gardening

Apply to Become a UConn Extension Master Gardener – 2021 Class Will Be Online

Master Gardener logoGarden harvests are underway, and it’s a great time to plan ahead for next year. Apply now for the 2021 UConn Extension Master Gardener Program. Classes will be held in Bethel, Brooklyn, Farmington, Haddam and Stamford. The deadline for applications is Friday, October 16, 2020.

UConn Extension Master Gardeners have an interest in plants, gardening, people and the environment.  Specifically, they are willing to share their knowledge, passion and enthusiasm with their communities, providing research-based information to homeowners, students, gardening communities and others. They receive horticultural training from UConn, and then share that knowledge with the public through community volunteering and educational outreach efforts. UConn Master Gardeners help with community and museum gardens, school gardens, backyard projects, houseplant questions and more.

“The Master Gardener Program opened my eyes to the wonderful world of horticulture, gardening, and the fragile ecosystem we share with animals and insects,” says Pat Sabosik of Hamden, who completed the program in 2017.

The 2021 class, that runs January through April, will be entirely online. Each topic consists of online educational material to be reviewed before the class date and a weekly interactive online session providing more depth and application of information to real-life situations. The classroom portion runs from 9 AM – 1 PM. There are five class cohorts available; each affiliated with one or more Master Gardener offices. This year’s Haddam class will be held on Saturdays.

“The combination of in-depth classroom learning with subject matter experts, extensive reading materials, and hands-on projects and outreach experiences is a good balance of learning experiences”, says Anne Farnum who also took the class in 2017.

Classes begin the week of January 9, 2021. Subject matter includes basic botany, plant pathology, soils, entomology and other aspects of gardening such as plant categories, native plants, and pest management. After the classroom portion, students complete 60 hours of outreach experience during the summer, along with a plant identification project.

The program fee is $450.00, and includes all needed course materials. Partial scholarships may be available, based on demonstrated financial need.

For more information, visit the UConn Extension Master Gardener website at www.mastergardener.uconn.edu , where both the on-line and paper application are located.

There is Still Time to Garden

school garden plant
Photo: Molly Deegan

August is just around the corner, and somehow you never got your vegetable garden started. Perhaps you had a wonderful early-season harvest but didn’t plant any later-season crops. The garden bed is just sitting there, empty except for weeds.

Don’t think the garden season is over! There are plenty of short-season crops and cold-tolerant veggies you can grow starting right now.

Connecticut’s first frost dates vary from mid-September in the area of Coventry to early November along the coast in the Bridgeport area. For most of the state, that frost date falls sometime in October. (You can check your specific area at  https://www.plantmaps.com/interactive-connecticut-first-frost-date-map.php) That means most of us have anywhere from eight to ten weeks (55 to 70 days) of growing season left.

There are plenty of short-season vegetables to choose. Once you have determined your likely first frost date, select plants and varieties that will mature in that time frame. This includes vegetables such as beets, bush beans, some cabbages, lettuce, kale, Asian greens, scallions, radishes, turnips, spinach and Swiss chard.

Some vegetables can tolerate cooler temperatures and even a light frost. These selections provide a little extra insurance against an early frost. These include small, round beets, short carrots, radishes, bunching onions, mustard greens, Swiss chard, kale, and spinach. The cooler temperatures will actually improve the sweetness of carrots, cabbages and beets.

You can extend your season further by using plant protectors such as floating row covers, cloches and other similar devices that will give your plants a little extra warmth when the temperatures drop.

So, don’t put the garden tools away just yet. Get started on round two – or three – of your garden to table season!

Article by Sarah Bailey, State Coordinator, UConn Extension Master Gardener Program

Raised beds for my vegetable garden?

Raised BedsThere’s a growing interest in using raised beds in vegetable gardens, and if that’s your interest, read on. It’s always a good idea to plan a project before jumping in and consider the many variables. Let’s explore some of these.

