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Master Gardeners | Soil Tests | Organic Gardening | Plant Hardiness Zone Maps | Photo Album
ONNECTIONS (by Nancy Yergin):  Gardening with Kids | More Connections

Master Gardeners - a volunteer program sponsored by Penn State Cooperative Extension

Master Gardeners
Diamond Geiger and Laura Chapel at the Warren Farmers' Market
More pictures from Decorating for Fall

bullet How Master Gardeners Help
Master Gardeners are community volunteers trained by county extension agricultural agents.  Once they complete their training, Master Gardeners begin volunteer service.  They cooperate with service agencies and community groups on a wide range of gardening projects.  They often provide hands-on training through demonstrations for home gardeners, clubs, and organizations.  Their talents and energy are directed toward providing a link between their community and Penn State Cooperative Extension.
bullet Why They Can Help
Master Gardeners have a strong interest in gardening, a willingness to learn, and, most important, the desire to help others.  Certified Master Gardeners have had training in plant science, integrated pest management, pesticide safety, plant propagation, soil science, plant diseases, and insect pests.  Many Master Gardeners focus on a particular subject area such as vegetable gardening or landscape design.
bullet What They Can Do For You
Master Gardeners are willing and able to assist individuals and groups with:
plant selection
weed, insect, and disease identification
landscape design
pest control
park improvement
vegetable gardening
tree pruning and care
community gardening
.... and more
bullet Volunteer Activities
Master Gardeners fulfill their volunteer commitment to:
work with groups on community beautification
create demonstration gardens
teach plant science to school-age children
teach horticulture to adults
answer gardening questions
teach environmentally sound gardening to community groups
write articles for the news media
establish gardening programs for special-needs audiences

Plant Hardiness Zone Maps
by Christine Jarzab, reprinted from the November 2009 issue of 10-10-10

With autumn passing through our area, signifying winter’s approach, I paused to think about the plant hardiness zone map. In particular, I was remembering how those "hardy in zone 5" crepe myrtles my mother planted last year were not hardy. Wondering where the hardiness zones originated, I did some research, only to find that hardiness zones are not an exact science, are often misunderstood, and have caused caustic debate among gardeners.

Hardiness Zone Maps. There are hardiness zone maps for nearly every area in the world. In the United States, the first hardiness map was developed in the 1960’s by the USDA Agricultural Research Services. This map, most recently revised in 1990, identifies 11 zones, with zones being 10°F warmer/colder than their neighboring zone. Most zones are further divided into "a" and "b" zones that are separated by 5°F. The 1990 USDA map is the most widely used map, however, other organizations have also published maps. A 2006 map published by the National Arbor Day Foundation (NADF) received a chilly reception. This map relied upon temperatures recorded between 1990 and 2004. Critics denounced this map as based upon data gathered during an unusually warm period. Some predicted massive plant demise due to erroneous plant selection by big box shoppers. I suspect much of the criticism arose from the NADF’s use of the map to make a dramatic, political statement about global warming.

A less contentious and highly popular map has been published by Sunset. Although this map was historically reserved for the 13 Western states, Sunset now published hardiness zone recommendations for all of the States. The Sunset zones are considered by many to be more precise because Sunset accounts for a multitude of factors, such as latitude, elevation, and continental air influence. Sunset boasts that whereas the USDA map will only tell you whether your plant is expected to survive the winter, Sunset’s map will tell you whether your plant will thrive in your climate. Warren County’s zone depends upon the map one reads. The USDA map generally places us in zone 5a (-15°F to -20°F), whereas the NADF map assigns us to zone 6 (-10°F to -20°F). Sunset assigns Warren County to Zone 40, with low temperatures ranging from -10°F to -20°F and rainy, warm, variably humid weather that is affected by Lake Erie.

