Registration underway for Master Gardener program

The MSU Extension's Master Gardening Program set up its booth for its plant sale in last May's Community Market. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

A local group is reaching out to grow community interest in gardening.

Registration for the next Mississippi State University Extension Service's Master Gardening program is due by Jan. 30.

The Master Gardening program will is a hands-on instructional course that will teach participants all the need-to-knows about gardening in Mississippi. The classes begin on Feb. 7, and will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays at the Oktibbeha County Extension Office.

The program will include 40 hours of classroom and hands-on instruction that will be provided in just 11 sessions, according to a press release from the club.

Topic's in the program will include botany, soils, vegetables, ornamentals, insects and disease, and lawn care.

The class instructors are from the MSU Extension Service, as well as other horticulture professionals. The class members are required to perform 40 hours of volunteer service to approved projects, according to the press release.
"In 2015, we won the best Master Gardener program of our size in the state," Page Leftwich, a member of the MGP said. "We're trying now to compete in the 2016, which will be in June."

Many people in the Starkville area are interested in plants, and the Master Gardener program hopes to expand membership to their class.

"One of the things we do is we award a $1,000 scholarship," Leftwich said. "We've been able to do that twice because of plant sales. We sell pass-along plants. We raise them in greenhouses."

Leftwich said that sales last year were wonderful. An old historic home that once stood where City Bagel is presently, was taken down last year. Before the structure was destroyed last summer, though, the MGP was invited to pick irises that were all around the house, holding the hill in place.

Plants can serve aesthetic purposes, as well as practical purposes, according to Leftwich. Irises are a natural barre against erosion, and these irises had protected this old home from a steep bank that was near it. The roots spread deep and near the surface in all directions, creating a net to hold the soil of the hill where it was. They kept erosion at a minimum. When the program's members were told they could go pick the irises, they gathered as many as they could and sold them in their plant sale, sharing them with the community.

"People here knew that this was a historic home, and that they had been planted by the original owners," Leftwich said. "People flocked to buy these irises. That was a real treat."

The Master Gardener program has planted over 40,000 daffodils in the area in the last six years. They have planted flowers at the library, at the Sportsplex, the County Courthouse Annex, some city parks, and many other places.

They grow plants for sale in separate greenhouses and bring them together when it is time for the sales to share with the community. Leftwich said that there is an alumni in Meridian who also donated bulbs to the group.

"We have also planted trees, and help to maintain the cemetery on Louisville Street," Leftwich said. "We've designed and planted a place in the median on Reed Road that the city asked us to. We designed it so that it was something that allowed people to still see when they came to the intersection, but something that would be pretty."

Leftwich said it was previously a blank piece of ground in the middle of the intersection.

The intersection that the group designed is where Reed Road meets Garrard Road.

"One of our functions is to answer questions from people who want to know what they need to put in their yard," Leftwich said. "They ask what will do well. Should they plant something in shade or sun, does it like dry or wet …we can answer those questions, so that's what we do."

The next plant sale will happen in the first or second Community Market of May, on Saturday. The group usually has two weeks of sales, but because of the iris sales last year, there were three weeks of sales.

The group hopes to increase the size of their membership before the next plant sales. A one-time $90 fee for entry into the program is required to help cover the cost of class materials, as well as a one-year membership to the state master gardener association and local Oktibbeha County master garden association.

For more information, call the Oktibbeha County Extension office at 662-323-5916.