For both amateur and professional gardeners, keeping their plants, trees, shrubs and lawns free from summertime infestation by pests, diseases and other harmful conditions can be a constant battle.

To help answer those nagging gardening questions that come up every summer, the Becker County Master Gardeners are again offering their Plant, Pest and Gardening Clinics twice a week through the end of August, and once a week through the end of September.

Each clinic is at Becker County’s University of Minnesota Extension Office, 1120 Eighth St. SE, Detroit Lakes, starting at 9 a.m. and continuing until noon.

People can converse with one of the Master Gardeners at 218-846-7328 (ext. 7105), by email at mnext-becker@umn.edu, or in person at the Becker County Extension office.

On this particular day, the Master Gardeners at the Extension office were Sally Hausken, Catharine Weisenburger and Marietta Keenan, along with program coordinator Linda Perrine.

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“We do this on Mondays and Fridays from June through August, and just Mondays in May and September,” Hausken said. “Today there was a gentleman who called us from Floyd Lake. He would like assistance in revitalizing a shoreline that was a public access.”

“He’s worried about the toxic waste from boat engines and other vehicles,” Weisenburger added.

“The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) cautioned me to find out, was it under state auspices somehow,” Hausken said. “If so, we’ll need to do more research.”

In other words, it wasn’t a question they could answer that day.

Flip through and read more home and garden stories in our special Summer Homes magazine.

Another woman from the Lake Park area called a short time later.

“She’s concerned about a ‘black fungus’ on the burr oak on her property,” Hausken said. “They’re young trees, and she thinks it’s killing them.”

She added that the woman also mentioned “oak galls” — a type of infestation that results from insects laying eggs on the tree’s leaves.

“They’re ugly looking, but they don’t hurt the tree,” Hausken said.

Another caller, Nancy Callender, asked if she could bring in a sample from a spruce tree on her Cotton Lake property. By the time she arrived, the Master Gardeners had an information sheet ready, showing the different types of needle, branch and root rot diseases that can affect spruce trees.

While they suspected a form of needle disease known as Rhizosphaera needle cast, or possibly Stigmina needle cast, they had Callender fill out a sample submission form from the U of M’s Plant Disease Clinic in St. Paul, and write out a check for the fee to have it mailed there for testing.

“Once you get the results back, we can help answer any questions you have,” Weisenburger told her.

For easier identification of specific plant pest, disease or gardening problems, the Master Gardeners request that people use the following guidelines:

  • For help in identifying a plant disease, bring in a sample of the diseased part of the plant — at least 6 inches longer than the diseased part — encased in a plastic bag.

  • For weed identification, bring in the whole plant, including the roots, encased in a plastic bag.

  • For pest identification, if possible, bring a sample of the insect pest, along with a sample of the plant material it was found on, encased in plastic or a glass jar.

  • For help with grass problems, grass samples should consist of a 10-inch circle of sod, including 1 inch of soil, including both affected and nonaffected areas, placed in a cardboard box or sturdy container.

As for general questions about how to start a new garden, as well as for planting grass, trees and shrubs, the group suggested starting with soil samples.

“We have soil testing kits here,” said Perrine, noting that the regular kits are available for $17 each.

“They show you how to take a soil sample, put it into the (provided) bag and mail it to the University for testing,” Weisenburger said.

“The soil sample is a basic gardening tool,” Hausken said. “It’s a good idea for everybody, if they care about what they put on their lawns and gardens. We can go over the results with them when they get them back, or they can do it themselves.”

“You should do one every two or three years, especially in vegetable gardens,” said Perrine, who is a Master Gardener herself. “The plants will deplete certain nutrients, so you should rotate, kind of like farmers rotate crops in the field. It returns those nutrients to the soil that have been depleted.”

More tips from the Masters

As August approaches, the Becker County Master Gardeners would like you to keep these tips in mind:

  • Do daily and weekly checks for insect and disease problems to control early.

