Master Gardeners are here to help!

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“The Master Gardeners are in…” reads the sandwich board at the entrance to Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens.

Whether you have a question about drought gardening, composting or managing pesky deer and gophers, the Mendocino County Master Gardeners offer a one-stop resource for garden information from their home base at Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens

Trained and certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), Master Gardeners volunteer in their communities to provide practical, science-based gardening information to backyard, school and community gardeners. Trainees receive 50 hours of professional instruction and hands-on skill building. Certification is renewed annually through a combination of volunteer service and continuing education.

“The classes couldn’t begin to teach everything we’d like to know,” says one 2008 graduate. “But they did a great job of teaching us how to look things up and we keep learning from each other. That’s what makes it fun.”

Becky Ellis coordinates Master Gardener staffing of the Hotline and MCBG Library. “We have a computer to access online resources and a great collection of garden and landscape design books.  Everything’s available to the public,” she says.  “Just call to check our hours or make an appointment.”  Becky and other Master Gardener also organize public classes, assist in school rooms and gardens, staff information tables at farmers markets, organize children’s activities, lead elementary classes on interpretive walks and have volunteered as docents for garden tours hosted by other groups. 

“Hotline calls can be routine or send us searching our shelves and the Web,” says Becky.  “The first challenge to solving any plant problem is asking the right questions.  A plant can sicken or die from under or over watering, from a disease or pest infestation, because a gopher dined on its roots or a gust of wind doused it with Round Up being sprayed on a neighbor’s gravel driveway.  You can’t get to the solution until you understand the problem. It’s quite the detective game!”

“Lots of people ask for plant recommendations that will allow them to conserve water,” Becky reports.  “I point them to the many beautiful and non-invasive grasses. Native Plants like our local Huckleberry, Coyote Bush, Manzanita and Sticky Monkey Flower blend gracefully with many Mediterranean plants and aromatic herbs that grow well in our soils and climate. North Coast gardeners are fortunate to have so many excellent local plant nurseries staffed by caring professionals who can offer a wealth of information. The Botanical Gardens can serve as a laboratory and design studio for home gardeners.” It’s important to remember that even drought resistant ornamentals may need regular drip watering until they’re well established. The amount will vary depending on your soil and microclimate. Herbs intended for the kitchen require more water than purely ornamental plantings. When landscaping with Native Plants be forewarned that rather than offering deer or gopher resistant options, they may be welcomed as a familiar treat.” 

Another question familiar to Hotline Volunteers is whether composting is worthwhile when garden space is limited on residential lots. The answer is an emphatic yes! Composting keeps waste out of landfill and saves on the cost of trash removal. It conserves water compared to the 4-gallons per minute required to operate a garbage disposal. It reduces the load on septic and sewer systems. Most important of all, it feeds the earth that feeds us. By composting, we give back grass clippings, leaves, prunings, food scraps, seed-free young weeds and shredded newspaper (just the black and white pages, now printed with soy based inks). These materials quickly decompose in a simple backyard compost bin with the help of naturally occurring worms, insects and bacteria. “I usually give people one of the handouts on composting,” says Becky. “It can be complicated, but really, it can be so easy.”  There are different kinds of compact bins available, or you can use wood pallets or make a wire cylinder to hold a 3’ to 4’ pile in place. Becky uses the “lasagna” approach. “Start with a layer of loose, woody clippings, top it with several inches of leaves and soft clippings, add another layer of shredded non-glossy newspaper, bury your kitchen scraps in the center and just keep repeating. Cover the pile loosely in the rainy season and sprinkle it now and then in the summer. The more you turn and mix the pile, the faster it will decompose producing something akin to black gold for your garden.”

If you have a Master Gardening question & would like to visit the Library Site , please stop by the Gardens Store & just ask for the key!  The Library has a wide range of garden related books, journals, and internet sources to aid you in finding the answers to the toughest queries.

You can also ask a Master Gardener your garden questions through the phone hotline, 707-964-4352 ext 27, or email hotline, mastergardener@gardenbythesea.org.

Wendy Roberts, Coast Coordinator
Mendocino County Master Gardeners