Why you’re considering raised beds. Many people are interested in raised beds as a way to eliminate as much bending and stooping over in the garden as possible; the higher the beds, the less bending required as you tend your plants. This, in turn, will impact the type of material your beds are made of and the amount of soil your beds will have in them. If you’re interested in portable raised beds (perhaps to be able to move your beds during the day to get the maximum amount of sunlight), that will limit the size each bed will be and what they’re made from.

Space needs and sizes of beds. If you’re a patio-gardener, and have limited space, your beds will need to be smaller than if you set beds within a larger garden area. What you want to grow can also determine the size of your beds. For example, herb gardens fit nicely in smaller beds, while tomatoes, root vegetables, and many other crops need beds that are deeper and larger. If you want to use raised beds with walls, a bed that is wider than four feet will be more difficult to tend; a length of more than eight feet will require more movement to get around the bed itself. The layout of raised beds that are simply mounded soil hills, without structured walls, can much more easily be changed than structured beds with walls.

Materials for raised beds. Raised bed kits are readily available, especially online, and made from a variety of materials, including wood and plastic. Will you buy raised bed kits, which can be expensive, or create your own? If you create your own raised beds, will they be very simply made from highly-mounded soil in your garden, or will they have a solid, box-like structure? If they’re structured, what will they be made from…. wood, concrete block, brick, or plastic? Some materials are more readily available than others, some will last longer outside than others, some are more decorative and easier to disassemble and move, and prices will vary, depending on what you choose.

Irrigation needs of plants in raised beds. Soil in raised beds generally dries out more quickly, since air circulation around the perimeter of the bed contributes to drying, so your garden may need to be watered more frequently. Whether you water by hand, sprinkler, or soaker hoses, it’s important to check the amount of moisture in the soil when setting a watering schedule. As with a ground-level garden, mulching will help retain soil moisture. If you decide to use soaker hoses, it’s helpful to draw a layout of your garden and how the hoses will be laid out to assure that you can water each bed when necessary, especially if some plants need more water than others. Hose layout is also important to plan so that you don’t end up with raised hoses draping from one bed to another, making it more difficult to move among the beds.

Overall, gardening in raised beds can be very rewarding, and much easier if you take the time to plan before you build. If you’re unsure if using raised beds is the right choice for you, start with one or two small raised beds, learn as you go along, and determine what best meets your gardening needs for the future. If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/

Article by Linette Branham, 2019 UConn Extension Master Gardener

How To Weed Your Garden: How Often, What to Weed, Tips or Best Management Practices

Yellow FlowerAny undesirable plant in your garden can be labeled a weed. The vegetables or flowers you want to grow will be robbed of nutrients, moisture, light, and space if weeds are not managed. Weeds seem to always outpace the desired plants in growth. They can also harbor insects and diseases.

To be fair, it needs to be noted that some “weeds” in our gardens have a positive side in other circumstances, such as when not surrounding our tomato plant. Many weeds play a healing role in restoring worn-out soil or prevent erosion. Many also provide nectar and shelter for beneficial insects, and can be a food source for animals.

Common garden weeds in our area include annual bluegrass, crabgrass, henbit, creeping Charlie (also known as ground ivy), nutsedge, prickly lettuce, broadleaf plantain and, of course, the dandelion! The best way to know if a self-invited plant on your territory is a potential friend or foe is to get to know your weeds. We can’t eradicate the weeds but we can learn about the ways to manage them.

For weed control it really all comes down to well-timed physical measures. Preparing the ground properly for planting and doing modest clean up often results in a good-looking and productive result.

The simple rule to live by is to avoid procrastinating by waiting for weeds to mature and set seed. Whether annuals, perennials, or biennials, weeds are famous for their rapid seeding and spreading ability.

Hand pull in small enclosed garden spaces. Loosen the soil around the weed with a hand fork so you can remove it with its root. Be careful not to pull flowers or vegetables if weeds are too close to them. Practice close planting when possible to suppress weeds.
Hoeing is the most useful and easiest method to remove the plants you don’t want. Skim the soil surface, don’t dig in too deep to avoid hurting the roots of your plants, and avoid bringing up more seeds to the surface. Hoe on a warm, dry day so the weeds wilt and die quickly after hoeing.

Remove stems and leaves from the garden beds as they may root. Do not compost any weeds that
have set seeds!

Mulching is an effective deterrent to weed growth. When weeds do come up they are usually lanky and can be easily hand pulled. Hay, straw, wood chips, and compost are all natural mulches that work well to smother weeds, and are a good buffer to protect the soil from evaporation and erosion. For large flower areas or vegetable beds, landscape fabric or plastic roll-out weed barriers can be installed, with or without a covering of mulch.

Also, consider where the weeds are, and their amount. If they are in the lawn and there are only a few of them, hand weeding will be more efficient. If the weeds have overtaken an entire bed, hoeing or digging them out may be the best action to take.

Most garden spaces can be managed with physical and cultural controls. If you do chose to use an herbicide, make sure the product is right for your situation – both for the weed in question and the location. Follow the instructions for correct timing and application rates and wear the appropriate personal protective gear.

If you have further questions, you can contact the UConn Extension Master Gardeners at:
https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/

Article by Tatiana Ponder, 2020 UConn Extension Master Gardener Intern

‘Gardening for Good’ show features Sea Grant’s Preston

Listen and learn about sustainable gardening in “Gardening for Good,” the new monthly radio show hosted by Judy Preston, the Long Island Sound outreach coordinator for Connecticut Sea Grant.

It airs at 10 a.m. on Fridays on iWCRV Internet radio: http://icrvradio.com/programs/program/298

The common theme is sustainable gardening, with emphasis on water quality and connecting the watershed to Long Island Sound (and these days, quality of life). Preston shares ways gardeners can work in the dirt without having a negative impact. From tips and techniques to trends and growing towards sustainability, “Gardening for Good” is a great resource! 
Recordings of the first three shows are also available on the website:

  • The April 3 show featured guest Nancy Ballek of Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam
  • The March 6 show featured guest Mary Ellen Lemay, originator of the Pollinator Pathways project in CT and N.Y.
  • For the first show on Feb. 7, Preston provided an overview of the program and gardening resources.

    Flowers from Judy Preston's garden
    Purple coneflowers attract a monarch butterfly in Judy Preston’s garden. Judy Preston / Connecticut Sea Grant

Getting Started with Vegetable Gardening

It’s exciting for those of us who are already passionate about gardening to see the recent interest in vegetable gardens. Seed companies have been doing a great business. Every winter I love to browse seed catalogs and gardening websites and dream about the perfect garden. There is a special joy in eating something you grew yourself, it is convenient to have fresh food at hand, and you can even save money.

While there are wonderful benefits of growing your own food, it can also be challenging. How can you be successful from the beginning? Where can you turn for reliable science-based information? UConn Extension has numerous resources available online and you can reach out to any of our nine Master Gardener offices around the state with questions.

Before you spend money on seeds, plants or fancy tools, ask yourself if you can provide the basics of adequate sun, soil, and water. Without at least 6-8 hours of sun, few vegetables can thrive. Similarly, if your soil pH is not in the correct range, plants struggle to get nutrients from the soil. Finally, you should have a way to easily water your new vegetable garden if it does not get at least an inch of rain per week.

As long as you can provide enough sun, a yard isn’t necessary. Container gardening is an easy way to get started without a big commitment. Make sure the container is deep enough for the roots to grow and look for dwarf varieties that will be happy with less room to grow. See the container gardening section for more information.

Consider creating a small raised bed in a sunny area. A few tomato plants, 2 or 3 cucumber plants, lettuce, radishes, and basil fit in a 4 x 8-foot raised bed. Purchased garden soil eliminates the need to dig.  Remember to allow space between plants so air can circulate and reduce the chance of disease. If deer, rabbits, and other animals are a problem, you can use netting and stakes to create a simple fence around the bed.

As a beginning gardener, start small so that you aren’t overwhelmed by weeds, insects, other potential problems, or your aching muscles. Grow what you like to eat. I grew Swiss chard for several years because the foliage is colorful, but I don’t actually like to eat it! Consider choosing plants with fewer pest or disease problems. Cool season vegetables like radishes and lettuce grow quickly from seeds planted in the garden and they have few pests. Soil should be at least 40 degrees and not too wet. Beans can also be direct sown in the garden, but watch out for Japanese, Cucumber, and Mexican Bean beetles. Luckily, hand picking insect pests is manageable in a small garden. Home grown tomatoes are delicious, but they are susceptible to disease and take a long time to mature. Seeds must be started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date (average of mid-May in CT) or you can buy plants to put in the ground in early June. Warm season vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant need warm soil (at least 60 degrees) to thrive so don’t start too early.  Whether you grow from seed or plants, keep track of when you plant and how it grows.  This can be as easy as taking pictures with your phone.

Welcome to the world of gardening!

Article by Michelle Winkler, Litchfield County Extension Master Gardener Coordinator

Common Garden Mistakes

vegetable sprouting out of soil with words common garden problems written on the photoMistakes are a great learning tool, but they also can dampen any enthusiasm for a new project. When early mistakes compound problems further down the road, they can turn someone away from a pastime that offers great satisfaction, healthy activities and a renewed appreciation of the natural world around us.

So, if you are just starting on the gardening odyssey, let’s look at how to avoid a few common mistakes. Avoiding these trouble spots will make gardening easier, much more productive – and fun!

There are three main components to consider when starting out: sun, soil and water. In simpler terms, location, location, location. If you provide your garden the right combination of these three items, you sidestep many problems that can occur as the growing season progresses. These concepts apply to both vegetable and ornamental gardening, and to any specific type of plant you want to grow.

Let’s start with sun. Different plants have different light needs. Plants are categorized as sun, part sun/part shade and shade – but what do those labels mean? Here’s the breakdown. Full sun means at least six to eight hours of full sunlight a day and you start calculating that after 10 AM. Early morning sunlight isn’t considered strong enough to be included in your calculations.

Part sun/part shade is four to six hours of sun daily and anything less than four is considered shady. Make these calculations after the trees have leafed out in the spring; the sunlight in your yard shifts from winter to summer.

Your soil is the foundation of your garden, both literally and figuratively. It provides support, nutrients and water to your plants. Just like humans, different types of plants have different preferences in nutrition and water. Find out what you can provide and choose plants that will thrive in those conditions. First and foremost, if the site is new to you, or it’s been at least five years since the last one, get a soil test. Find out what you do – and don’t – need to add to your soil. Soil tests are available from the UConn soil lab at http://www.soiltest.uconn.edu/sampling.php

You can amend your soil with additional nutrients and elements, but it’s difficult to significantly change water-holding capacity. The test will help you determine how well your soil holds or drains water, allowing you to choose plants that are happiest in those conditions. Observation will also tell you a lot: how quickly does an area drain after a rainstorm? Is it wet is spring, but dry in the summer? Is it always damp?

A related issue is access to water. While an established plant in the right location may not need any supplemental water, both vegetable gardens and newly planted ornamentals will. Is it easy to get water to this area? Do you need to develop a water storage system, such as rain or water barrels? Or is another location really a better overall choice?

Once you know the characteristics of your space, you can then choose plants that will do well in that location without a great deal of extra work. The old phrase ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ is a valid one. Don’t try to significantly alter the location for a favorite plant that really isn’t right for the spot. It will only lead to frustration and poor results. Instead, find plants that like your location and choose from those. Let your gardening provide a positive experience!

For answers to your gardening questions, go to https://mastergardener.uconn.edu/ask-us-a-question/  . We’ll be happy to help!

Article by Sarah Bailey, UConn Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator

Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program

 

Master Gardener logo

CAHNR Extension word markThe Lower Fairfield County Master Gardener Program wants to partner with you! Whether you are already a passionate gardener who would like to take your learning to the next level, a beginning gardener in search of a knowledgeable resource, or a community/group with a gardening need, the Master Gardener program is here for you. 

