'Like a waterfall - never ending'
  Victoria County master gardener classes for 2006 begin Aug. 3

July 20, 2006
BARBARA THEDIN - Victoria County Master Gardener
Ever wonder how your neighbor gets his or her hibiscus to bloom year round while yours looks much like it did when you bought it six months ago? Why does your other neighbor have shiny red tomatoes while yours are cracked around the stem with a lackluster shine? Do you want to know what's causing your lawn to have areas of dead grass? What type of soil is in your area, alkaline or acidic?
Information relating to these questions and many others will be presented by guest speakers at 14 different class settings during the 2006 Victoria County Master Gardener Training Classes.

No matter if you are a novice or an experienced gardener, you will leave with new knowledge to help you hone your own gardening skills and/or share with others. As a member of the 2004 Victoria County Master Gardener class, I speak from experience: The knowledge you gain from this training is like a waterfall - never ending.

When I volunteered to coordinate this year's training class, I knew it would entail contacting future speakers and preparing materials for each of the classes. Little did I know, however, that I would be in touch with some of the most knowledgeable gardening experts in the area - and in the state. The quality of speakers for this program is outstanding, with a lot more sources available for gardening information through the network made available through Texas Cooperative Extension at Texas A&M University.

If you looked at the test scores for classes over past years you would see that after benefiting from the knowledge of the speakers, scores greatly improved, doubling and tripling for everyone who completed the course.

After nine years, Victoria County Master Gardener membership has grown from a mere 12 to more than 100 certified master gardeners and master gardener interns. If you are accepted into this year's program you will be expected to attend 50 hours of class time before becoming an intern. During the following year, as an intern, you will be expected to fulfill at least 50 hours of volunteer service, including hours at the Victoria Educational Garden (VEG), phone time at the Victoria County Extension office helping others with questions as well as time for approved projects. I know this sounds as though it's a lot, but you will be surprised how quickly you can accomplish this.

After you complete your volunteer service you become a certified Texas master gardener. Thereafter, each master gardener must fulfill 20 hours of volunteer service supporting Victoria County Extension and its master gardener program.

This year's Victoria County Master Gardener training classes are Aug. 3 through Nov. 16 from 1 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays at the Victoria County Extension office. The cost of the class is $135 per person and includes the Master Gardener Handbook, all literature and a soil test. You will find the handbook and the speakers' presentations will go hand-in-hand. You will also be able to use the handbook as a reference guide long after you complete the class.

The knowledge you gain from attending these classes will help you personally and prepare you to educate others. Tours for area schools are conducted at the Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG), and master gardeners volunteer to give the tours. The students enjoy seeing the butterflies, vegetables and different plants at the garden. It's really simple and self-gratifying to see the youngsters gathering all that information!

The greenhouse the master gardeners built at the garden has been great for propagating plants and showing the kids how to do it. I don't know who has more fun, the students or the master gardeners who volunteer with the tours. This spring, there have been 12 school tours with 622 students and 16 chaperones - and three adult tours with more than 50 touring the garden. And, by the way, look for a future article on propagating plants for the greenhouse in August.

Becoming a Master Gardener will also allow you to write for this column, "The Gardeners' Dirt." Training is available for the master gardeners to help us write these columns. The Victoria County Master Gardeners also have symposiums, garden tours and plant sales, and some of us even go and speak to garden clubs. It's a lot of fun and quite enlightening, too!

The speakers for our classes this year are some of the most knowledgeable in their field. We will have an Extension horticulturist, Extension pathologist, Extension pesticide safety coordinator, Extension turfgrass specialist, County Extension agents, a retired college professor, master gardeners and members of the community like John Fossati of Four Seasons Garden Center, Laurie Garretson of Earth Works, and Dina Poland of Renken's Nursery.

If you decide to apply and are accepted for this year's class you will become a member of a group of wonderful gardeners statewide. The knowledge you will gain and share will be never ending - like that waterfall.

Call the Victoria County Extension office at 361-575-4581 and ask for additional information. There will be brochures at the local nurseries, feed stores and the Victoria Chamber of Commerce. I hope to see you at the classes starting Aug. 3.

Steps to master
July 20, 2006

The following are the 2006 master gardener training class topics:
Responsibilities of master gardeners, junior master gardener training

How and what makes plants grow

Plant propagation

Diagnosing, understanding and minimizing plant diseases

Pesticide safety/application techniques

Growing vegetables and herbs

Identifying and understanding insects

Working with Victoria soils; tree species, care and maintenance

Perennials and roses; Texas Superstars

Home fruit and nut management

Tour of Fort Bend County Master Gardeners' projects and a large nursery

Principles of Earth kind practices

Landscape horticulture

Turfgrass vrieties; irrigation

Plants recommended for Victoria