Let’s explore the Master Gardener program in Maricopa. But first some history on two key related organizations.
The Land Grant College Act of 1862 ceded land within each state to establish colleges and universities specializing in the “agricultural and mechanic” (A&M) arts. The University of Arizona is our land-grant college.
The Cooperative Extension Service is a large, non-formal educational system to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. This service is provided by a state’s land-grant universities and administered by county horticulture agents.
The Master Gardener program is an adjunct of the Cooperative Extension Service along with other groups such as 4-H. Our mission as Master Gardeners is to provide the public with horticultural information through educational programs and projects. We are all volunteers.
Our local group is fortunate to have the Maricopa Agricultural Center (affectionately known as MAC) as our home base. MAC is a University of Arizona experiment station known for its research on cotton, small grains, alfalfa and new specialty crops. At MAC, our Master Gardeners maintain a demonstration garden and a new orchard plot. We utilize these areas as teaching platforms to introduce local homeowners to new plants and planting techniques, as well as best practices in planning, cultivation, irrigation, and garden and tool maintenance.
Another vital service we provide is plant diagnostics. In that capacity, we are responsible for logging and resolving plant and insect questions and issues tendered by home gardeners from all corners of Pinal County. We have a diagnostic lab and comprehensive library in our office, which is also located at MAC.
Becoming a Pinal County Master Gardener requires time and dedication, but it’s well worth it; not only for one’s personal knowledge but for the opportunity to share that learning with others.
First, one must complete a specialized course in gardening in the low desert. The 50-hour course covers topics such as botany, soils and plant nutrition, problem diagnosis, irrigation, pest management, desert-adapted plants and vegetable gardening.
Upon completion, Master Gardener applicants must complete 50 volunteer service hours to obtain full certification. Typical volunteer projects include hosting our annual plant sale, introducing school children to outdoor gardening, staffing the plant diagnostic office and presenting information at citywide events. These volunteer opportunities are fun and gratifying, and they can open up a whole new network of acquaintances and contacts.
We don’t want you to miss out on any of this — so join! The Maricopa Master Gardeners welcome you.
The next Master Gardener training will be offered via Zoom Oct. 6 through Feb. 16. Call 520-374-6263 from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. or email [email protected] for more info.
Rita Bricker is a Master Gardener. This story was first published in the September edition of InMaricopa magazine.