Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots of green on growing green things

March 26, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Quick, hide the credit cards; spring is here. Even the most budget-conscious gardener can get into trouble now. A trip to the nursery for a flat of plants results in three flats, plus a new spade and pair of garden gloves. A plan to grow tomatoes in containers morphs into a raised bed of pricey redwood. Even a stop at the market for bread and milk brings about a new basket of blooms.

University of Delaware’s Sussex Master Gardeners feel your pain. “We’re garden-a-holics; we have a tough time controlling ourselves in spring,” acknowledges Fran Meehan, a Milton-based Master Gardener.

While they can’t help you with your self-control, the Master Gardeners do have some good advice on saving on gardening expenses.

For starters, get your soil tested, says Tracy Wootten, a horticulture agent with UD Cooperative Extension who oversees the Sussex Master Gardeners. You’ll spend a few bucks for the test but could save in the long run. For example, if you have acidic soil, cabbage and other vegetables won’t do well. You’ll need to fix the problem with limestone or other amendments before planting.

Master Gardeners say no need to spend lots on green thingsMany of the Sussex Master Gardeners save money by starting vegetables from seed. It’s also easy to start flowers from seed, notes Maggie Moor-Orth, a Delaware State University horticulture agent who provides technical assistance to the Master Gardeners.

If you’ve had bad luck starting plants from seed, try using a sterile, soil-less medium, says Moor-Orth. Seeds started in soil can suffer rot because of over-watering or non-sterile conditions.

Save money on your soil-less medium by buying dry mix rather than the wet mix formulation, advises Melora Davis, a New Castle County Master Gardener. “With the wet mix, you’re paying for water,” she notes.

Don’t buy those special (and expensive) plastic trays for starting seeds. Recycle plastic containers you already have; just be sure to punch drainage holes in the bottom. Davis suggests using single-serving coffee pods (such as the K-Cup brand).

Garden accessories are another area where you can economize. Stakes, twine, plant markers and weed fabric can get pricey so the Sussex Master Gardeners are creative recyclers. Cut pieces from an old mini-blind for plant markers, suggests Betty Layton of Greenwood. Pantyhose can be used instead of twine, and T-shirts work well, too. “One year, I grew three-pound watermelons on a trellis and used my husband’s old T-shirt as a sling,” recalls Wootten.

“Some gardeners like to use bamboo for stakes,” she adds. “It’s such an aggressive plant that if your neighbors have any, I’m sure they’d be happy to let you cut some for garden stakes.”

Carrie Murphy, horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension, has even seen old golf clubs used to stake vegetable plants at Bellevue State Park’s community garden.

If you’re willing to consider more radical ways to save, get rid of your lawn. That’s what Master Gardener Brent Marsh did about 10 years ago. Ever since, he hasn’t spent a penny on lawn fertilizers, re-seeding bare spots, watering the lawn, lawnmower repair, or gas to run the mower. In place of turf grass, Marsh’s one-acre Georgetown yard is filled with perennials, shrubs and trees.

Even if you remove a portion of your lawn, you could save money.

“If you’re mowing a lot of lawn, you might think about turning part of it into a meadow planted with native grasses and wildflowers,” says Marsh. “You’ll see lots of birds and butterflies, enjoy the sounds of those songbirds and insects, and provide food for baby birds. And you won’t have as much grass to cut.”

Of course, Marsh didn’t go out and buy all those plants that now fill his yard. When a sapling turns up – its seed carried by wind or birds – he allows it to grow. He also propagates his plants by taking cuttings, seeds, and dividing them.

Murphy has been waiting patiently to divide some ornamental grasses that she purchased three years ago. She wanted to hold off until she had good-size divisions to add to a new landscape bed at her North Wilmington home. Those original three plants will become six plants – for the price of just three.

Once you’ve decided to divide your plants, it’s important to divide at the appropriate time of year. Murphy divides her perennials in early spring or later in the fall, depending on when they bloom.

Backyard propagation

May 14, 7 p.m.: Minimize the costs of gardening by reproducing plants in your backyard. New Castle County Cooperative Extension office, Newark. $25. To request a registration form, call 302-831-COOP or download the form online.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Horticulture experts share secrets for choosing right trees for your landscape

February 13, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Photos of Brandywine Creek State Park and the Brandywine River.At the end of January, the Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) offered a workshop on choosing the right trees for your landscape. This past Thursday, University of Delaware Master Gardeners presented a session on spring planting. On Feb. 20, the Delaware Nature Society will offer a similar program.

