Use the Off-Season to Grow Your Gardening Expertise

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Most gardeners enjoy a short rest from gardening chores once the cold winds of winter start to blow, but it rarely lasts very long before we get bored with the inactivity the nongardening season brings. If you are like me, you concentrate on your houseplants but soon realize their care takes little time. Increasing your horticultural knowledge productively fills in some of the unused hours.

See more: 6 Fun Gardening Projects to do With Kids

Gardening seminars cover a variety of topics in one day. Many University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Units offer half-day or full-day seminars featuring speakers who are experts in their field. Most also include vendors providing shopping in between speakers. An attendance fee, while usually required, covers a large amount of education packed into one day.

Taking classes in horticulture for college credit works for the more serious learner. Check your area community college. Many have horticulture departments where you can pick and choose without having to work toward an associate degree.

See more: Cool Weather Gardening Tips

For a well-rounded gardening education, look no further than the Extension Master Gardener program. An online option exists, but taking the classes with a group of other gardeners provides more fun and feedback as you learn. Your attendance fee covers a 700-page-plus manual that becomes a valuable reference book for your gardening library. Upon graduation, you become a Master Gardener intern, followed by two years to perform 60 volunteer hours to become a full-fledged Master Gardener.

If you prefer to increase your expertise at home with your computer, countless choices will pop up on YouTube. Unfortunately, anyone can post anything on internet sites with erroneous information or biased theories shown by companies wanting to sell their products.

The website goodgardeningvideos.org reviews gardening videos and picks the best ones with factual information. The guidelines for review include being pro-science, pro-environment, ad-free and nonprofit.

A good rule of thumb when searching the internet is to look for sites that end in “.edu.” The University of Illinois, Michigan State University and Cornell University all provide excellent science-based information. Also try the Chicago Botanic Garden, especially for information on plant trials.

For gleaning design ideas, check out the big-city flower and garden shows in March. While more commercial than educational, interesting design ideas and vendors abound.

About 15 years ago, you could find some really good, informative gardening shows on television. No longer. Gardening on commercial TV has devolved into shows about installing hardscape with little about plants. PBS remains the best place to view shows about horticulture, mainly on the weekends.

See more: How Gardeners Can Coexist with Local Wildlife; Or Not

Finally, disregard gardening advice on social media. Once again, anyone can post anything, and they do. Stay away from “home recipes” for fertilizer and pesticides because they haven’t been tested by the USDA for safety around humans, pets, wildlife or the environment.

After a winter of learning, you will emerge in spring a more knowledgeable gardener. I guarantee you will enjoy putting your newly learned expertise into practice.

Ask the Expert

Q: A wet snow broke off a big branch from my arborvitae last winter, leaving a gap. It didn’t fill in over the summer. Is it just too soon to expect results?

A: Unfortunately, arborvitae, unlike many shrubs, won’t fill in a hole with new growth. They shouldn’t be pruned for the same reason.

Q: White, cottony spots appeared on my dracaena. What do I do?

A: It has a mealybug infestation. Spray with insecticidal soap and rub off or touch them with an alcohol-dipped swab. If the infestation continues, get rid of the plant before it infects more of your houseplants.

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