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This is the time of year I recruit for the Extension Master Gardener program in Platte County. If you enjoy yard work and gardening, learning new things, meeting people who also enjoy plants and being involved in your community, consider becoming a Master Gardener.

Master Gardeners are volunteers of each state's land grant university. In Nebraska, it is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Volunteers help in spreading horticulture information and leading activities to improve their communities.

The program is open to beginning and expert gardeners. While volunteers tend to have plant or gardening experience, this is not a requirement and should not stop you from being a Master Gardener.

Across Nebraska, there are over 800 volunteers. Platte County currently has 21 Master Gardeners. If you would like to visit with one of them or with me about the program, call me at 402-563-4901 or email kfeehan2@unl.edu.

Education and learning are key components of becoming a Master Gardener. Over one or two years, new volunteers attend 40 hours of locally provided education and volunteer an equal number of hours.

Once the first 40 hours of training and volunteer time is completed, returning volunteers are asked to complete 12 hours of continuing education and volunteer 12 hours annually to the program.

Master Gardener classes are held Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 9 p.m. beginning Feb. 6 next year. They are held for six consecutive Tuesdays, ending March 13. Classes are also held Thursday mornings from 9 a.m. to noon. The Thursday classes are Feb. 1 and 8 and March 15 and 22.

Some topics for next year are rots and spots in landscape systems, favorite perennials, vegetable gardening, wildlife management, extending the garden season, landscape management, vegetable and fruit insects and more. Speakers are Extension specialists and educators. Kim Todd and Dennis Ferraro, both with the Backyard Farmer program, will be speakers this year.

Along with plant-related education, Master Gardeners receive a handbook on plant care, books on turfgrass and wildlife management, and additional literature on a variety of yard and garden topics.

Additional benefits include meeting people who have similar interests, sharing plants, discussing gardening successes and failures and learning from each other.

Local volunteer opportunities include working with 4-H youth on garden and outdoor education activities, caring for demonstration gardens, some citizen science, helping with workshops, planning a horticulture bus tour and answering horticulture questions in the Extension office or at farmers markets.

There has been a Master Gardener program in Platte County for 33 years. I am the coordinator of the program. If interested in learning more about becoming an Extension Master Gardener, call me at 563-4901 or email kfeehan2@unl.edu.

If you enjoy learning about plants, but do not feel you have time to be a Master Gardener, the classes are open to the general public to attend for a fee. You choose which topics you are interested in and attend only those sessions. No volunteer time is required.

Kelly Feehan is a UNL Extension educator-horticulture.

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