Master Gardeners share their expertise at the fair

Volunteers on hand to answer questions directly or research an issue

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter



If you go

What: Clark County Fair.

Hours today: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Where: 17402 N.E. Delfel Road, Ridgefield.

Admission: Adults, $10; seniors 62 and older, $6 today; kids 7-12, $7; kids 6 and younger, free; military personnel in uniform, free. Parking, $6. C-Tran shuttle, $2 per person round-trip from area Park & Ride lots; children 6 and younger ride free. $1 discount on admission with a bus fare stub.

Carnival: Opens at noon.

Highlights: 99.5 The Wolf Grandstands: Mutton Bustin’, 2 p.m.; Bull Riding, 7 p.m.; Blue Gate: Sea Lion Splash, 1, 3 and 5 p.m.

Pets: Not permitted, except for personal service animals or those on exhibition or in competition.

Information: or 360-397-6180.

WSU Master Gardener Program

What: Heritage Farm Answer Clinic

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

Where: 1919 N.E. 78th St.

Contact: 360-397-6060, ext. 5711, or email MGanswerclinic@cl...


Become a Master Gardener:

• Training: 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays, early September through November.

• Cost: $245.

• Online application: http://clark.wsu....

Natural gardening tips

• Use the right plant in the right place.

• Protect water quality.

• Minimize turf area.

• Remove invasive plants.

• Use native plants.

• Manage pests without chemicals.

• Compost on site.

• Create wildlife habitat

Even if you have a bright green thumb, don't try to grow Red Delicious apples in Clark County.

They thrive in dry Wenatchee, which receives only 9.6 inches of precipitation a year. But in soggy Clark County, Red Delicious apple trees drown in 41.6 inches of rain annually. The leaves get spotty with fungus, and the tree won't produce crisp, shiny apples.

That doesn't mean local gardeners can't grow apple trees here, said Erika Johnson, WSU Master Gardener coordinator.

"Since we're a moist climate, we have fungal problems," Johnson said. "Just choose a variety bred to do well here. Grow akane or liberty apples."

Master Gardener volunteers are at the Clark County Fair this week answering questions such as "What's wrong with my apple tree?" and, of course, "Why can't I grow tomatoes?"

Tuesday morning, Diane Clevenger and Mary Unruh were staffing the Master Gardener table and fielding questions. Both are longtime, accomplished gardeners.

"If we can't answer a question, we refer them to the Heritage Farm Answer Clinic," Johnson said. "Someone will research the question and get back to the person."

As if on cue, Grace and Don Bacon from Vancouver's Hough neighborhood stopped to ask a question. The couple has lived in their home for 25 years, but are downsizing in their retirement. They want to take a start of their favorite aspen tree to their new home. They have tried a few times without success to propagate a sucker from the tree.

"It's a great shade tree," Grace Bacon said. "The leaves dance around."

Johnson suggested the couple stick a sucker in rooting hormone with a lighter soil and "maybe put plastic over it to keep it moist."

The Bacons said they would try Johnson's idea, and hoped that by the time they sell their house, they will have a start of their favorite aspen tree to plant in their new garden.

Johnson said one of the most common gardening issues focuses on gardeners putting a shade plant in the sun, or visa-versa.

"Putting the right plant in the right place is key," she said.

One of the biggest challenges Master Gardeners face is identifying plants, she said. Gardeners often carry a leaf or seeds into the Heritage Farm Answer Clinic and want help in identifying the plant — and then figuring out tips to growing it.

"Sometimes it's tough to figure out what it is," Johnson said.

She recalled a gardener who brought seeds from a Vietnamese plant they were not familiar with.

"We only knew it was in the cucurbits family — squash, pumpkin, zucchini," she said. "Sometimes knowing the general family will take us far."

Master Gardeners must keep up with gardening trends and learn about new research. In recent years, gardeners are more concerned about bee health, Johnson said. They ask about alternatives to applying chemicals to their garden that can harm both people and bees. Instead of using harsh chemicals to eradicate invasive species, Master Gardeners advise gardeners to dig up invasive species such as blackberries. They suggest pulling dandelions and other weeds before they go to seed to prevent them from spreading.

Last summer, Clark County had an infestation of brown marmorated stink bugs, a non-native variety with no built-in predators here.

"Last year, we were telling people to trap the stink bugs, but that didn't work," she said. "The traps were inviting the stink bugs to come into a garden and munch on vegetables. This year, we're not telling people to trap them."

This summer, the master gardeners are suggesting a different method to eradicate the stink bugs.

"Squish them," Johnson said. "It works."

Find the master gardeners toward the back of the 4-H Dogs and Cats barn. That's adjacent to the Clark County Dairy Women's ice cream stand.