Spreading their roots: Master Gardeners educate Huntsville on spring season

Photo courtesy of Sara Cox

Spring is here and the Walker County Master Gardeners are preparing for their spring growing season.

The Walker County Master Gardeners is an organization of volunteers who are passionate about horticulture and want to spread their knowledge and educate the community.

“Our primary goal is education,” communications chair and Walker County Master Gardeners volunteer Cecilia Schlicher said. “We are a volunteer group, 100% volunteer. The Walker County Master Gardeners is a part of a larger Texas Master Gardeners association. All of our Master Gardeners are certified under the Texas Master Gardeners program after putting in so many hours of coursework.”

County Extension Agent for Agriculture & Natural Resources, Reggie Lepley, has been with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension for 31 years and started the Walker County Master Gardeners chapter in 2001.

“Master Gardeners assist AgriLife professionals with educational outreach and serve as force multipliers to deliver research-based information via informal methods,” Lepley said.

Not only do the Master Gardeners educate in the area, but their lessons and teachings travel to the education system itself.

“We also go into schools; in fact, last year I did a monarch butterfly release in the fall with the Huntsville intermediate school,” Schlicher said. “I got the monarch caterpillars and gave them to the school, and they dispersed them to the fourth and fifth grade science classrooms. They raised caterpillars into monarch butterflies, and I brought tagging stickers into the classroom and tagged and released the butterflies so they would make it to Mexico.”

The program collects seeds directly from their various plants in the demonstration garden that is available to the public to buy and grow.

Master Gardeners come from many walks of life differing in age, ethnicity and interest with a uniting interest for the love of plants.

If accepted into the Master Gardener program in your county, you will attend a Master Gardener training course. Classes are taught by Texas AgriLife Extension specialists, agents and local experts, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website.

“Walker County AgriLife Extension sponsors a 15-week Master Gardener Intern Training Program each year beginning in January,” Lepley said.

The Master Gardeners program offers a minimum of 50 hours of instruction that covers various horticulture topics. Within the first year following training, 50 hours of volunteer service are required to earn the title of Texas Master Gardener.

This group of individuals take their knowledge of horticulture very seriously along with teaching in-person classes. Master Gardeners publish articles, how-to videos, newsletters and create presentations to teach those all over the state.

“Environmental horticulture is my favorite of the training series. This class is the one where our MGs learn why they want to do what they do with their landscapes,” Lepley said. “Also, this class is usually the ‘ah-haaa’ session where they understand the interrelationships between soil, water and plants found in our native environment.”

Aside from the adult Master Gardeners program, they also offer a free camp for Junior Master Gardeners during the summer. This includes third, fourth and fifth-grade students with lots of indoor and outdoor activities.

Butterflies and moths are another staple in the demonstration garden. Either a Junior Master Gardener can teach you about the different stages of life and how beneficial they are, while Schlicher can answer any questions with her extensive knowledge about butterflies.

“Teaching about butterflies and moths; whether it’s children or adults is my favorite,” Schlicher said. “Butterflies are fun to watch grow. I also like native plant landscaping and integrative pest management.”

The Walker County Master Gardeners teach many classes on various horticulture topics while also building the community horticulture knowledge.

“Gardening is like farming; you wait for the weather to tell you when it’s time to plant,” Schlicher said.

Depending on what type of plants you are wanting to grow; the spring growing season is full of beautiful annual and perennial flowers and summer vegetables.

“Zinnias are perfect to plant right now since the temperature is above 50 degrees at night,” Cecilia said. “Beans, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes and summer squash are also good to get in the ground right now.”

The Master Gardeners demonstration garden is open to the public. The garden is full of volunteers that have their niche and interest involving horticulture.

“We have some great people to teach about compost; the kids get to learn about what composting is and why it’s so important,” Schlicher said. “Everybody sort of has a different thing they like to do.”

The demonstration garden is a place to go to find answers to any questions about horticulture while also offering a sense of serenity. Schlicher described it as her happy place.

For more information about the Walker County Master Gardeners check out their website at TXMG.org or check out their Facebook page @walkercountymastergardeners for information on their plant sales, how-to videos and much more.

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