Master Gardener: What is the Master Gardener program? |

Master Gardener: What is the Master Gardener program?

Nan Porter For Steamboat Today

The Master Gardener program is a class 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. one day per week for 11 weeks. One may ask, “Do I really want to spend the grey days of January through the first week in April in a room with no windows?” or “Should I put that much time into learning about planting my garden?” The program is a lot of volunteer hours, helping others learn about their gardens.  Is that something I want to do, or should I sign up for the option to pay more and have no volunteer obligations?

After much deliberation I decided to sign up for the Master Gardener program with the volunteer plan. Wow, I am so glad I signed up. I learned about soil, choosing the right plant for the right place and much more. I also met wonderful people who have become gardening friends.

With soil, you think you can add some fertilizer, churn it up, stick a plant into the ground, add water and the plant will grow.  Not so. Before I took the program, I did think to amend my soil but never considered finding out what kind of soil I had.  It seemed like just clay, so I had my husband dig it out and bought truckloads of black-looking soil. It was a big mistake not checking on the quality of the soil I bought as it had whitetop seeds and whitetop is an aggressive noxious weed.

At the Master Gardener class on soils, I learned that I could have amended my soil, not replaced it, and not spent the past 10 years trying to get rid of whitetop. I also learned that soil in this area of Colorado is made up of clay, sand and organic matter. It is important to find out what percentage of each ingredient is in the soil, and the Routt County Extension Office in the County Annex building can help you find out what kind of soil you have in your yard.  Knowing your soil's mixture of clay, sand and loam is important before deciding what to plant in your garden.

Then there is "Right plant, right place."  It seems simple. The plant tag lists a zone and says sunny so you plant it in the sun, right? Well, there is a lot more to consider than the symbol on the plant tag and the zone.  High altitude sun is significantly more intense.  I learned I needed to take note of how long the sun shines in different planting beds in the yard.  A half day of direct afternoon sun can suffice for a sunny location.  Morning sun can suffice for some shade plants. I also learned about microclimates in yards: stones can warm the soil, which enables a plant from zone 4 to grow in zone 3.

Interacting with a group of people with differing gardening backgrounds is intellectually stimulating and fun. Trading ideas on what plants work, sharing experiences and learning together is a wonderful way to spend one day per week from January to April in a room with no windows, truly. Try it next year, I think you will agree.

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Nan Porter, Master Gardener class of 2017, gardens on a well at 7,100 feet.  She is a gardener, barrel racer and photographer with Nan Porter Photography. For those interested in becoming a Colorado Master Gardener, visit the CSU Extension office at 136 Sixth Street or contact 970-879-0825 or