While it might seem like these gung-ho gardeners are rushing spring — after all, it’s only mid-February — Delaware’s plant sale season is already underway.

DCH kicked things off with its bare root tree sale, featuring 10 varieties of low-maintenance, easy-to-grow trees. Orders will be accepted through Feb. 15, with tree pick-up March 20-21. Two other major plant sales – at the UD Botanic Gardens and Delaware Nature Society – take place in April.

“Now’s the time to start making decisions about what to plant this spring,” says Carrie Murphy, a horticulture agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “It’s important to research your options and choose carefully, especially for trees, such a prominent part of the landscape.”

For starters, don’t fall in love with a particular species and overlook the fact that it may not be right for a site, advises DCH tree program manager Patrice Sheehan, who led the recent tree workshop. For example, the American hophornbeam is one of her all-time favorite trees because of its exfoliating bark and hop-shaped seed that’s gobbled up by many songbirds. But when a workshop participant asked what to plant on a berm, Sheehan never would have thought to suggest this native species.

“American hophornbeams prefer moist soils. A berm gets lots of wind. Couple that with the slope of the site, and the end result is soil that dries out quickly,” she says.

Instead, Sheehan told the gardener to consider the Eastern red cedar. This native can thrive in windy places like berms where other trees can’t. Not only does it put up with high winds but it can tolerate dry and alkaline soils and it lives a long time.

Just like some little puppies grow up to be huge dogs, some little saplings grow up to be humongous trees. Think about whether the tree at its mature size will work well where you want to plant it. Don’t place large trees near overhead utility wires or too close to the house.

Consider not only the mature height of the tree but its canopy spread – how wide it will grow. Oaks have wide canopies, as well as many species of maples. These are great choices if you’re looking for extensive, even shading; not so great if you plant one too close to your property line and branches extend over the neighbor’s fence.

Don’t forget to provide enough room for the tree’s roots – don’t, for example, plant a large tree in a narrow strip of land between a sidewalk and street. “Plan on root growth extending well beyond the spread of the canopy at maturity,” notes Murphy.

Other factors to consider when choosing a tree are its form and shape; soil, sun and moisture requirements; whether it’s coniferous or deciduous; and its growth rate, which usually correlates with the life span. Fast growers have softer wood and usually don’t live very long. Slow growers are hardwoods that tend to live longer. Many gardeners also like to plant species that provide food or shelter for wildlife.

One of Sheehan’s favorite large trees is the Princeton elm, a majestic native with a vase shape and yellow fall color. Although it’s beautiful on the outside, it’s tough on the inside – it’s highly tolerant of pollution and other stressors.

Medium-sized trees that she likes include the black gum, also known as black tupelo, for its reddish fall foliage. For winter interest, her hands-down favorite is the bald cypress, with its peeling, copper-brown bark and tiered, upward-facing branches.

If you see a tree you like while walking or driving in Wilmington but don’t know what you’re looking at, check out the Street Tree Inventory maintained by DCH and the city of Wilmington. It provides a complete inventory of Wilmington’s street trees.

For more information

Order bare-root trees from DCH by Feb. 15. For more information, go to the organization’s website or call 658-6262.

Learn about designing your own landscape at “Dig In at DEEC” Feb. 20 at the DuPont Environmental Education Center in Wilmington. Call 239-2334 to register.

DCH will hold a free “How to Plant Your Bare-Root Tree” workshop on March 20. To register, call 658-6262.

Article by Margo McDonough

Photo by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


University of Delaware New Castle County Cooperative Extension Announces 2013 Master Gardener Volunteer Training

January 2, 2013 under Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners volunteer trainingThe University of Delaware Cooperative Extension in New Castle County is now accepting applications for Master Gardener volunteer educator training. Training will run Tuesday and Thursday mornings starting March 7, 2013 and continue through May 21, 2013.

