Master gardeners emphasizes sustainable, water-wise gardening

On Saturday, Davis residents had the opportunity to learn about cacti, succulents and other native California vegetation through free public classes held at the Central Park Gardens.

Classes are offered between September and June, with a total of approximately 18 classes offered annually. Classes are taught by master gardeners certified by the University of California Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program.

According to the website of the California Master Gardener Program, the program aims “to extend research based knowledge and information on home horticulture, pest management and sustainable landscape practices to the residents of California.”

“All the basic stuff is focused on teaching people how to do sustainable gardening,” said Peg Smith, master gardener. “We also offer more esoteric classes on topics such as orchids and bromeliads.”

According to Smith, master gardeners train for six months before taking a certification exam. In exchange for the training and information received, they give back their time in the form of unpaid volunteering — including teaching public classes, such as those offered at the Central Park Gardens.

Classes have covered topics such as basic vegetable gardening, soil care, mulching, composting and vermiculture — composting with worms. Water-wise gardening techniques are also emphasized.

“We do try and teach people water conservation techniques,” Smith said. “Most people overwater their lawns. If you want to reduce your water usage on a lawn, extend the amount of time [the lawn is watered for] but lessen the amount of water. Even in the summer a deep soak once or twice a week is all you need.”

Other water conservation techniques include more environmentally friendly methods of irrigation, such as using a more water-efficient sprinkler system, or water-wise plantings which require less water to thrive. According to Smith, another beneficial change is to make the switch from a lawn to a meadow with native grasses and flowers.

“Many of the plants also attract beneficial insects,” Smith said.

Many classes also focus on integrated gardening, a technique which not only allows for water conservation but also often leads to a more diverse and aesthetically pleasing environment than just a lawn. Smith said integrated gardening takes into account the microclimates which occur in almost all gardens, such as spots that receive direct sunlight versus semi-shade spots.

“You define the microclimates and choose your plantings based off of that,” Smith said. “You mix everything together — the herbs, the flowers, the vegetables.”

Evaluation forms are distributed at the end of each workshop to ensure that they are serving the interests of the public well.

“A big part is getting the feedback,” Smith said. “We want to make sure the programs are appealing to people.”

Some workshop attendees, such as certified nurse-midwife and self-proclaimed succulent-lover Holly Moen, are in the process of transitioning from a lawn to a more drought-tolerant hardscape.

“We’re tearing up a little bit of the front yard and all of the backyard,” Moen said. “We’re all looking for ways to conserve water.”

Despite this, many residents hesitate to make the switch from a grassy lawn to a hardscape due to a variety of factors, such as desiring a lawn for their pets or young children to play on.

“I think Davis has plenty of parks to take kids to,” Moen said.

Drought-tolerant plants have other advantages when compared to the traditional lawn as well, such as their hardiness and low-maintenance nature, as emphasized by master gardener Janet Thatcher while teaching a class on cacti and succulents.

“This poor baby [the succulent] didn’t get enough water and it has a little frostbite,” Thatcher said. “But it’s not dead! You can see the new roots are starting to sprout.”

A public plant sale will be held at the UC Davis Arboretum on April 6, with a variety of plants available, including succulents and native plants. The master gardeners also have a table at the Davis Farmers Market to answer any questions regarding gardening topics.

The next class will be on propagation from plant cuttings at Grace Garden on March 16. Another will be held on April 6 at Central Park Gardens and will cover garden design. More information about master gardener classes can be found at ceyolo.ucdavis.edu.

MEREDITH STURMER can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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