The program has been growing strong for more than 40 years. Certified UConn Extension Master Gardeners complete rigorous horticultural training, including both online and classroom education followed by 60 hours of diagnostic Plant Clinic service and volunteer outreach. 

Master Gardener (MG) volunteers are popping up everywhere throughout Fairfield county and across the state as they provide leadership, participate in field projects, give presentations and eagerly share their love of gardening while working side-by-side with community volunteers. 

A few examples of our partnerships include the blooming Pollinator Pathway project, which started locally and is quickly extending across the Northeast. Many MGs have spearheaded Pollinator Pathway initiatives in their hometown. You can also find MGs at the root of Wakeman Town Farm’s educational programs and as volunteer guides and partners in land management at Farm Creek Nature Preserve. 

Come to Plant Clinic so we can help you to weed out your gardening issues. We are available online at this time at lowerfairfieldMG@gmail.com

Master Gardeners provide their guidance and resources at no charge to the public. As a self-funded UConn Extension program, any donations are appreciated, particularly in these challenging times. Tax deductible donations can be made. Let’s continue to grow together! 

Article by: Pat Carroll UConn Extension Master Gardener Coordinator, Lower Fairfield County

Job Opening: Tolland County Master Gardener Coordinator

pink roses in a natural garden in West Hartford
Roses in a garden in West Hartford. Photo: Max Pixel
The UConn Extension Master Gardener Program is seeking applications for the position of Master Gardener Tolland County Program Coordinator. This is a 16‐hour‐per‐week position and is a temporary, six‐month appointment. Renewal is optional pending coordinator review and availability of program funding.
 

Master Gardeners – COVID-19 Update

Master Gardener logoIn the 40 years of the UConn Extension Master Gardener program, we have never faced anything quite this … unknown. This isn’t a flood, or hurricane, with a clear finish. This pandemic is an onslaught: health, finances, social interactions, and daily routines are all impacted.

What doesn’t change is the incredible value of gardening; of digging our hands into the soil, of the warmth of the sun on our faces, of fresh food and beautiful vistas, of the sounds of the garden and the wild spaces around us.

As a friend, Gary Oppenheimer of AmpleHarvest, said recently, “Gardening has NOT been cancelled”. Our Master Gardener programming and volunteer work will continue as scheduled, although we will have to be creative in some areas.

Here’s where we stand today:

The 2020 Master Gardener class is continuing on schedule. We have moved the remaining five weeks to an all-online format with online discussions replacing the half-day in-class sessions. This allows us to stay on schedule and we will continue to add new content opportunities as we go forward.

As many of you are aware, the CMGA symposium has been postponed until fall. They will update us as more information becomes available.

We are in the midst of arranging Hot Topics. Originally scheduled for May, it is likely that we will now hold a virtual Hot Topics online. My hope is that it will be interactive. Stay tuned….

Outreach and Office Hours:  Many of our outreach projects will not be impacted by the social distancing restrictions, others will. We will adapt as needed to current and evolving restrictions and we will develop new opportunities that best respond to new needs in our communities. If you have thoughts on how we can best respond to the new reality, please don’t hesitate to share them.

Office hours fall within the current recommended group size. Many of our clients may not want face-to-face interactions; we are looking into options such as online “office hours” and promoting the use of email for communication. For anyone who has underlying health concerns (their own or an immediate family member) making face-to-face contact unwise, we will adjust and adapt.

In summary, this is a time of change, adaptation and creative thinking. There are a lot of unknowns, and it’s likely we will be dealing with this reality into at least some of the summer. We are, however, versatile. We are resilient. Gardeners are constantly adapting to the changes in the surrounding environment; this is just one more. Please do not hesitate to share ideas, issues and concerns with me or with your coordinators.

Getting outside into the fresh air and the sunlight is one of the recommendations for offsetting the negative reactions to social distancing. We’re ahead of the curve!

Keep Calm, and Garden on,

Sarah Bailey

State Program Coordinator, Master Gardener Program

sarah.bailey@uconn.edu