What is a gardener to do? Plant performance depends upon many factors, including temperature, day length, light, precipitation, humidity, and soil conditions. In selecting plants, gardeners need to be aware of the plants’ optimal environment and select plants that prefer the conditions present in the intended garden location. Zones are an important factor. Remember that zones identify the "average annual minimum temperatures" in each zone. These temperatures are not the lowest temperature that will ever be reached in your zone, but rather are the lowest annual temperatures recorded during a period of years. Thus, a plant may be labeled for your zone, but an unusually cold winter may kill the plant. Lastly, sometimes it is okay to ignore hardiness zones. Hardiness zones really matter only if you desire the plant to survive more than one season. Most gardeners select plants that are not hardy for their area, knowing that they will not survive the winter (i.e. the so-called "annuals").

Resources: USDA Hardiness map:; National Arbor Day Foundation map:; Sunset Hardiness map:

farmers' Market Program schedule
Join the Master Gardeners at the Farmers Market from 8 a.m. to noon for information on gardening and to purchase your fresh produce and flowers from local farmers.

June 15 All About Hostas (Brookie LaVigne), Master Gardeners Plant Sale
June 29 Vertical Gardening and Aquaponics. (Ed Lloyd)
July 13 Winter sowing (Lucy Masterson)
July 20 The versatility of Herbs (Wanda Burkle) 9 - noon
August 3 Choosing Color for the Garden (Sharon Johnson)
August 17 Composting (David Winner), Fun with Mints (Liz Fassinger)
August 31 Vegetable Gardens (Judy Kepple)
Sept 14 Tomato Tasting (Freda Pyles) 9 11:30
Sept 28 Using Herbs in Cooking (Elayne Blystone)
Oct 12 Autumn Decorating with Dried Flowers/Forest Finds (Sharon Johnson)

Watering tips
By DENISE GRANT, MG  The Times Observer
7/9/12  July is often a warm month and this summer is no exception. With our mild winter and lack of rain, many areas are experiencing drought conditions, making it even more important to practice good watering habits. Here are a few watering tips.

Applying a layer of mulch to your gardens will hold in moisture. It will also help control weeds.

Apply water in the cool of the morning or evening when the wind is calm, the sun is less hot, and water loss through evaporation is minimal. If watering the evening, try to leave enough time for plant leaves to dry; this will help prevent slugs.

Avoid watering disease-susceptible plants at night. If water sits on plant foliage for hours, it can encourage fungal diseases to attack leaves, buds, flowers, and fruit. Plants susceptible to leaf spots, fruit rots, and flower blights are best watered in the morning, when the warming sun will quickly dry off the leaves and discourage fungus development.

Provide an inch of water a week for many plants and lawn grasses. The idea is to keep the soil lightly moist and to prevent it from drying out completely, which would be damaging to most plants. But because plants don't always follow the rules, there are exceptions to this general guideline:

Hot weather, dry sandy soil, or crowded intensive plantings or containers my require more than an inch of water a week.

When the weather is cool, the plants are widely spaced, or the soil is heavy and moisture-retentive, less water may be required.

Young or new plantings require more moisture at the soil surface to help their budding roots get started. Water lightly and more frequently to accommodate their needs.

Mature plantings with large root systems can be watered heavily and less often than younger plants. The moisture soaks deep into the soil and encourages the roots to thrive.

Consider adding a rain barrel to your garden area for easier watering and better use of the water nature provides.

Remember, proper watering will help conserve water and promote healthier plants.

Recommended Web Resource:
The Master Gardeners

This website showcases the activities, articles, and programs supported by the Master Gardeners of Adams County, PA and Frederick and Carroll Counties, MD. It is designed to give gardening enthusiasts, near and far, the opportunity to utilize the knowledge of our local Master Gardeners.  Articles can be accessed by topic, season or author.

Organic Gardening Web Resources

Avant-gardening: Creative Organic Gardening
Includes information on composting, soil and a free e-newsletter

Beginning Organic Gardening
For the beginning organic gardener. Lots of articles and fact sheets.

Natural Organic Gardening sources at The Dirt Doctor (
Information about organic businesses, non-profit organizations and publications recommended by the Dirt Doctor
Organic test gardens with photos, growing topics from A to Z, and lots of seasonal information

The Pennsylvania Integrated Pest Management Program
Publications and online resources at this A Penn State website that include fact sheets on insects, including pictures.

