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Master gardener program benefits community

Master gardeners are dedicated community volunteers who offer advice to valley gardeners and participate in many worthwhile service projects. They come from all walks of life. They may be doctors, electricians, teachers, carpenters or neophyte gardeners. What they all share is a passion for gardening and a willingness to learn new things, whatever their occupation or age.

Nevada Cooperative Extension is starting a new master gardener series. Registration for training will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Nevada Cooperative Extension Center, 8050 S. Paradise Road. Classes will be on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon, beginning Sept. 13.

More than 1,000 community members have completed master gardener training since 1992. The program includes 72 hours of training and voluntarily committing 50 hours per year on community projects — the heart and soul of the master gardener program. A $150 cost-recovery fee covers all class materials, including three textbooks, badge, shirt, tote and refreshments.

Trained master gardeners share their knowledge and desert gardening skills through the gardening help line (257-5555), public presentations and information booths focusing on tough situations in the Mojave Desert — North America’s hottest and driest desert. This environment is unfamiliar to newcomers. Master gardeners save people money — on water, soil amendments, plant materials, etc.

Is the master gardener program for you? Ask yourself these questions:

■ Do I want to learn more about the culture and maintenance of many types of plants?

■ Am I eager to participate in a practical and intense training program?

■ Do I want to share knowledge with people in my community?

■ Do I have enough time to attend training and complete the volunteer service?

If your answers are yes, the master gardener program is for you. It is fun, interesting and rewarding. To reserve a spot at the registration session, call 257-5501.

Here are some questions that came my way this past week.

Q: Do pineapple quavas grow here? We have been told they don’t.

A: Yes, providing you keep the afternoon sun off them. Dennis Swartzell of Horticulture Consultants is finding quavas need more fertilizer than initially realized. Apply a shrub fertilizer every six weeks to beef up the plants to increase the chances for more flowers.

Q: You once mentioned Bt to control tomato hornworms. What is Bt?

A: It is a bacterium used to control insects such as tomato hornworm and fruitworm, along with grape leaf skeletonizers in larval stages. Technically, it is a biological pesticide available in liquid, powder, dust and granular formulations. The bacterium produces toxins that poison, paralyze and kill pests after they ingest it.

Bt works slower than harsh chemicals but is kinder to the environment and nontoxic to humans. It takes a few days for insects to stop eating and die. As with all pesticides, read and follow label directions carefully. It can kill “good insects” such as butterfly larva.It also breaks down rapidly in sunlight.

Q: What is the black leathery spot on the blossom end of my tomatoes?

A: This is a physiological disorder called blossom end rot. The black spot becomes depressed as the fruit prematurely ripens. The best cure is to keep a constant supply of moisture available to dissolve calcium off the soil for your plants. Mulching under plants also helps prevent the soil from drying out so fast.

Q: How do I control squash bugs?

A: Squash bugs get about ¾ of an inch long. Their wings have a diamond-shape appearance on their backs. They relish pumpkins, zucchinis, melons, cucumbers and, of course, squashes. These bugs lay clusters of orange- to bronze-colored eggs on the underside of the leaves.

The best control is to rub eggs off with your fingers. It is the ugly little nymphs that hatch 10 days later that do the damage.

If you have only a few plants, handpick the bugs found on the underside of leaves. Or place boards or shingles on the ground near your plants. The bugs use them as a nighttime shelter and they make excellent traps for morning collecting. Diatomaceous earth, a natural pesticide, is abrasive to them when dusted over plants to provide control. If pest levels become intolerable, spot treat with botanical insecticides such as pyrethrum.

Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at linn.mills@ springspreserve.org or call him at 822-7754.

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