Teaching Plants and Growing Gardens: Spring 2014 Master Gardener Newsletter

By Professor Robert S. Nowack

In a recent article in HortTechnology (August 2013, volume 23, issue 4), University of Nevada, Reno Natural Resources and Environmental Science Professor Beth Leger and University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Horticulture Specialist Heidi Kratsch describe their innovative program that connects university teaching activities with Master Gardener outreach activities. Their program pairs the skills of Master Gardeners with the needs of university students. A basic skill needed for students interested in natural resources (such as forestry, rangelands, or wildlife), is the ability to identify native and wildland plants.

Professor Leger teaches such a course, entitled Range and Forest Plants, each fall semester.  A key part of the course is for students to identify plants using live specimens. However, some native plants have senesced by the time the semester starts, and even those that are active at the beginning of the semester become dormant as the semester goes on into late fall. Thus, the lack of fresh plant specimens limited effective learning for students. Enter Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners, the wizards of growing plants.

Master Gardeners, under the guidance of Professor Kratsch, figured out how to grow some of the key species needed for Professor Leger’s course, providing fresh plant specimens when none were naturally available.  These efforts also helped Master Gardeners expand their native plants efforts, which is critical for people who live in an arid environment such as Nevada. This collaboration between extension’s Master Gardener Program and university research and teaching faculty provides a “win-win” for both.