Monday | October 23, 2017
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Master Gardener training and certification program offered

The Cooperative Extension Service, a nationwide partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state Land Grant colleges, functions as the outreach arm of these colleges. The local CES is part of the University of Hawaii at Manoa with the mission to extend science-based information to local communities throughout the state.

The Master Gardener Program is a good example of an educational outreach program administered by the UH Cooperative Extension Service.

Master gardeners provide the public with unbiased, research-based information while promoting sustainable gardening practices and environmental stewardship. The program was founded on the idea that in exchange for horticulture training by local universities, participants would volunteer to share what they had learned.

Although the program developed initially as a means of assisting home gardeners, it has expanded enormously since its inception more than 40 years ago as a phone helpline. Today, thousands of master gardeners nationwide represent all walks of life.

Certified master gardener volunteers staff booths at county fairs and farmers markets, host plant clinics and plant sales, conduct workshops, develop and maintain community and educational gardens and write advice columns for newspapers.

In West Hawaii, certified master gardener volunteers operate a weekly helpline at the Kona Cooperative Extension Service office, answering telephone requests for information by the gardening public. Volunteers are available between 9 a.m. and noon Thursdays at 322-4892. They also answer questions via email at Walk-ins are welcome, as well.

West Hawaii master gardeners are a group of like-minded folks, passionate about gardening, sharing their knowledge with others and making a difference in our community.

There are three components to all Master Gardener certification programs: classroom and hands-on horticulture training, volunteer outreach and continuing education.

The West Hawaii training program, conducted by UH faculty and area experts, is a series of 13 classes offered from February through April. Participants receive 40 hours of classroom training, equivalent to a college-level introductory horticulture course.

The program’s core curriculum includes basic botany, plant nutrition, insect and plant disease management, organic gardening and diagnosing plant health problems. Classes are held from 9 a.m. to noon Tuesdays at the Kona Cooperative Extension Service office in Kainaliu.

The requirements also include 40 hours of volunteer activity, which must be completed within one year of the end of classes.

After completing the classes, passing the open-book exams and fulfilling the volunteer requirement, a candidate is awarded a University of Hawaii Master Gardener Certificate. To maintain certification, master gardeners are required to donate 30 volunteer hours on the helpline, community outreach projects or other approved activities each year.

Applications are being accepted for the 2014 program, set to begin Feb. 4. The fee is $125 in advance. Priority is given to applications received by Nov. 29. After this date, applications will be considered on a space-available basis. To learn more or to apply online visit or contact me at 322-4884 or

Ty McDonald is a University of Hawaii Extension Agent and Master Gardener Program coordinator.

Tropical gardening helpline

Dan asks: The fruit on my star fruit tree is being damaged by something. I am bringing in some samples. Can you tell me what is eating my fruit and how to stop this damage?

Answer: It looks like birds have found your star fruit tree. The fruit you brought into the nursery looks like it has bird damage. Once the skin is broken by birds, you may find geckos feasting as well.

Other animals that might eat your star fruit include mice, rats or mongoose, but they probably would not get to fruit that is on slender twigs.

Hopefully, the birds are not damaging all of your fruit. If they are, you’ll have to either put deterrents on the tree or netting over it, while it is fruiting. Old CDs can be used to scare birds away. Hang them in the tree, especially near the fruit to keep them away for a while. This will only work for a few days, however, until the birds learn the CD is harmless. By moving the CDs or installing other flashy stuff and changing it every few days, you may be able to keep them away.

Bird netting is easy to find and can be installed rather easily. For tips on how to support and install netting, watch the video at

Another solution that might work is to pick your fruit a little early, before it is ripe enough to attract the birds, but hopefully will sweeten up a bit out of harm’s way.

Email plant questions to for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

This column is produced by Diana Duff, an organic gardener, plant adviser and consultant.