BOONE—Eleven members of Appalachian State University’s landscaping crew will soon be certified North Carolina Extension Master Gardeners through classes offered by the Watauga County N.C. Cooperative Extension Service in Boone.
The candidates for Master Gardener certification are Daniel Burleson, John Ballard, Jason Harkey, Shane Lee Reece, Gregory Miller, Jordan Gragg, Mathew Carson, David Wayne Pack, Grant Powers, Michael Holman and Eric Dendy.
To complete their certification, the men are volunteering on landscaping projects at the Moses H. Cone Memorial Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the L.E. Harrill Senior Center in Boone, and in their communities.
“These gentlemen have completed 40 hours of class time to become certified Master Gardeners and are now completing 40 hours of agricultural-related volunteer work in the community,” said Mike O’Connor, Appalachian’s physical plant director.
“Members of our grounds crew have helped prune more than 300, century-old hydrangeas at the Moses Cone Estate and constructed raised planters for a garden at the L.E. Harrill Senior Center,” O’Connor said. “They are also working on individual projects, such as writing articles and fact sheets to be used at the Watauga Agriculture Extension Office. Some are helping elderly neighbors with their gardens, and in the future, some will help teach gardening classes to the public.”
The men are using the state’s community service leave and personal time to complete their volunteer work.
“Master Gardeners extend the cooperative extension service’s reach into the community, giving residents additional resources to turn to when they need gardening advice,” said Jim Bryan, the university’s landscape services superintendent. “This is Appalachian State’s way of ‘paying it forward’ to the community where many of us were born and raised.”
Paige Patterson, consumer horticulture agent with the Watauga County N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, teaches the Master Gardener classes. “The program has a very intensive curriculum that covers botany, soils, soil testing, insects, diseases and integrated pest management, plant propagation, landscape design, container gardening, annuals and perennials,” she said.
As part of their classwork, landscape crew members learned about Integrated Pest Management, a more sustainable insect control practice that focuses first on monitoring for insect issues before implementing chemicals as a last resort. The men also learned about soil testing, how to correct soil acidity and apply only necessary fertilizers. Pruning techniques that provide better structures for trees and shrubs that also are more visually appealing and less susceptible to damage were also taught.
“We’re very aware that we serve the state, and are constantly looking for ways to provide value not only to our students, but the broader community as a whole,” O’Connor said. “This is one creative way we can give back. We have raised the level of professionalism among our staff and they, in turn, are creating a more sustainable and productive environment for all of us, community-wide.”