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Master Gardeners discuss plants: peppers to palm trees

LAS CRUCES - Master Gardeners from New Mexico, Texas and Arizona learned about plant diversity, Southwest roses, xeric landscaping techniques and many other topics during the annual New Mexico Master Gardener Conference at New Mexico State University hosted by the Dona Ana County Master Gardeners.

From left, Extension horticulture specialist Curtis Smith, a speaker at the New Mexico Master Gardeners conference, discusses some plants with Master Gardeners Margie Snare of Valencia County, Connie Klofonda of Otero County and Barbara Arispe of Doņa Ana County. (NMSU Agricultural photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

Conference coordinator Jeanine Castillo, a Master Gardener and specialist in NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, said about 130 people attended.

"It was a very well-received program," Castillo said. "The caliber of speakers we had was excellent, from a presentation on roses in the Southwest to organic gardening basics."

Castillo also said the event provided a chance for camaraderie among those who have similar interests in gardening.

"It was a good time to share Master Gardener challenges from all across the region," she said.

About 350 active Master Gardeners help New Mexico residents with research-based answers to questions about home gardens and landscapes. Master Gardeners undergo a multi-week, rigorous schedule of courses before they become certified. Training is provided by New Mexico State University experts through NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service offices.

The theme of the conference, "Garden Diversity," was reflected in the presentations over the three-day meeting, which ranged from the growing of tropical plants in non-tropical places, presented by John Begeman of the University of Arizona, to a session on southwestern medical plants by Mary Ann O'Connell, a Regents professor in NMSU's Plant and Environmental Sciences Department.

Speaker Tye Curtis of Curtis and Curtis Seeds in Clovis outlined native grasses and wildflowers. Lois Balin of Texas Parks and Wildlife spoke about eco-friendly gardening for wildlife. Jon Boren, an assistant professor in NMSU's Fishery and Wildlife Sciences Department, gave tips on animal damage control.

Oscar Mestas, of Texas A&M University, spoke to Master Gardeners about tree care and Bill Lindemann, a professor in NMSU's Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, outlined soil microorganisms.

Castillo said a favorite among the presentations were remarks by Lowell Catlett, dean of NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics, who encouraged the Master Gardeners to volunteer with passion.

"I think our biggest hit was Dr. Catlett," Castillo said. "He spoke about your worth as a volunteer and how much volunteers contribute to the Master Gardener program."

The next New Mexico Master Gardener conference will be June 7-9, 2007, in Belen and will be hosted by Valencia County.