Heather Neikirk

National Gardening Month may have been in April, but so many of us have been outside the last several days enjoying this summer-like weather and awakening our gardens and landscapes.

As we work to prune, aerate, amend and beautify our environments, we often encounter strangers and unwanted guests in our midst. These strangers can be diseases, insects, weeds or even a new plant that we’ve seen somewhere but can’t remember the name or variety when we visit the greenhouse or nursery.

All of this activity generates a large amount of interest and questions about backyard and home horticulture. That’s where the Ohio State University Extension’s master gardener volunteer program can help.

Allow me to provide you with a brief introduction. The idea for the master gardener volunteer program originated in Seattle in 1972. An agent in the King County office of the Washington State Extension Service trained and utilized the expertise of volunteers to more effectively reach the gardening public. The concept soon spread across the United States and is now active in Canada and other countries.

The master gardener program in Ohio began in the late 1970s in the urban sections of the state. Ohio’s program has grown steadily and now has more than 3,000 active volunteers in 62 of Ohio’s 88 urban, suburban and rural counties.

Interested residents participating in the master gardener program complete an intensive training in horticulture. These trained volunteers then assist with a variety of educational programs and activities for community members through the local Ohio State University Extension office.

Gardening skills are not required to participate, just a passion or interest in learning more about gardening and sharing this knowledge with the community. Master gardener volunteers work directly with county extension professionals on services and programs.

One of the most popular (and free) services is a gardening hotline.

Master gardener volunteers are available during set hours via phone, email or in person to answer questions and provide research-based reference materials and solutions to gardening issues. The program also offers identification of plants, diseases and insects.

The following is a short list of local master gardener volunteer programs that offer this service in Northeast Ohio. Be sure to check them out whenever you encounter an issue in your backyard or garden this season.

•?Summit County (1100 Graham Road Circle, Stow): Master Gardener Hotline, Tuesdays, March-October from 9 a.m. to noon. 330-928-4769, option 3.

•?Stark County (2800 Richville Drive SE, Massillon): Garden Information Line, Tuesdays, March-October from 9 a.m. to noon. 330-832-9856, ext. 3473 or 3474, or email info@osustarkmg.org.

•?Portage County (705 Oakwood St., Suite 103, Ravenna): Master Gardener Hotline, Thursdays, April-October from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 330-296-6432.

•?Medina County (120 W. Washington St., Suite 1L, Medina): Horticulture Hotline, Tuesdays, April-October from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 330-725-4911, ext. 0.

•?Cuyahoga County (5320 Stanard Ave., Cleveland): Horticultural Diagnostics Hotline, Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. 216-429-8200 ext, 235 or 236.

•?Mahoning County (490 S. Broad St., Canfield): Diagnostic Clinic, Mondays and Thursdays, April-October from 9 a.m. to noon. 330-533-5538.

•?Geauga County (14269 Claridon-Troy Road, Burton): Ask a Master Gardener Helpline, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, April-September from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 440-834-4656 or email mggeauga@yahoo.com.

•?Lake County (99 E. Erie St., Painesville): Master Gardener Volunteer Helpline, 440-350-2254.

•?Ashtabula County (39 Wall St., Jefferson) Master Gardener Volunteer Helpline, May-October from 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and 1 to 4 p.m. Thursdays. 440-576-9008, ext. 110.

Heather Neikirk is a Stark County Extension Educator in agriculture and natural resources for Ohio State University. If you have questions about healthy food systems, farm to school, food production, small farms, women in agriculture or food gardening, contact her at 330-832-9856 or neikirk.2@osu.edu.