Carrie Murphy, Extension Educator, said of the program, “This training program is designed to make good educators out of good gardeners. Master Gardeners pledge to devote volunteer time to help Cooperative Extension provide research-based information to the gardening public. Without this volunteer program, we could not reach nearly as many people as we do now.”

Training will consist of horticultural and educational topics, with emphasis on hands-on experience and active learning techniques. There is a training fee of $150. Scholarships are available based on financial need. The application deadline is January 7, 2013.

Details on the Master Gardener program, training, and application materials are available on the Cooperative Extension website at, or by email and phone request to Carrie Murphy,, (302) 831-2506.

It is the policy of the Delaware Cooperative Extension System that no person shall be subjected to discrimination on the grounds of race, color, sex, disability, age or national origin.


Master Food Educator Program accepting applications

December 10, 2012 under Cooperative Extension

Have you ever heard of the Master Gardener program? While the Master Gardeners offer information about best practices in gardening, the Master Food Educator program is for individuals who have an interest in nutrition, food preparation, health, wellness and the education of youth and adults.  Whether you are a foods or nutrition professional or an individual without professional training, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension educators will provide participants with the information and training needed to help expand the nutrition education efforts UD. The volunteers work in local communities and with organizations assisting with the ongoing initiatives of our organization.

Since the inception of the program in New Castle County, Master Food Educators have staffed educational displays at locations such as the Delaware State Fair, Ag Day, health fairs and expos at schools and businesses. Additionally, Master Food educators have assisted with or conducted workshops or demonstrations on topics such as food safety, foods selection/preparation, nutrition and diet and stretching your food dollar. They have also offered school based educational program and assisted with the development of new educational resources.

Registrations for the newest Master Food Educator Training courses are now open. Programs will be offered in Newark, DE (for New Castle County residents) and in Georgetown, DE (for Kent and Sussex County residents).

Individuals who are interested in nutrition, diet and health issues, want to learn, would enjoy working with and helping others or want to be affiliated with a professional organization are perfect candidates for this program. Applications must be received by January 18, 2013.

Courses are open to the public without regard to race, color, sex, handicap, age or national origin. This program provides participants 30 hours of training in the areas of nutrition, diet, health, food safety, food selection and preparation. Cooperative Extension is looking to those who would be willing to take the course and then volunteer 40 hours of time over the next year. Volunteers can choose how they give back time but suggestions might include assisting with the presentation of workshops such as Dining with Diabetes, Eat Smart for a Healthy Heart, Stretching Your Food Dollar and others or participating in other public programs sponsored by Cooperative Extension.

For more information about this training and to obtain an application please visit the Master Food Educator Volunteer Program webpage, where you can download the program brochures and applications.


Master Gardeners help others discover uplifting benefits of nature

November 2, 2012 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

When Terry Tse was growing up in Hong Kong, her bedroom was always full of plants. Living in the midst of this exciting yet chaotic city, Tse knew that plants brought tranquility.

“Flowers make you calm,” she says.

Today, Tse is helping clients of the Delaware Psychiatric Center discover the uplifting benefits of nature. She and fellow University of Delaware Master Gardeners assisted in the development of a therapeutic garden at the center two years ago.

The project has grown to include a sensory garden for the visually impaired and a farmer’s market that sells produce fresh from the garden. And that’s just some of what was accomplished at the Department of Health and Social Services New Castle campus. Plus, the Master Gardeners helped to establish a garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf in Newark.

For their efforts, this Master Gardener team received a Governor’s Outstanding Service Award at a ceremony held this past Thursday. In addition to Tse, recipients included Fred Hillegas, Mary Ellen Hillegas, Bill Horne and Carmela Simons. Duane Ashley, who is not a Master Gardener but was an active project volunteer, also shared in the award.

“The Master Gardeners were immediately interested in this project and the potential that these gardens had to impact the clients and staff at these sites,” says Carrie Murphy, horticultural agent for New Castle County Cooperative Extension. “They provided both technical expertise and educational programming. They presented workshops for clients and staff on topics like composting, identifying garden pests and how to enjoy a sensory garden.”

