July 29, 2012

Ask a Master Gardener

Richard Gast, Cornell Ag Connection

---- — Gardening can be an extremely rewarding pastime. It need not be expensive. In fact, it can save you money. It’s healthy and relaxing, even therapeutic. It’s educational and can result in learning new skills. And it can be taken in many of the usual, or in uniquely different, directions.

What’s more, because the end result of successful gardening is the production of beautiful blooms, an attractive lawn and/or a harvest of great-tasting vegetables, fruit and herbs, it’s a hobby that many beginners stay with year after year.

But, as it is with any hobby, gardeners do not become experts overnight. Keeping plants and gardens healthy and beautiful requires a lot more than luck. A successful garden requires time, effort and commitment. It takes persistence, knowledge and skill.

Even the very best gardeners experience problems. It’s knowing what to do when things go wrong that separates the veteran gardeners from the rookies. But learning how to deal with problems may be the best experience for a gardener who would like to master the craft.

Whether the problem is an insect, a disease or a four-legged or two-legged trespasser, someone else before you has shared the experience. More than likely, there’s a solution and it’s not very painful. And, while many garden problems may be associated with insects and disease, a great number are environment-related, things like over, under or uneven watering, lack of or too much sunlight, inadequate or excessive nutrition, or poor soil quality.

Do you have a gardening question? Maybe you have a plant that doesn’t look healthy or you’ve found bugs damaging your plants’ leaves? Want a few tips on growing the best garden vegetables and when to harvest them? How about some advice concerning compost


Now you can receive gardening tips and advice on troubleshooting garden problems from a Cornell Master Gardener Volunteer (MGV) in your county quickly and easily. In fact, assistance is available with the click of a mouse. In Franklin County, go to and click on “Ask a Master Gardener.” In Clinton and Essex counties, go to and hold your mouse over “Gardening” in the header. A drop-down menu will open. Click on “Resources.” Then scroll down and click “Ask a Master Gardener” in the paragraph on Master Gardener volunteers toward the bottom of the page.

Master Gardener volunteers have a significant and vital role in helping Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) accomplish its statewide mission of enabling people to improve their lives and communities through partnerships that put experience and research knowledge to work. They serve as representatives of Extension who, in exchange for the training they receive, have agreed to provide at least 40 hours of volunteer time to their county’s Extension program.

Although the types of service may vary according to community needs and the abilities and interests of the individual MGV, it is the acquisition of knowledge, the skill in gardening, and giving back to the community that distinguishes a Master Gardener from other gardeners. They are well-trained, committed paraprofessionals who deliver important services to home gardeners and to local and community agencies and governments needing assistance with growing vegetables, flowers, herbs, fruit, lawns and potted plants. Among other things, MGVs empower people to grow their own food, improve their quality of life and sustainably manage their yard and food waste.

CCE MGV programs train new master gardeners and provide on-going education to veteran Master Gardeners. Locally, the program is coordinated by Clinton County Extension Executive Director and Horticulturist Amy Ivy, with local program management from Extension Educators Jolene Wallace in Clinton County, Emily Selleck in Essex County, and me, Richard Gast, in Franklin County.

Whether you are new to gardening or a dedicated gardener seeking pointers and techniques to make your experience even more meaningful and enjoyable, the simple act of planting a seed, watching it grow, then admiring the flower or picking and eating the vegetable provides a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. The rewards one reaps from sowing seeds, tending to the soil, caring for plants and watching them grow are well worth the effort.

If you’re looking for a relaxing hobby that’s rewarding, educational and that can help you live and eat better and save some money, then gardening is the perfect hobby for you. And if you have a gardening question, just ask a Master Gardener.

Richard L. Gast, Extension program educator II, Horticulture, Natural Resources, Energy, agriculture programs assistant, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, 355 West Main St., Suite 150, Malone, 12953. Phone 483-7403, FAX 483-6214 or email