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Don’t guess in the garden

The Union StaffA member of UC Master Gardeners/Composters demonstrates how to prune and train fruit trees during a recent class.
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Suppose you gave a party and nobody came? That’s what a small band of UC master gardeners and composters were pondering last month, after having arranged a special free class on composting at their demonstration garden off Main Street.

Actually, they had concluded their regular series of demonstrations, but when I decided to write a column on the topic of composting for The Union, they added one more class to the schedule.

It just so happened that it fell on a dreary gray Saturday morning with rain clouds “scudding crablike across the sky” (I’ve always wanted to use that line.) And the master composters were the only ones standing inside the temporary building which serves as their classroom behind the Nevada Irrigation District headquarters at 1036 W. Main St.



Then a gentleman poked his head indoors and asked, “Do you know there are 150 people outside in the garden, waiting to learn about composting? And I know there are 150 people because I’ve been standing out there, counting them and freezing my buns off!”

University of California Master Gardener and Composter Gretchen Barretta laughs when she tells the story and says it won’t happen again because, “We’ve learned to have someone outside to herd the people into the classroom before we go out into the garden.”




The topic of discussion last Saturday was all about pruning and training fruit trees, attended by about 50 people, including me and my own landscape and horticultural chore advisor and director, Felicia.

I’d had this training before, when I was an active UC master gardener in Sacramento, but that was more than 10 years ago, and I’m very glad to have attended this “refresher” course with up-to-the-minute information.

For example, did you know the best time of year to do heavy pruning (up to one-third of the fruit tree size) is in summer? Yep, all that stuff about the trees “bleeding to death when pruned during warm weather” is just an old husband’s tale.

Plus, the tips they offer are for THIS climate, not that of the valley. For example, in Sacramento it’s customary to prune roses in January and February, stripping off foliage to force them into dormancy.

Here, the signal to safely prune roses is when forsythia plants put on their golden blossoms. To jump the gun in our climate might mean we’ll suffer a heavy frost and the tender new growth on the plants will be frozen back.

That said, I must confess to being a creature of habit: Our roses are all pruned and my fingers are crossed in hopes we continue to have a mild winter.

Do as I say, not as I do, OK? And if you have questions to ask of the Placer/Nevada UC Master Gardeners and Composters, they can be reached by phone at 273-0919. If there’s no one on duty, you can leave a message (Including “How can I become a master gardener?”) and they’ll get back to you – just be certain to leave your telephone number.

For those unfamiliar with the master gardener concept, it was launched up in Washington to help overworked farm advisors answer the barrage of questions from home gardeners. Then it took on a life of its own as one of cooperative extension’s most successful programs, and has spread throughout the nation.

Don’t be put off by the high sounding “master” title. Yes, some people say it sounds a bit like “gartenmeister” or something. These are wonderful people, who listen – and learn – as well as they talk.

Next Saturday they’ll be teaching techniques of “Training Young Ornamental Trees” from 10 a.m. to noon at the First Baptist Church, 1866 Ridge Road in Grass Valley. Why there?

Well, as one master gardener explained, “That’s where we can point right across the road at the trees lining Nevada Union High School’s parking lot to show what happens when a young tree is pruned improperly.”

Zingo!! In the tree-pruning parlance, that’s a “Gottcha.”

Dick Tracy is an award-winning garden writer and photographer, master gardener and former president of the Foothills Horticulture Society. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.


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