Out with the snow, in with the flowers. With spring right around the corner, the Oklahoma County Master Gardeners Association and Program is here to aid in all things gardening.
“If you want someone who grows tomatoes, we got them. If you want someone who grows pecans, we got them. If you want someone who knows about how to take care of rodents, we got them,” President Susan Hill said about the program's 300 members. “There's just somebody that knows it all.”
Hill said all the people in the program share a love of gardening.
After taking early retirement, Hill was searching for somewhere to volunteer, but she found no common interests with fellow volunteers until she came across the association's booth at a home and garden show in 2003.
“They want to spread the information about good gardening practices,” she said. “We all have the same love of gardening.”
She has held nearly all the available positions in the program and is serving as president for the second time.
Operating out of Oklahoma State University's Oklahoma County Extension Center, the program was started in 1978.
“The whole master gardener idea was started in 1972 in Washington state because they were inundated at the extension,” Hill said.
Hill said that what happened at the extension service in Washington is that they were getting so many requests for horticultural information that they designed the master gardener program to train volunteers who had some experience in horticulture.
“That was in '72, and then in '78 this extension needed the help, too, so they went ahead and started a program here,” Hill said. “The program itself is run by the extension, master gardeners help with it, but it's an educational program.”
To become a master gardener takes quite a bit of work, but when it comes to gardening, work is expected.
The extension service holds a master gardener class every fall from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, but the deadline to request an interview is May 2.
The objective of the class is to use the present skills and knowledge of experienced hobby horticulturists and to train them as volunteers who share their expertise and knowledge.
“We train 40 to 60 people — we've had as high as 80 people in the training program,” Hill said. “It's 13 weeks. You go every Tuesday, and you're taught integrated pest management, lawn care, tree care, annual and perennials, fruits and nuts, about insects, diseases, water conservation and much more.”
Orientation dates are May 21 and May 28. Interviews with candidates will be held at the Oklahoma County Extension Center in June, and background checks will be done on all applicants.
The course costs $100, which covers all materials, including a complete resource book of OSU Horticulture fact sheets and U.S. Department of Agriculture publications.
After the fall training is complete, volunteers complete 60 hours of telephone training.
“We actually man the phones and get to listen to what the people are asking and what questions that they have,” Hill said. “Once we do that, we become certified master gardeners and we are volunteers for this extension.
“Our mission is to educate so they can do these things (themselves) — to help others learn to grow.”
To learn more
For more information about the extension service and the master gardener program, call 713-1125, go to the center at 930 N Portland or go to http://mastergardener.okstate.edu.