Learning about Gardening from the Grass Roots Up

By Jan Cashman • Posted on January, 25th 2011

Jan Cashman

Increasing your knowledge of horticulture can help in your quest for a more beautiful, colorful yard and a more abundant vegetable garden.  There are many ways to learn about gardening—from talking to your neighbor who has a green thumb, to taking classes, to studying books and magazines.  Today, the internet is an unlimited source of up-to-date information on practically any gardening topic—individual plants, diseases, insects, gardening tips.  But, if you Google a plant, you will often get commercial web sites that give you a small amount of not necessarily complete information.  Try, instead, MSU’s Extension web site which provides unbiased information on horticulture for our climate and soils.  Check it out at www.msuextension.org.  Their fact sheets on hundreds of gardening topics can be downloaded from this web site.

Another service provided by MSU Extension is the popular Master Gardener’s Class, taught here every winter.  This year’s class started January 17 and runs eight weeks.  Later, a four week advanced class is taught for those who want more in-depth knowledge of horticulture.  Another class series through the Bozeman Schools Adult Ed is taught every April by my husband, Jerry, along with our landscape architect, Shelly Engler, on trees and shrubs and landscaping for this area.  And local nurseries like ours often offer free classes on various gardening topics during the spring and summer.

The Gallatin Gardeners Club meets the evening of the first Monday of every month, offering a different educational speaker or tour at every meeting, with an emphasis on vegetable gardening.   The proceeds from their club’s vegetable garden, whose produce they sell at the Farmer’s Market, go to numerous local charities.    The Gallatin Empire Garden Club also meets monthly; their members help put on the Emerson Cultural Center’s annual garden tour.  The Emerson sponsors a tour of outstanding local gardens every July, a great place to see what others are doing in their gardens.

Throughout our long, cold winters, gardeners love to pore over gardening catalogs and dream of spring.  Those catalogs can provide good information on varieties of vegetables available and sometimes contain additional useful gardening tips.  Every gardener should have a couple of good plant reference books in their library.  Sunset Western Garden Book is an old standby with a huge plant listing and valuable information on each plant.  Or, get a book written for our area, such as Best Garden Plants for Montana, by Bob Gough, former Extension agent here.  ‘How to’ books are also a necessary part of your gardening library.  Lois Hole, a Canadian from north of us in Edmonton, Alberta, has written a number of ‘how to’ books for the beginning gardener.   We have the heavy Ortho Problem Solver book in our nursery that has photos and descriptions of practically every disease and insect that plants are subject to, with suggested cures.  Ortho publishes a compact consumer version that could be handy for diagnosing your plant problems.

We are lucky to have the publishers of Zone 4 Magazine living here in Bozeman.  Although I have read and learned from a number of gardening magazines such as Fine Gardening and Northern Gardener (published in Minnesota), Zone 4 is an informative magazine that zeros in on gardening in the northern mountain states.

If you have a disease or insect problem with one of your plants that you cannot diagnose or solve yourself, the professionals at the MSU Schutter Diagnostic Lab will help you for a nominal fee.   And, if you need more help or advice, Toby Day, our state extension horticulturalist, is available.  The entertaining local television show on Sunday evenings on PBS, “Ag Night Live”, offers call-in answers to your gardening questions.

Of course, at some point, you need to forge ahead and “learning by doing”.  There is no substitute for trial and error.  But, with some education and study you can minimize your gardening failures, and maximize your successes.

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