Become A Master Gardener

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Even your average gardening course has been impacted by the drought and the extended wildfire season in the Payson area.

When Chris Jones returns this fall to offer his ever-popular gardening and landscape class at Pima Community College's Rim Country Learning Center (formerly EAC-Payson Campus), it's going to have a few new twists.

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Thinning the forest to minimize wildfires has become a hot topic around the Rim country this fire season, and in Pima Community College's gardening and landscape class the subject will be given special emphasis.

"Traditionally we've dealt with gardening and pruning and flowers and trees," said Jones, an extension agent for the University of Arizona assigned to Gila County for the past three years. "But this semester we're also going to spend more time on forest health, on the growing bark beetle situation, on landscaping against, on water conservation on some of these important issues we have to deal with living in the Arizona mountains."

The course, officially called Gardening and Landscape/Master Gardeners (LTP220) is a not-for-credit class that is currently scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 9, a week ahead of the official delayed start of the fall semester. Rim country residents whatever their degree of gardening expertise are welcome and advised to register at the Rim Country Learning Center as soon as possible.

The course will also include more gardening subjects, like watering and composting and will include actual field trips to the homes of class members who need help in these areas.

"We'll start with a little bit of basic lab science with our first three classes, about botany and soil, and water and soil relationships," Jones said. "But all we can do is an overview, because each of those are degrees in themselves."

Those who successfully complete the course will be certified as master gardeners.

"A master gardener is a volunteer who provides community education dealing with home horticulture issues," Jones said.

But a large part of the course will focus on the issues we face living in the Rim country.

"What's unique in our area is the aridity we deal with how dry it is and the perception (people have that) it isn't as dry as it is because it's the mountains," Jones said. "Then there are also the harsh springs we have. We always have a late freeze and we'll cover how to extend your season around that."

Other timely topics that will be covered include:

Reducing fire hazards The course will include ways to configure your landscaping so fires will drop to the ground and burn with less intensity.

Bark Beetle infestations "Pine is getting pounded by bark beetles," he said. "There's not enough water and too many trees."

"During much of that time enough moisture fell to grow an increasingly dense forest," Jones said. "But professionals have been looking at the last 30 years and saying, 'We're getting ourselves in trouble. The forest is not healthy and it's not going to sustain this many trees per acre.'"

The current drought which began in 1996 but intensified the last two years has caused the pines in the Pine area to "shut down."

"There's not enough moisture to have a flow of sap, and when that happens the beetles are free to eat with no resistance from the trees," Jones said. "That's especially true in Pine where the groundwater is not there and the rain has not been happening."

Living with wildlife "We have elk and javelina to name just a few," Jones said. "We may or may not want to have contact with them in our gardens."

The course is ideal for people who have moved here and are used to gardening in other locales.

He will be assisted by Terry Mikel, an urban horticultural agent for Maricopa and Gila counties, and Cayci Vuksanovich, a horticultural specialist who has a gardening radio show in Globe.

The course will meet 15 times from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday afternoons. Cost is $85 plus a $50 textbook.

For more information or to register, call the Rim Country Learning Center at 468-8039 or visit the campus at Highway 260 and Mud Springs Road.

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