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Garden masters seek new green thumbs
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For the past 30 years, more than 5,500 people across the state have worked for the University of Georgia and never received a paycheck. As graduates of the UGA College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences Master Gardener Program, they volunteer their time to assist local county extension agents across Georgia.

If you live in Hall County, are interested in gardening, and have a volunteer spirit, you should consider applying to the 2011 Master Gardener class offered by Hall County Cooperative Extension.

The Master Gardener program is an 11-week series of classes taught by local county Extension agents, UGA Extension Specialists, and local horticulture experts.

The 2011 Master Gardener class will begin in January and will be held at the Hall County Agricultural Service Building here in Gainesville. The class meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

The classes will cover many horticultural subjects including plant physiology, tree care, plant pathology, insect identification, organic gardening, turf care, woody plant identification, gardening for wildlife, ornamental ponds and composting.

The cost of the class is $125 which, when you consider the quality of the two textbooks, is quite a bargain.

Also, another part of "payment" involved with the program is the promise to complete a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer service over the year following the class. After the first year, you must complete 25 hours of volunteer service per year to maintain your Master Gardener status.

Once enrolled in the course, you are invited to participate in the many events and activities sponsored by the Georgia Master Gardener Association and the Hall County Master Gardeners. These include monthly meetings, field trips and educational conferences.

While participants gain knowledge they can use in their own landscapes and gardens, the real success of the program is the work and dedication of the volunteers.

Master Gardeners serve their communities through a variety of projects that promote their love of gardening and teach others to protect and preserve the environment.

In 2009, Master Gardeners in Georgia volunteered more than 185,000 hours of their time. Hall County Master Gardeners led the state in 2009 contributing 18,000 hours of volunteer service, valued at over $315,000.

Hall County volunteers educate the public through "Ask a Master Gardener" plant clinics, the Junior Master Gardener program, the Lunch & Learn Gardening Series at the Hall County Library, two annual Garden Expos and other workshops and seminars. For more information or to receive an application for the 2011 Master Gardener class, call the Hall County Extension office at 770-535-8293.

Billy Skaggs is agriculture agent and county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293; website. His column appears biweekly on Thursday's Business page and at