landscaping with native plants? Do you want to learn how to garden successfully in our challenging Texas climate? Do you want to learn how to grow prettier flowers or a lush vegetable garden? Do you want to learn about attracting pollinators, or rainwater collection, or herbs, or plant propagation, or pest management, or growing grapes and fruit trees? Maybe you simply want to learn how to grow the healthiest plants possible? Or perhaps you want to learn the tricks to composting efficiently? Does your idea of fun involve getting down and dirty in the garden?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then the Master Gardener program might just be for you. Consider becoming a Texas Master Gardener, Master Gardeners do all of the above and more. Working with a wonderful group of gardening enthusiasts you will gain knowledge about the life of the garden and put what you know into practice for the benefit of your lawn and garden, our environment, and others in our community. It’s easy, too. The next Master Gardener training course offered by the Hays County AgriLife Extension Service begins on Saturday, Sept. 1, and you can be a part of it. Classes run every Saturday thereafter until the final class on Nov. 3.
If you have been reading my weekly column, my blog (www.GardeningAustin.com)or have heard me speak in person, you will know that I am a Texas Master Gardener. I currently volunteer as a trainer for our association in Hays County. I am proud of that. I enjoy working with my fellow master gardeners and I love teaching and interacting with the new people that come to take our Master Gardener training course for so many, many different reasons.
I have met master gardeners form all over the state of Texas and the country. They come from a wide-ranging assortment of backgrounds – from stay-at home parents to college presidents, doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, small business owners, sanitation workers, auto mechanics, to the guy that inspects and repairs my septic system. No matter who you are or what you have done in your life, there is a place for you as a Texas Master Gardener.
Most of the master gardeners I know are passionate about serving their communities, learning, and sharing gardening best practices. They are individuals who have taken the Master Gardener training course and share their time and expertise as volunteers in community gardens, city beautification projects, and farmers markets to name just a few or the things we get up to. It is the gaining of knowledge, the skill in gardening, and giving back to the community that distinguishes a Master Gardener from other gardeners.
We are not volunteer gardeners, nor do we compete in any way with professional horticulturists or landscape designers; we provide research-based horticultural and gardening information to the public, we learn and grow in knowledge by networking with each other and with the many professionals and university resources that support the Master Gardener program.
If you like working with plants and people, you can become a master gardener. Master gardeners are trained volunteers who assist the Cooperative Extension Service, a government agency that provides gardening advice to the public. In recent years, the Texas Master Gardener program grew to include over 7,000 volunteers. This is the largest corps of Master Gardener volunteers in the entire nation. These volunteers assisted their local extension offices by answering over 23,000 phone calls. They presented well over 2,000 presentations that reached audiences of over 88,000 people. Master Gardeners demonstrated appropriate plant selection and Earth-Kind® practices in over 275 gardens throughout the state. They reached youth through some 460 gardens that focus on learning opportunities for children. Master Gardeners furthered their efforts by offering gardening information on more than 50 individual county websites.
In 2017, Texas trained over 1,000 new volunteers. New and tenured volunteers provided the greatest number of educational hours in the history of the program this year. They provided 562,420 hours of educational service. These hours compare to 300 full time employees and an economic impact of some $12 million dollars.
Joe Urbach with his grandson Liam in their garden by the “Green Bean wall” that’s filled Chinese Yard-Long Beans. Master Gardening classes not only teach gardeners about using native plants in landscaping, but also how to produce fruitful vegetable gardens.
As a master gardener candidate, you’ll receive in-depth training in horticulture and backyard gardening from university and extension specialists. You’ll learn about the basics of vegetable, fruit, and ornamental gardening, as well as landscaping with native plants, composting, plant diseases, pollinators, better lawn care, and much, much more.
Along with your training, you can volunteer to serve with our local extension office. We can help you match your specific talents and interests with the needs of the extension office and the gardening public in general. If interested, you might want teach small groups through classes and workshops at libraries, botanical gardens, or fairs and other events, we can help with that. Or you may want to answer individual community members questions by phone, by mail, by email, or in person at an information booth, we have you covered there also. You may also want to assist in preparing garden-related newsletters, or work with special audiences such as physically-challenged adults or troubled teens. It is all up to you, you can be as involved as you want to be. Our extension office is now located in Wimberley and we are just now in the early stages of new demonstration garden and greenhouse projects at Jacob’s Well – you can be a part of that, too. It promises to be an incredibly fun and informative adventure.
Once you become a master gardener, you are then eligible to receive updates and further specialist and technical training through our local extension office, and state or national offices if you wish. You may also want to participate in statewide or regional meetings, and even attend a national conference for master gardeners. The program has so much to offer.
As I mentioned, I am a trainer for our local Hays County chapter of the Texas Master Gardener Association, and I would like to personally encourage you to join us for the next Master Gardener training class that begins in September. I am excited about the role Master Gardeners are playing in the improvement of Hays County, in our home landscapes, gardens, historic buildings, schools, senior centers, and community garden plots, in responding to personal and business needs in landscaping, disease and insect problems, and through volunteer work assisting at the extension office. Master Gardeners have fun and learn through lectures, tours, hands on activities and by sharing our own knowledge with each other and the community at large.
The training class for fall 2018 will begin on Saturday, Sept. 1, at the Wimberley Extension office, 200 Stillwater Drive. During the class experts from the horticultural and gardening industry will present programs to expand your gardening knowledge base. We have a dozen or more different speakers scheduled for this set of classes.
Classes will meet during the day for 4-6 hours, starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday mornings. The course completion date is set for Nov. 3. Please contact the Hays County Extension Office at 512-393-2120, as soon as possible to get your application and to reserve your spot in the class. It is hot now but fall gardening is just around the corner so why not come grow with us.
Joe Urbach is the publisher of GardeningAustin.com and the Phytonutrient Blog. He has lived in the Central Texas area for over 30 years. Urbach is a certified Texas Master Gardener from Hays County and is currently serving as the director of training. For more information on the Master Gardener program contact the Hays County AgiLife Extension Service at 512-393-2120.