The Master Gardeners also rolled up their sleeves and got their hands dirty. Bill Horne offered his creative skills for the therapeutic garden’s design but he also pulled weeds and harvested vegetables. Mary Ellen and Fred Hillegas helped the center’s clients run the farmer’s market on Fridays, and when they couldn’t make it, Tse filled in. In the last two years, the market sold 1,693 pounds of produce and what wasn’t sold – 525 pounds in all – was donated to the Food Bank of Delaware.

From the get-go, the Master Gardeners knew that they wanted these projects to be driven by the needs and desires of the clients. At the Delaware Psychiatric Center, a residential client named Jack wanted popping corn in the vegetable garden. Others requested tomatoes, pumpkins, sweet corn and peppers. Clients also helped with the selection of ornamentals. One individual fondly recalled lilac from a childhood home so the Master Gardeners included a lilac bush in the garden design.

As for the sensory garden, it’s a feast of sounds, fragrances and textures, as well as sights. In winter, switchgrass rustles in the wind. In spring, the velvety leaves of lamb’s ear plant beg to be touched. Come summer, the earthy smell of basil entices. And in fall, black seedpods of baptisia rattle loudly at the slightest shake.

Some of the clients who come to the Division of Visually Impaired’s New Castle office for vocational rehab or independent living services are in wheelchairs or have other physical limitations. So the Master Gardeners designed wider pathways to allow for wheelchair access, and many of the beds are raised and feature a grid pattern.

“With a grid pattern, a blind or visually impaired person can, for example, count two squares down and three over and know they’ve found the mint that they wanted to pick,” notes Horne.

The vegetable garden at the Delaware School for the Deaf was installed last November. Tied into grade-level curricula, the garden promotes healthy eating habits and new vocational options.

Mary Ellen Hillegas, who was a counselor at the school before retirement, says the garden also serves an important social function. “Ten to 12 students will be in the garden at any given time and they’ll need to come to consensus on planning tasks and sharing tools and other cooperative behavior,” she says. “The garden has tremendous possibilities as a teaching tool.”

Organizations that collaborated with the Master Gardeners include UD’s Center for Disabilities Studies, Delaware Center for Horticulture, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Delaware Department of Agriculture. For the school garden, the nonprofit group Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids partnered with the Master Gardeners.

Delaware Department of Agriculture staffer Faith Kuehn spearheaded the therapeutic garden projects and she nominated the Master Gardeners for the Governor’s Outstanding Service Award.

“What impresses me most about these Master Gardeners is that it comes from the heart,” says Kuehn. “They aren’t doing it for the volunteer hours or the recognition. They really want to make a difference.”

Jack, who grew his own popping corn this summer, and other individuals who have benefited from the gardens, would say that the Master Gardeners are doing exactly that.

Article by Margo McDonough

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


New Castle County Cooperative Extension celebrates graduation of Master Gardeners

June 30, 2011 under Cooperative Extension

The University of Delaware’s New Castle County Cooperative Extension congratulated the class of 2011 New Castle County Delaware Master Gardener Volunteer Educators in a graduation ceremony held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 1, at the New Castle County Cooperative Extension office.

Every two years the organization seeks to re-invigorate and increase its volunteers, and since this year was a “training year,” training was held from March to May for New Castle County Master Gardeners, who receive certification only after participating in a rigorous training course and completing the specified hours of volunteer service.

In order to receive certification, the Master Gardener Trainees must successfully complete a 3-month training session that translates into 72 hours of horticultural course work. They train as apprentices in the following Master Gardener Volunteer committees: Youth Education, Workshops and Telephone/Diagnostics. Finally, they must complete 40 hours of volunteer service in New Castle County prior to the end of the 2011 year.

Delaware Master Gardeners bring environmental education and the joy of horticulture into classrooms, homes, communities, and demonstration gardens throughout the county. They offer science-based guidance on home lawns and gardens, develop demonstration gardens and community service projects, run gardening workshops for adults, conduct youth outreach, and staff the Garden Line telephone service. Through the Junior Gardener program, one of its most extensive outreach efforts, New Castle County Master Gardeners bring environmental education about resources, recycling and composting to classrooms.

Anyone interested in becoming a New Castle County Master Gardener in 2013 should contact the Cooperative Extension office at (302) 831-2667 or (302) 831-2506, or email at Those interested may also visit the New Castle County Master Gardener website.

The full list of those who completed the Master Gardeners Volunteer Educator program can be found here