Your Local Master Gardener Can Help

From left: Master gardeners Dan Vierria, Kim Brady, Joan Smith, Kathy Baker, Gail Pothour, and Joeanna Carpenter (kneeling) set up the vegetable garden area at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center before the start of Harvest Day. Photo by Jan Fetler.

The Greenhouse: Digging for Answers

Curious about what’s attacking your plants? Before you search for an answer on Google, try asking a local master gardener. These knowledgeable gardening experts really know their local pests — and a whole lot more. In Greater Sacramento, University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners are certified experts in the science and art of gardening who are part of the University of California’s Agriculture and Natural Resources service.

“All gardening is local,” says garden podcaster Farmer Fred Hoffman, a master gardener for 40 years. “Who better than a neighbor, friend, or relative nearby who is also a master gardener to ask for advice on what thrives here?”

Mostly unpaid volunteers, master gardeners are also on the front line of fighting the negative environmental impacts of chemical pesticides and herbicides, relying on UC’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) recommendations in their efforts.

“Master gardeners are so valuable to the Sacramento gardening community!” says Sacramento County master gardener Kathy Steuer. “We’re science-based, tied into UC-sanctioned best practices for gardening and pest management. We’re local, familiar with the Sacramento Valley region and what does well here. We’re accessible via phone, email, or in person at our Open Garden events at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center.”

Located in Fair Oaks Park, the horticulture center illustrates what the master gardeners preach.

“Visitors can pick the brains of the master gardeners in attendance and learn the benefits of, for example, planting in raised beds, trellising fruit trees, growing grapes and other berries, starting a compost pile or a worm bin, and more.”

Becoming a master gardener takes commitment and hundreds of hours of training, which speaks to the quality of information you can receive from this free resource.

“My impetus for [becoming a master gardener] was to find out more gardening information and techniques that are kinder and gentler to the environment,” says Hoffman, who lives in Folsom.

In fact, Hoffman’s motivations were driven by personal need: Trying to solve his dog’s flea issues, he accidentally killed all the good bugs in his backyard — above and below ground. Thanks to his training and experience, he can now help local residents avoid such disasters.

“Two things that many master gardeners will tell you: One, read and follow all label directions, thoroughly; and two, the question you need to ask yourself is not, ‘What can I buy to control (a pest issue)?’ but ‘What can I do to control it?’” Hoffman explains. “And ‘doing’ involves starting with the least-toxic alternative.”

Do you have a gardening question that can benefit from a master gardener’s help? Find a master gardener near you with the following resources:

Sacramento County

4145 Branch Center Road, Sacramento
Master Gardener Hotline: 916-876-5338

Master gardeners host free workshops during Open Garden days at Fair Oaks Horticulture Center (in Fair Oaks Park), 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks. See schedule on website. The center’s Water-Efficient Landscape demonstration garden is open daily to visitors.

El Dorado County

311 Fair Lane, Placerville
Master Gardener Hotline: 530-621-5512

Sherwood Demonstration Garden, located on the El Dorado Center campus of Folsom Lake College at 6699 Campus Drive, Placerville, is open to visitors 9 a.m. to noon every Friday and Saturday, March through November. Check website for free classes.

Placer County

11477 E Ave., Auburn
Master Gardener Hotline: 530-889-7388

Yolo County

70 Cottonwood St., Woodland
Master Gardener Hotline: 530-666-8737