Soil Amendments (at the Colorado State University Extension Service website)
Soil amendment refers to any material mixed into a soil...Using organic soil amendments is a great way to turn otherwise useless products, like fall leaves and livestock manure, into compost for improving soil tilth.

Web Resources at the Michigan State Horticultural Gardening Institute
Scroll about half way down the webpage to access the list of recommended Organic Gardening web resources.  " A complement to our efforts to promote and teach gardeners in all growing zones how to make gardening decisions and choices in relation to their environmental impact, the resource links below provide guidance on sustainable gardening practices, plant selections, conservation practices and site assessment."

Test Your Soil 
Soil test kits are available for purchase from the Warren County Extension Office, 100 Dillon Dr.  Suite 101, Youngsville.  The kit comes with instructions on how to properly collect soil samples.  You mail the sample to Penn State.  They return the results to you and make appropriate recommendations. 

Information on the Soil Fertility Testing Program -  services, fees,  and soil information resources is also available at the Penn State soil test website.


Gardening with Kids

By Nancy Yergin, MS, RD, LDN, Forest County Penn State Cooperative Extension

When I was a teen, my young nephews Bill and James asked my father if they could have a vegetable garden “just like Grandpa’s.” My dad, who raised much of the family’s food, obligingly turned over two small patches of good, fertile soil; located rakes and hoes and other implements of gardening suitable for small hands; and provided enough seeds to plant the most basic of gardens – beans, carrots, and lettuce. Under his tutelage the little boys raked and smoothed the soil, marked the rows with hand-lettered signs and carefully planted their seeds; immensely pleased with their very own tiny plots.

In a few weeks, James’ garden was thriving with seedlings struggling to the light but Bill’s patch, well-marked and well-weeded, was devoid of discernable vegetation. This is when my father discovered that Bill was re-digging his garden every few days in an effort to “see what the seeds were doing.” Once my father explained that part of gardening was waiting for results, Bill let the seeds do their thing and managed to harvest produce that he was thrilled to share with the family.

Gardening with children (or grandchildren) can be a positive experience for families interested in getting some exercise as well as home-grown produce. From the creative educators and dietitians at the website, I’ve found some basic, kid-friendly guidelines for getting started in gardening. It’s not too soon to start looking for a sunny patch of back (or front) yard that might well be put to good use for the 2009 Family Garden.

Start small - perhaps with a salad bowl garden. If you have been gardening for years, you probably know how much work you can reasonably take on. If you’ve never been much of a gardener, start small - in containers or a few square feet in the yard. Concentrate easy-to-grow items for salads: a variety of leaf lettuces, some radishes, a cherry tomato plant or two, and a few fragrant herbs (such as parley and basil). Window boxes and other containers (clean bleach or milk bottles with tops cut off) work especially well for kids.

Choose child-sized tools, plants, and produce. Children do best with things that fit well into their hands - and their mouths. Get child-sized hoes, rakes, and shovels at a nursery or garden center. Try to find strong, genuine looking tools so that little ones feel like “real” gardeners. Can’t afford new tools this summer? Large recycled plastic spoons from the kitchen work great in containers. Look for specific miniature or baby vegetables plants - such as corn, radishes, tomatoes, and zucchini - just the right-size for small eaters!

Be prepared for less-than-perfect plantings. Let’s face it: gardening can be messy business. And most children love to dig in dirt, so save a small area for digging, even after planting is complete. It’s important for children to feel like the garden is really theirs - so be willing to put up with crooked rows and mixed plantings. Children can also get attached to “their” weeds and want to care for them right along with the veggies and fruits. Bottom line: It doesn’t have to look perfect to produce perfectly delicious produce!

Make gardening an outdoor adventure. The most important aspect of family gardening is spending active time together - away from TVs, DVDs, video games, computers, and cell phones. Have reasonable expectations about what children will do in the garden and about how much produce you may actually get (you can always find a farmer’s market if you need to). Take time to smell the herbs, roll in the grass, run in the sprinkler, and leave the garden behind for a long walk around the neighborhood.

Questions or comments on this or other columns? Nancy Yergin can be reached via email at NLY1@PSU.EDU.

More Connections

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Updated:  02/05/10