Master Gardeners at 2022 Earth Day event sponsored by Ohio County Solid Waste Authority.

Insights from a Master Gardener

With snow on the ground and frigid temperatures in the forecast, planning your backyard garden might be the furthest thing from your mind. Surprisingly, NOW is the time to start preparing, and the local Master Gardener program has the training you need to get started. The WVU Extension Service is offering online hybrid Master Gardener training in the new year. 

Throughout the 17-session online training program, participants will receive instruction in a variety of topics, including botany, plant propagation, entomology, pesticides and pest management, plant disease, soil science and nutritional management, turfgrass management, vegetable gardening, tree fruits, small fruit, pruning, landscape design, woody ornamentals, indoor plants, herbaceous plants, garden wildlife management and West Virginia native plants. 

From there, pass a test and complete 40 hours of initial volunteer work and you’ll have earned the right to call yourself a WVU Extension Master Gardener. The Ohio County Master Gardeners offer many volunteer opportunities throughout the year, from hands-on gardening to providing education sessions and demonstrations. Master Gardeners also participate in the Ohio County Fair at Oglebayfest each year.

We spoke with Patty Hickman, current president of the Ohio County Master Gardeners to learn more about the program and its benefits. Patty has been a Master Gardener for approximately two years. During that time, she has found that her gardening skills had improved and she’s had the chance to participate in volunteer activities with other gardeners that have further developed her skills. 

Straw Bale Garden example from Public Garden Lecture May 2021.

If you’ve ever wondered what it means to be a Master Gardener, read on to learn more!

What exactly does it mean to be a Master Gardener?

The WVU Extension Master Gardeners are a group of trained volunteers who share their knowledge and skills to teach others about plants, their cultivation, and their importance to the environment.

What inspired you to become a Master Gardener?

I have been gardening since I was a child and helped my mom plant a garden in our backyard. I’ve had a garden of my own every year since graduating college. I joined the WVU Extension Master Gardeners to become better informed about growing sustainably and caring for different plants than I have grown in the past, particularly native plants. I wanted to share that knowledge with others who are interested in gardening, and use my skills to help my community.

How has the Master Gardeners program enhanced your gardening knowledge and skills?

I’ve learned more about timing of planting vegetables, environmentally safe pest management, and how to enhance low-production soils to improve plant yields.

What is one of the most valuable takeaways you’ve gained from completing the Master Gardener training?

Probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned is how to compost much of the kitchen and paper waste from home and use it to enhance the flowers and vegetables I grow so that those materials don’t go to waste and my plants get the nutrients they need to flourish. It saves on the cost of buying as much fertilizer and is better for the environment.

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In what ways does the Master Gardeners program contribute to the local community?

WVU Extension Master Gardeners provide activities and programs to educate the public on best practices in sustainable horticulture and environmental stewardship. Locally, the Ohio County Master Gardeners helped create and maintain the Butterfly Garden at the Schrader Environmental Center at Oglebay Park. We maintain community gardens throughout the county, including some of the Ohio County School gardens such as the one at Wheeling Middle School. We have assisted with caring for plantings at the Pioneer Woman statue on National Road, Good Shepherd Nursing Home, and planting the heritage garden at Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex, to name a few. 

We also provide education through the Public Garden Lecture Series held monthly in the Spring and Summer, and provide speakers to groups and classes upon request. We participate in Earth Day events, the “Green Your Winter Blues” event at Grave Creek Mound, and educate visitors to the Ohio County Fair at Oglebay.

Garden at Good Shepherd Nursing Home.

How has being a Master Gardener enriched your connection with the local gardening community?

I’ve met many area gardeners I didn’t know before, and everyone has something special to share with other gardeners. I’ve learned so much just from meeting and working with other gardeners.

For someone considering joining the Master Gardeners program, what advice would you offer based on your own experience?

I’d recommend getting active and getting to know your fellow Master Gardeners at the start of your training. I joined during the fall of 2021 and all of our classes were via Zoom. It allowed me to meet people from around the state but made it harder to get to know the local group. That’s why we will have some of the training this year in person so we can get to know the new Master Gardeners and so they can learn from experienced Master Gardeners and have opportunities to use their new skills.

How can new gardeners get involved in the Master Gardener program?

The Winter/Spring 2024 training series runs from January 11 until May 2. Classes will be held every Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m. online. Local in-person sessions will be available during monthly Ohio County Master Gardener meetings from March through June. If you missed the initial online classes you can make them up by watching recordings of them.

If you are interested in joining the Ohio County Master Gardeners Program, you can sign up by contacting the Ohio County Extension Office by emailing  or calling 304-234-3673.

The first regular meeting of 2024 will be held on Tuesday, February 13 at Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church 905 National Rd., Wheeling at 6:30 p.m. Learn more about the program here