Master Gardeners – Plant Detectives?

by Ann Barnes, EMGV

Did you know that Master Gardener Volunteers have office hours? If you have a question, you can email, call, or stop by the Cooperative Extension building at 721 Foster St. (See the sidebar of this blog page for contact information)

A shift in the office can be unpredictable. Sometimes all is quiet. Often, multiple callers are experiencing similar problems and volunteers are able to quickly provide answers. Occasionally, though, working in the Master Gardener office can be a bit like stepping into the plant version of a gritty detective novel.

Imagine the scene:

A citizen contacts the office with a grainy iPhone photograph of a plant in decline. The volunteer on duty knows a list of questions to ask, then researches the problem in the office library and on research based websites. Often, our intrepid volunteers have seen the problem before and can provide advice the same day. If the mystery isn’t easily solved, our volunteer may ask the citizen to provide additional photos or even bring a sample into the office for diagnosis. Sometimes it is necessary to look at the plant with a hand lens to search for tiny pests or signs of disease. Leaves, stems, roots, and even soil can hold clues. It may not always be easy, but Master Gardeners are trained to know what questions to ask, where to look for answers, and who to contact when the clues don’t add up to an easy diagnosis.

Does this sound like something you’d love to learn to do? 

The Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program conducts a 15-week training program once every two years. The next program will be conducted January-April 2017. Classes are once a week, on Thursdays, from 9:00-12:30 at the Durham County Extension Office, 721 Foster Street. In order to apply to the program you must:

1. Attend one information session (dates listed below).

2. Submit your application by Monday, November 7, 2016.

3. If you are selected, pay the $120 registration fee by December 31.

The fee covers training materials.

Info Sessions

To begin the process, attend one required information session conducted at the Durham County Extension office at 721 Foster Street.

  • Tuesday, September 20, 2-3pm
  • Thursday, September 29, 10-11am
  • Wednesday, October 5, 2-3pm
  • Thursday, October 13, 6-7pm
  • Saturday, October 15, 10-11am
  • Wednesday, October 26, 2-3pm

To find out more about the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program visit Or plan to attend an upcoming information session. Call 919-560-0525 to register for an information session.

Volunteer Spotlight -Public Events with Master Gardener Volunteers

by Ann Barnes

Durham Master Gardeners are looking for new volunteers! Our next training class begins in January 2017. in the next few months, this blog will spotlight some of the many ways our volunteers help our community. If you are interested in becoming an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer (EMGV) in Durham, please click the link below for more information:

Become A Master Gardener

The Public Events committee is responsible for marketing and coordinating activities where EMGVs are asked to provide research based assistance to the public directly. Volunteers can be found at many events and locations around Durham County, including at the Farmers’ Market, Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the Festival for the Eno, as well as at corporate, school, and neighborhood events. Last month, two of our volunteers spent some time at the “Birds, Butterflies, Bees, and Blooms” event which was sponsored by the  Wildlife Habitat Council and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photos from Birds, Butterflies, Bees, and Blooms

This wonderful event brought a diverse group of professionals together with one purpose in mind—to provide information about the
critical importance of pollinators and what steps we can take to increase their chances for survival now and in the future.  From beekeepers to wildlife experts,
conservation groups, and plant experts, all were ready to share their passion for restoring and preserving habitats for pollinators and birds.
-Deborah Pilkington, EMGV

Deborah Pilkington volunteered along with Tina Falker. Both volunteers answered questions and provided research based gardening information to attendees, with a focus on pollinators and pollinator-friendly plants. As Event Captain, Falker was also responsible for transporting educational materials prepared for this event by the Public Events Committee.

This was a lively, well-attended event and we talked to 32 people. Many were interested in adding pollinator-friendly plants to their living space… which ranged from an apartment balcony to a house in the “country”.  – Tina Falker, EMGV

Both volunteers signed up for this event because, as Pilkington says, “I love to volunteer at these events because I have a real passion for pollinators and birds, and the gardens that sustain them. I also learn a lot from the other experts at events like these”. Plus, Falker pointed out “It was held indoors!”, which is always appealing on a hot summer day.

I enjoy talking with people about gardening… what are their latest successes? Challenges? Will this humidity ever end, and will it ever be cool again? I especially like to help “transplants” avoid the mistakes that I’ve made. I also like to encourage people not to give up if they’ve had limited gardening success in the past… even experienced gardeners kill plants, so don’t give up! Ask questions, learn from your mistakes, and be realistic when it comes to planning a garden. One or two potted plants may be just right for now! – Tina Falker

EMGVs who enjoy volunteering for public events often say that they love talking about gardening and answering questions – and some of us do so wherever we go. If this sounds like a volunteer opportunity you would love, consider joining the Durham EMGVs!

Here’s that link again:



Educational Opportunities, Week of October 6

OCTOBER 7: Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show – Our host, Harold Johnson, brings us up to date.  The Enthusiastic Gardener, Charles Murphy, gets to work raking leaves.  Lise Jenkins speaks with best-selling author Andrea Wulf. Charles tells us about one of the most important thing you can do for your garden —soil testing. Getting Dirty with Durham County Master Gardeners Radio Show  broadcasts Tuesdays at 2:00pm on WCOM FM 103.5  It can be heard live or replayed any time at
Information Session for 2015 Master Gardener Training
Tuesday, Oct 7, 2014 10:00am – 12:00pm
Where: Durham County Cooperative Extension, 721 Foster Street, Durham, NC (Map)
Have you considered becoming a Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer? Attendance at one of the information sessions is a requirement to apply for the training program. Free/ Registration is required. 919-560-0525

Interesting Information from Blogs We Follow

I enjoy reading other gardening blogs, particularly those that share research based information. Recently, I’ve read a couple of great articles that pertain to Durham gardeners and/or gardening in Durham, so I thought I’d share the links.

Do you want to know how to properly amend our clay soil? There are so many products in stores (and some of you may have done it differently “up North”). The Durham Council of Garden Clubs blog posted this great article last week, discussing amendments that are recommended and NOT recommended. This is a must-read if you are hoping to improve your soil.

If you are a subscriber to the Durham Herald Sun, you may have seen Saturday’s article about the upcoming Extension Master Gardener Volunteer training classes. Subscribers who missed the article can read it here (apologies to non-subscribers, past issues are not available online without a subscription).

Feel free to share your favorite garden blogs in comments.