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Green thumb not required at garden days

Spring is planting time, and following a winter like this extreme one of 2013-2014, gardeners are getting itchy fingers. Of course, it will be another month or two before anyone can get any outside digging done. This makes it the perfect time to learn about new things to grow in the garden, how to care for fruit trees, and perhaps new methods of gardening. One of the best ways to find out what’s happening in the local gardening world, and to scratch the gardening itch along with other fellow green thumbers, is to attend University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener – sponsored garden days or horticultural events. A green thumb isn’t required. The only prerequisite is an interest in growing things, preregistering so they can plan enough lunches, and paying a fee to help cover the costs of the day.

Master Gardeners are trained volunteers who work together to sponsor the spring garden events as well as to serve as year-round sources for up-to-the-minute, research-based information about all facets of gardening. They begin planning for the next garden day right after the last one, but activity ratchets up in the depths of winter. Each event features a keynote speaker and a good variety of workshops. Some speakers travel the circuit from one event to another while others are local Master Gardeners or other people with expertise on a particular topic. Engaging speakers, inviting vendors to display their garden-related products, and planning the day’s refreshments are all part of the planning process. These events are generally held in the same location from year to year.

The Douglas County Master Gardeners call their Saturday event “Let’s Get Growing.” Vendor Coordinator Eddie Dummer describes the day as, “…an opportunity for area residents to increase their gardening knowledge by attending workshops on a wide variety of gardening topics and visiting with vendors in our merchant hallways.” Held in Alexandria at the Technical College, this event attracts more than 250 participants each year.

West Ottertail County will hold their 15th annual Garden Day at the Kennedy Secondary School in Fergus Falls. It may be the largest such event in the region, attracting hundreds of gardening enthusiasts. This year’s keynote speaker will be Eric Johnson with “Ten Ways to Ignite Drama in Your Garden.” He says, “I’ve been digging in the dirt for four decades, and though I was trained as a Master Gardener, I consider my family’s 165-acre, southern Minnesota farm, as well as my south Minneapolis urban plot (the Garden Drama trial garden), to be my real training ground.”

Todd County’s Garden Day is a relative newcomer to the spring horticultural event stage. “This is our fourth year,” says Sandi Friedrichs, a Master Gardener and coordinator of the speakers for the March 8 happening held at the Long Prairie Baptist Church. She and the Todd County Master Gardeners invited straw bale gardening creator Joel Karsten as their keynote speaker. He’ll teach participants all about his tried-and-true gardening-in-a-bale methods. Other workshop topics include: using mulch in the garden; garden art; a look at the latest in flowering shrubs, perennials, conifers and grasses; colored foliage plants; everything you ever wanted to know about growing tomatoes; growing less common nutrition packed vegetables; getting to know and use herbs; and much more.

Look for similar topics at the East Ottertail Horticultural Day on March 15 at the Prairie Wind Middle School in Perham. Like all the other gardening events, the planners for this one are putting together a special lunch (it might be served in a flower pot). They’re also ordering the coffee and rolls to keep attendees energy up while absorbing all the gardening tips and tricks as well as chatting up the vendors who in the past have offered their expertise from bee keeping to books on gardening to vinegar making. Many vendors return year after year, and each garden day brings out new ones. Oh, and you’ll have a chance at winning one of the many door prizes supplied by the vendors.

These horticultural and garden days also bring out masses of green-aproned Master Gardners who help all day from set-up to take-down. It’s a good chance to get to know them. Ask them questions about garden pests, pruning fruit trees, soil sampling, or planting shrubs. If they don’t know the answer, they’ll know how to find the answer and will help you figure out your gardening dilemmas.

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