With the holiday season in full swing, it might be difficult to find time to spend in the yard. With the rain and cooler weather we've enjoyed, a little neglect probably won't do harm.
This is a good time to seek a little gardening education. The Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service offers a range of classes, many for free. It is part of the University of Florida extension program. Start your search at their Web site hillsborough.extension.ufl.edu or call (813) 744-5519.
One of the more popular programs administered through the county is the Master Gardener program. Completing a specialized course in Florida gardening at the extension service is a requirement of this program. Once trained, Master Gardeners help the extension service fulfill its educational outreach mission. Master Gardeners give presentations at libraries around the county, staff phone lines at the extension service office in Seffner, create and maintain the demonstration gardens.
The training sessions, usually held in the fall, meet once a week for a five-hour session for 10 consecutive weeks. The $175 fee covers classes and Master Gardener notebooks. After 50 volunteer hours, the county refunds $50.
Classes cover topics including pests and diseases, plant propagation, botany, soils, plant problem diagnosis, and other subjects.
The extension service also offers educational classes each month. Topics are varied and include ground covers, bulbs, rare fruit and water-wise gardening herbs. Check the extension Web site for the dates and locations, or call the office and ask to be put on the mailing list.
Educational offerings also include the Florida Yards & Neighborhoods program, which teaches the techniques and benefits of Florida-friendly landscaping. The program covers right plant, right place principles, water conservation tips, and micro/drip irrigation. Another offering, the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program, teaches landscaping using plant materials that will offer food and shelter to animals.
If you're the mood for more education, local nurseries are another good source. Wait until the holiday rush subsides, and you might get lucky and find a knowledgeable source to help you choose plants or help you with an entire design. If you are looking for design help, take in a sketch of your yard and a list of your desires. Most are more than happy to offer suggestions. The smaller, privately owned nurseries are more likely to have a staff member who can help you choose plant materials for the area.
Another seemingly limitless resource is the Internet. Go to any search engine and type in "Florida gardening," and you'll be busy for hours looking at sites. Hours of education and possible entertainment is available on the Internet. Several forums (some require membership) will allow you to read about other gardeners' exploits. Often you'll run across the same concerns you have.
For more information, mine other gardeners and bookstores that carry garden tomes. Even you if are taking a short sabbatical from working in your yard during the holidays, you can expand your gardening knowledge and be better prepared to dig and plant once the holidays are over.