University of Wyoming Extension News

Green thumbs gather in Sheridan March 13-15

Master Gardeners offer plants to sell at a farmers market in Laramie.

Master Gardeners offer plants to sell at a farmers market in Cheyenne.

Wyoming Master Gardeners and big screen superheroes use different tools in combat, but they share a common goal: better the lives of others.

Yes, when facing Wyoming’s brutal winters, droughts, short growing seasons, pests and scouring winds, these volunteerswith green thumbs engage Mother Nature in hand-to-hand battles.

“Gardening in Wyoming is completely different than anywhere else,” said Chris Hilgert, Wyoming Master Gardener coordinator with University of Wyoming Extension. “Living up to the Master Gardener title is a challenge when you are facing an unforgiving growing environment. This program is important because we teach gardeners in Wyoming how to overcome the wind, dry conditions and lack of rain.”

Hilgert explained the use of greenhouses, high tunnels, and other techniques are often recommended and taught by Master Gardeners to extend Wyoming’s short growing season and evade its harsh conditions.

Anyone interested in becoming a Master Gardener or learning techniques to overcome gardening obstacles can attend the 2014 Wyoming Master Gardeners and Wyoming Farmers Marketing Association Joint Conference in Sheridan March 13-15.

“This conference is a chance for the Wyoming group to come together as a whole and highlight the best educational and hands-onexperiences we offer to help train other Master Gardeners and the general public,” Hilgert said.

Themed “Growing Together,” this is the first year the Wyoming Farmers Market Association will join the conference to teach gardeners about marketing produce and creating a profitable business. Conference information is at http://www.uwyo.edu/mastergardener.

Natrona County horticulture educator Rod Davis initiated the Wyoming Master Gardener program in 1984. Master Gardeners are the connection between extension and residents interested in rural and urban horticulture. In 2013, there were 534 Master Gardeners in 14 counties. They reported 10,904 volunteer hours and 2,216 educational hours.

Washington State started the first Master Gardener program in 1973 when extension educators received a large number of questions about horticulture. They decided to recruit gardeners and horticultural experts willing to volunteer their time at local extension offices in exchange for formal, research-based horticultural training.

Master Gardeners are required to complete a 40-hour training program that teaches botany, soils, flowers, trees, shrubs, lawns,vegetables, fruits, entomology, pesticide safety and diagnosing plant problems.

“The common link between all Master Gardeners is that they have a passion for gardening,” Hilgert said. “They have an interest in learning more about horticulture and becoming better gardeners themselves.”

A Master Gardener from Natrona County became the “Bug Lady” to help answer questions related to entomology, a branch of zoology concerned with the study of insects. Judy Logue became well-versed in the subject by taking classes outside of the Master Gardeners program.

“Judy did so many things for the Master Gardener program, but most importantly she studied a topic not a lot of people wanted to study,” said Donna Cuin, Natrona County extension horticulturist. “Not long after she started, she became capable answering questions related to identifying insects and teaching other Master Gardeners about the topic.”

Master Gardeners are from a wide range of demographics, from high school to 80 years old.

“The best part about this program is when you put together the desire to improve your community with something you love to do, it is a winning combination,” Hilgert said. “Master Gardeners do it for the love of horticulture and their communities. Ultimately, they are doing this for the right reasons, and that is what keeps this program running.”

Contact any local extension office or go online at http://bit.ly/wyomastergardener for more information about the program.