An easy and free way to get a gardening question answered is by calling or sending an email to your local Master Gardeners. I’ve spent many hours as a Master Gardener volunteer in San Diego County answering phone calls and emails from the public at the University of California Cooperative Extension office, where there is a library of hundreds of gardening books to refer to, U.C. publications on everything from walnut production to strawberry diseases to tree staking. When I have a break between calls and emails, I peruse this treasure of resources, or I chat with the other Master Gardeners working the “helpline” that day.

Who are the Master Gardeners?

It’s a good thing that Master Gardener volunteers rarely work alone. Our title misleads. None of us has mastered gardening on the whole.

We are a group of volunteers who are passionate about gardening and are trained by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) with the mission of extending to the public the home horticulture and pest management research of the UCCE.

But what’s the UCCE? That’s a joint effort of three groups: the University of California, the United States Department of Agriculture, and a particular county — in my case, the County of San Diego. All three of these entities contribute resources to the UCCE.

Prospective Master Gardeners are taken through about six months of classes, workshops, and field trips conducted by professors of soil science, farm advisors for avocados, landscape architects, nurserymen, professional grafters, irrigation specialists, citrus researchers, weed scientists, and more. Seven years ago, I went through this training, and afterward passed a test, and have been volunteering with the group ever since.

(See a bit more about the Master Gardener program’s history and education activities here.)

We each have areas of specialization

I learned a ton during my training as well as in the subsequent continuing education that all Master Gardeners are required to complete each year. Nevertheless, I’ll always be able to better address questions about when to harvest mandarins than when to prune roses.

No problem. As I said, Master Gardeners rarely work alone, have a lot of University of California resources at hand, and know which other Master Gardeners are rose experts.

In the San Diego County program alone, I know Master Gardeners who are thoroughly knowledgeable about orchids, ornamental trees, succulents, worm composting, bananas, butterfly plants, tomatoes, raising quails, staghorn ferns, just to name a few. And a couple years ago, I attended a conference for Master Gardeners statewide where I met volunteers in other counties from all over California who are similarly expert in every niche of gardening imaginable: propagating native plants, growing tropical fruit trees, harvesting and using rainwater in the garden, etc.

Contact the Master Gardeners in your county

Master Gardeners by definition love to share what they know about plants and the environment in which plants grow, and they have the resources at hand to help you figure out whatever is puzzling you in your garden today.

Below are links to the webpages for Master Gardener helplines (phone numbers and email addresses) in counties of Southern California. Give them a call or send an email with photos. They are ready to help.

San Diego County Master Gardeners helpline

Orange County Master Gardeners helpline

Los Angeles County Master Gardeners helpline

Riverside County (and desert areas) Master Gardeners helpline

San Bernardino County Master Gardeners helpline

Ventura County Master Gardeners helpline

Santa Barbara County Master Gardeners helpline

(Outside of Southern California, you can find the helpline information for your local Master Gardeners by doing a web search, such as “Sacramento Master Gardeners helpline.”)

The carrot’s good, Dad. But can you get one of your gardening friends to help this green apricot taste better?

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