Growing anything in Idaho can be tricky, if it’s not the late frost, it’s our soil, or the amount of rainfall. If you’re trying to grow a garden or even a flower bed, you’ve probably dealt with these issues, but there’s help.

Can cauliflower grow in Idaho? What about apricots? And what are these bugs on the tomato plants? So many different questions when you’re trying to grow a garden. That’s exactly why the Master Gardener program was started and it takes hours of education and training to earn that title.

Reed Findlay, the University of Idaho Extension Educator explains, “The Master Gardener program gives them upwards of 30 hours of class time with extension educators in the classroom also. So, we go over quite extensively a lot of botany, a lot of the irrigation management, that they may not get in a class that only lasts for only one or two hours.”

Ron Patterson who is a University of Idaho Extension Educator says, “It’s more than just a gardening class. There’s a lot of material that we cover.  We cover a lot of the basic science behind everything and the research that goes into it to bring all this knowledge out. We could easily teach how to grow tomatoes but we do a lot deeper than that.”

The people who pursue the status of master gardener aren’t in it for money. In fact, they pay for the classes themselves. It’s about learning, but also about educating others.

“It’s more than just taking those gardening classes,” says Ron, “it’s the volunteer time bringing back into the community, helping to educate people within the community about horticultural topics.”

Norman Dustin became a Master Gardener 15 years ago. He enjoys spending time at the farmers market imparting advice from his years as a farmer.

“Mixing with people, working with the plants, I was a farmer and I liked the dirt and also identifying native wildflowers for people that might see them up hiking or biking here in the country,” explains Norman.

Their title is Master Gardener, and while helping with your vegetables is key, but that isn’t their only area of expertise.

 “Yes,” says Reed, “the Master Gardener program, while it does focus on vegetable production in the garden, it also branches out specifically into areas of landscape management and we also have a class on landscape design. And then also we go into floriculture, and also pomology, which would be fruit production. Our Master Gardener program is really developed for southeastern Idaho and for our high altitude gardening, our short growing season and our high PH soils.”

There are Master Gardeners all over our area, and that’s important when it comes to specific issues that can affect each area differently.

“All gardening is local,” explains Ron, “what’s different here in Idaho Falls is different than in Blackfoot, which is different from Pocatello and Idaho and Utah. It’s all different. So all gardening really is local. You can’t just take something from somewhere else and that works. Basic principles are the same but the different touches are local.”

You can find the Master Gardener volunteer program in 32 of Idaho’s 44 counties. It’s part of the University of Idaho and their website includes contact information and resources to help answer your gardening questions.


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