  • Raise cutting height of lawn mower to 3 inches. Mowing too short allows sun to damage grass crowns and dries roots more rapidly.

  • Check outdoor containers and hanging baskets regularly to make sure the soil is moist. You’ll have to water daily or even more often in hot, dry weather. Frequent watering leeches fertilizer and nutrients through the soil, so plan to fertilize with water-soluble plant food every two weeks.

  • Add more flowering perennials to your garden. Late August through early September is an ideal time to plant them, whether new from the garden center or divisions from your own plants. Make sure there are two or three weeks of decent growing conditions expected after planting them. Mulch around them, then after the tops die, rake leaves or straw on top, too.

  • Sanitation is the most effect means of controlling insects and disease problems in the garden. Dispose of any infected plant material in the trash, do not compost.

  • Don’t fertilize or use weed killers on heat stressed lawns, wait until temperatures are more moderate.

  • Remove overly large cucumbers, zucchini and beans. Allowing them to remain on the vine will inhibit new ones from developing.

  • Continue to keep up with gardening chores despite uncomfortable weather and nasty mosquitoes. (Avoid gardening at dusk, when they’re most prevalent.) Keep weeding so more weed seeds don’t fall, only so sprout next year. Remove any over-ripe or rotting produce, as it attracts wasps.

These tips are provided courtesy of the Becker County Master Gardeners program.

Want to become a Master Gardener?

Master Gardeners are from all walks of life, and volunteer in their home counties on behalf of the University of Minnesota. They share gardening best practices with people in their communities to promote healthy landscapes, healthy foods and healthy lives.

Master Gardeners complete a university-taught core course and contribute a certain number of volunteer hours teaching research-based horticulture practices in their communities.

“The program has been going on here for almost 30 years,” says Linda Perrine, who has been the coordinator for the Master Gardener program in Becker County since its inception.

She has also taken the course to become a Master Gardener, so she has an insider’s perspective on the process.

“If people want to become a Master Gardener, they can do so in one of two ways — take the online course, or go take a class at the Arboretum in the Twin Cities,” she said. “They can call or email anytime, and I will send the information to them.”

Perrine can be reached at 218-846-7328, ext. 7105, or perri015@umn.edu. You can also apply by contacting the Master Gardener State Office at mgweb@umn.edu or 612-625-9864.

Once you have the application in hand, the next step is to complete and submit it, along with the registration fee.

“You have to be enrolled by Oct. 1,” Perrine said. “The courses start right after New Year’s Day in January.”

As part of the application process, an online background check must also be completed.

The cost of the Master Gardener Core Course is currently $320 per person, including $290 for the course plus $30 for the background check.

The in-person classes at the Arboretum in Chaska begin in January and end in April, Perrine added, while the online courses can be done at the individual’s pace, but must be completed by mid-May. Both versions of the course include more than 48 hours of basic horticulture education, offered by Extension faculty from the University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University.

Once the course is complete, the internship begins.

“You must donate a certain number of volunteer hours back to the county where you signed up,” Perrine said. “The first year, it’s 50 hours, with another 25 volunteer hours, plus at least five hours of continuing education for each year thereafter.”

In return for completing the 50 volunteer hours their first year, the newly fledged Master Gardener will have half of his or her registration fee paid by Becker County Extension, Perrine added.

“We have so many things happening in the community right now that 50 hours won’t be hard to do,” she said. “Besides the gardening clinics, we have community education classes, the community gardens and children’s gardens at local schools, plus our annual plant sale and maintaining the walk-by garden display at the county fair.”

In addition, the Master Gardeners host a “Rambling Rose” gardening segment on TV3, the local public access station.

“It’s on every day,” Perrine said of the TV show. “They go out to people’s gardens throughout the area.”

In all of these volunteer efforts, the interns work right alongside the certified Master Gardeners, gaining experience and knowledge along the way.