Agri Leader

Purchasing plants at the plant sale pays off

On Nov. 9, the Highlands County Master Gardener program at Highlands County Extension will be hosting its annual fall plant sale. The purpose of their plant sale is to provide county residents with a way to green up their landscapes and gardens, gain assistance in plant selection and care via a help desk and through displays, and enjoy low prices and a great selection - all while helping out a good cause. The proceeds of this popular plant sale will benefit the county's master gardener community projects, including the master gardener scholarships. Thanks to the plant sale, three $750 scholarships were awarded to Highlands County High School students for their ongoing college studies last year. Cale Payne, a local resident and freshman who is studying for his bachelor's in Environmental Management in Agriculture & Natural Resources, was one of the lucky scholarship winners. The money was well-appreciated and put to good use.
"I am grateful for the scholarship because it is a big help to me and my family, as it helps cover books and classes." Last year's scholarships also went to the state president of 4-H Youth Development Organization, and to a local student who is attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. The plant sale will be offering many varieties of plants at reasonable prices, including Florida-Friendly plants, shrubs, butterfly plants, vegetable plants and edible perennials. "The edible perennials are some of our more unique plants which are rarely found in garden centers," said David Austin, Urban Horticulture & Master Gardener coordinator, UF Highlands County Extension. The edible perennials available at the sale include Cranberry Hibiscus, Okinawa Spinach, New Zealand Spinach, and Malabar Spinach, all of which grow well in Central Florida. "These plants can provide different flavors to a salad or a cooked dish and they can be easily grown in your yard or garden year-round," added Austin, who will be at the fall plant sale, along with other master gardeners, to answer any questions you might have about plants and gardening. To give you a little bit of background about Master Gardeners and Extension, the master gardeners are a group of extensively trained gardeners and volunteers. They are part of the Cooperative Extension Service, which was established almost 100 years ago by the Smith-Lever Act of 1914, a U.S. federal law that established a system of cooperative extension services and provides federal funds for cooperative extension activities. They were first established in Washington state in 1973, and are now active in all 50 states and four Canadian provinces. Cooperative Extension in Florida is found in every county but not all counties have master gardener programs. Cooperative Extension in Florida is a division of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (IFAS), and part of the University of Florida. The residential horticulture agent of each county is usually the master gardener coordinator, a position held by David Austin in Highlands County Extension. In Highlands County, the Master Gardeners operate a help desk at the Extension office from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. "People can bring in their plants and/or issues and problems and hopefully we can get them solved," said Austin, who explained that you can also call. It's best to provide the gardeners with an image, leaf or another example of the plant issue, so the correct solution can be given. The Master Gardeners stay busy all year helping the local community in many ways. "We are presently helping about a dozen community gardens at various schools and organizations," added Austin, who will also be conducting a morning workshop on Saturday, November 23, "Protecting Your Plants From Cold Weather," just in time for the winter months. (Call Extension for details.) If you go: Highlands County Master Gardener Fall Plant Sale Saturday, November 9, 2013 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Checks or cash only Bert J. Harris, Jr. Ag Center Auditorium 4509 George Blvd., Sebring (863) 402-6540