In the Garden | Arbor Day tree and shrub distribution is April 13

Bonnie Orr, master gardener

The WSU Master Gardener Program was developed 45 years ago to provide urban homeowners science-based, relevant and effective gardening information. The WSU Extension service was busy helping farmers, and more and more “backyard farmers” needed a different type of advice. The Master Gardener program was started in King County and is now conducted throughout the United States and in a number of countries around the world.

There are 4,000 certified master gardeners in our state who contribute an astounding 300,000 volunteer hours providing advice, leadership and consultation to the citizens of Washington. In Chelan and Douglas counties, 120 people can claim the title of certified master gardener.

The local master gardeners worked for 18 months to organize the annual state conference, which took place last month in Wenatchee. Four hundred master gardeners from all over the state loved our weather, our friendly people, beautiful Ohme Gardens, the Community Education Gardens, hiking in local nature preserves and imbibing at a few select wineries. Master gardeners know how to have fun.

The focus of the conference was advanced education. Experts led 25 sessions on topics master gardeners need to know more about, such as Glyphosate, pollinators, weeds, pesticides, native plants, dwarf conifers, invasive insect pests, soils and gardening myths.

Linda Chalker-Scott, a WSU  associate professor and extension specialist in urban horticulture, is the Master Gardener’s best advocate and friend. All right, I admit I am a groupie! Her research centers on issues where confusion, old wives' tales and misinformation have led to home gardeners making mistakes that damage their gardens and potentially themselves.

She has written four books and was a columnist for Fine Gardening Magazine. "How Plants Work," "The Science of Gardening" and "The Informed Gardener" provide easy-to-understand explanations about what works and what does not work in the garden. I love "The Informed Gardener" because it is a myth buster that provides science-based alternatives. She explains why tree topping is harmful, why landscape fabric doesn’t work, why Epsom salts and compost tea are ineffective, why vitamin B-1 doesn’t make any improvement in a plants health and why soil amendments are unnecessary. The book is a compelling read.

At her conference session, I was alerted to the fact that structural diversity in a garden is what creates an effective environment. There is more to having a healthy garden than just practicing organic methods. It is important to create layers of habitat that harbor and encourage beneficial insects and birds that help control pests. Structural diversity means that you plant ground covers, perennials, shrubs and trees in several locations in your yard.

Chalker-Scott is a participant in the Garden Professors blog (gardenprofessors.com) which is followed by 22,000 eager gardeners. Check out the discussions. Informedgardener.com offers a series of printable fact sheets. Then, visit gardening.wsu.edu to learn to identify and solve problems.

The online resources are valuable, but don’t forget that you can always talk face-to-face with a Chelan Douglas WSU Master Gardener on Monday or Wednesday at 400 Washington St. in Wenatchee from 1 to 4 p.m.

A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured.