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Posts Tagged: UC Master Gardener Program

UC Master Gardeners ‘Garden Walks’ conserves millions of gallons of water annually in Marin

The Marin Municipal Water District has saved nearly 30 million gallons of water since it initiated a partnership with UC Cooperative Extension's Master Gardener program in Marin to teach residents how to conserve water.

The program, Garden Walks, was established in 2008 to help Marin conserve water in a district with limited supply. MMWD purchases about 75% of its water from reservoirs on Mt. Tamalpais and in west Marin, and the rest from Sonoma County's Russian River water system.

Garden Walks provides personalized information and advice to water district customers focused on improving their irrigation practices to conserve water. The part-time coordinator sets up about 150 appointments a year for UC Master Gardener volunteers to visit the homes of Marin County residents and teach them how to manage their outdoor water usage with conservation in mind.

“When we finish our visits, I hope that the client is more confident about being proactive in their garden,” said Pam Polite Fisco, the program coordinator. “We hope they will be saving water, will use natives and will encourage wildlife in their gardens.”

Overwatering the landscape and leaks in irrigation systems are the two most common water-wasting mistakes identified by the Garden Walks program. (Photo: Pixabay)

The volunteers, dispatched in pairs, spend about an hour at the homes. They walk the garden and talk with residents about grouping plants with similar water requirements, adding mulch to the soil surface and composting clippings, leaves and other green waste so it stays on the property.

The UC Master Gardeners teach the residents how to check their water meters and use the meter to help determine whether there are leaks in the system. They provide advice on water-conserving plants, such as natives or other drought-tolerant plants. They ask the residents to run their sprinklers and other irrigation systems to ensure they know how to manage the controls.

The majority of the water savings realized by the program stems from repairing leaks and cutting back on overwatering, said Steven Swain, UC Cooperative Extension horticulture advisor and the technical advisor to the Marin County Master Gardener program.

As part of their agreement with UC Cooperative Extension, the Marin Water District monitors changes in water usage and reports them annually on their website, allowing Swain to determine the program's impact.

The majority of water savings during the life of the program is attributable to just one quarter of the houses Master Gardeners visited; three quarters of participants were managing water sustainably.

“Sometimes, our volunteers just give the residents a pat on the back and compliment them for a job well done,” Swain said.

About 6% of the clients visited have hidden water leaks in their irrigation systems. These leaks can waste huge amounts of water if not caught, and account for a large portion of the water savings.  Another 18% of clients are overwatering, which accounts for much of the rest of the savings.

Considering the value of the water conserved by the Garden Walks program, the $40,000 annual cost to hire the coordinator is more than offset by the reducing amount of water the district must provide.

This program has received a number of awards, including the Marin Conservation League's Ted Wellman Water Award in 2010. In 2011, it received first place in the UC Master Gardener's Search For Excellence awards and the Community Outreach Award at the National Extension Master Gardener Coordinating Conference. Marin County residents have also praised the program.

“The Master Gardener team was friendly, professional and helpful and shared their positive attitude to their garden and their outreach,” said Fairfax resident ‘Julie' in a follow-up survey

‘Jean' of San Rafael said, “I'm a beginning gardener. They helped me figure out how to start off right.”

A number of California counties were inspired by the success of the Marin County Garden Walks program and have adopted similar efforts to visit homeowners and assess irrigation efficiency.

View a video about the Marin Garden Walks porgram:

Posted on Monday, April 5, 2021 at 11:35 AM
Focus Area Tags: Yard & Garden

Visit a UC Master Gardener demonstration garden, learn and be inspired

Birds are chirping, the sun is shining and flowers are in bloom – it is time to get out into a garden and enjoy nature's beauty. UC Master Gardeners have been working hard to bring demonstration and community gardens to life across California, and volunteers are eager to teach how you can create sustainable splendor in your own landscape.

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens offer knowledge and examples on how to grow a variety of plants in your garden. Visit one today and be inspired!

The UC Master Gardener Program is in your community

Be inspired. Visit a garden that has the power of the University of California and the UC Master Gardener Program behind it. With thousands of volunteers, hundreds of demonstration, school and community gardens across California and programs in 50 counties plus Lake Tahoe basin it is easy to discover the joy of gardening in your community. 

Hit the road and get excited about gardening

UC Master Gardener demonstration gardens showcase best practices for garden management from plant selection to ground covers and irrigation. Demonstration gardens can appeal to everyone as they often include multiple themes like bumble bees, growing veggies, historical roses and low water–use plants. 

Things you can discover in a demonstration or community garden: 

  • Mediterranean or native plants
  • Roses
  • Ornamental grasses
  • Succulents
  • Orchard trees and vegetables
  • Pollinator habitats
  • Composting
  • Irrigation methods
  • Mulch

Whatever your interest, you'll be sure to take something away from your visit to one of the many gardens across California. Find a location by visiting the UC Master Gardener Program garden map:

Visit one or all of the beautiful gardens across California that UC Master Gardeners play an active role in bringing the garden and educating the public to life! UC Master Gardener Program garden map:

“When on a road trip I love to stop, stretch my legs and walk around a garden in a new town or city. It gives me an opportunity see new and unique plants that grow in different areas, plus I have the opportunity to recharge,” says UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull. “Recently, I was driving to Lake Tahoe and made a point to stop and visit the Sherwood Demonstration Garden, it was the perfect break during the long drive!”

UC Master Gardener classes share science-based gardening practices

For more direct educational opportunities, attend a gardening workshop hosted by local UC Master Gardener Program.  Workshops are free or very low cost and cover a vast array of gardening topics. To find a UC Master Gardener event in your area, visit:

As you plan your summer travel, consider attending a workshop or event where you are vacationing. The UC Master Gardeners of Orange County are teaching the power of perennials on May 20, UC Master Gardeners of Santa Barbara County will present at the Santa Ynez Valley Earth Day celebration May 21, the UC Master Gardeners of Tuolumne County will have a Kids' Day in the Garden on June 3 … and so many more events to choose from!

“Attendees at workshops, classes and on demonstration garden tours can expect to hear from gardening experts in their local community. UC Master Gardener volunteers have been trained by UC scientists to become a 'master' in the garden and are proud to share their expertise and knowledge with an inexperienced gardener or an industry professional,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director.

UC Master Gardener volunteer Lauren Hull stops at a local community garden in Davis, Calif. and helps harvest blackberries for the resident chickens.

Take ideas home

Whether your landscape needs a total overhaul, a few new plants or nothing at all, the knowledge and new ideas gained from workshops and demonstrations gardens is inspiring. Invite bees, butterflies and hummingbirds into your life by adding pollinator friendly plants to an existing landscape. Become more water-wise by adding mulch, changing out sprinkler heads and replacing high water user plants. Continue growing as a gardener by staying connected with your local UC Master Gardener Program, and stopping at demonstration gardens throughout the state. 

The UC Master Gardener Program extends to the public free UC research-based information about home horticulture and pest management. In exchange for the training and materials received from the University of California, UC Master Gardeners perform volunteer services in a myriad of venues. If you are interested in becoming a certified UC Master Gardener contact your local UC Cooperative Extension office.


Posted on Thursday, May 4, 2017 at 1:46 PM

Early detection to prevent invasive pests – National Invasive Species Awareness Week

The Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer (PSHB) originated in Southeast Asia, and is now established across Southern California.
Many people have heard the well-publicized admonitions to “Buy it where you burn it” or “Don't pack a pest!” But why does it matter? Exotic pests (including plants and insects) are continually being introduced into California's landscapes, farms and natural habitats from plants sold in nurseries, transported firewood, fruits and vegetables, and even in an unsuspecting person's luggage.

According to the Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR) at UC Riverside, “California acquires one new exotic species, on average, every 60 days. At this rate, around six new species establish in California each year. Estimated losses arising from the uncontrolled population growth of these pests amounts to an estimated $3 billion per annum.”

Exotic plants and pests can quickly turn invasive in their new environments because they no longer subject to natural predators or diseases that kept their populations under control in their native territories. Once an invasive pest starts to rapidly colonize and spread, it becomes increasingly more difficult to eradicate, causing both environmental and economic damage.

Prevention and early detection is key

The UC Master Gardener Program and its more than 6,000 volunteers play a critical role in helping stop and prevent the spread of invasive plants and pests in California through early identification and prevention.

Mexican Feather Grass (Nasella or Stipa tenuissima) is popular in home landscapes because of its drought tolerance. (Photo: Melissa Womack)
For example, through its partnership with PlantRight, the UC Master Gardeners were at the forefront of educating the public about a beautiful but potentially devastating invasive grass. Mexican feathergrass (Nassella or Stipa tenuissima) was once loved for its delicate features and drought-tolerance. However, one Mexican feather grass plant is capable of producing tens of thousands of seeds which are easily spread by wind, animals and water. Once it becomes established, Mexican feather grass crowds out other grasses, threatening California's diverse native grass species. Through extension and outreach, UC Master Gardener volunteers not only educated the public about the dangers of this plant but also recommended the more sustainable options found on PlantRight's alternative plant list.

Another of the many ways UC Master Gardeners are making a difference in early detection and prevention of invasive species is the participation in PlantRight's annual Spring Nursery Survey. Every year volunteers visit hundreds of retail nursery locations tracking the location of invasive plants being sold. The annual Spring Nursery Survey information helps the nursery industry replace invasive plants with environmentally safe alternatives.

Trusted resources and information

Since 1981, the UC Master Gardener Program has been an industry leader in extending UC research-based information about home gardening to the public. The UC Master Gardener Program's enthusiastic volunteers engage the public, share information, identify pests and recommend sustainable solutions. Contact your local program for questions about invasives by visiting

A perfect example of invasive damage was the recent invasion of water hyacinth , Eichhornia crassipes (Mart.) Solms, in the waterways of Stockton, Calif.
The UC Master Gardener Program is a statewide program through UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR). Another great resource for invasive species from UC ANR is the statewide UC Integrated Pest Management Program (UC IPM). UC ANR also has researchers and advisors working with the California Invasive Plant Council (Cal-IPC) to protect California's water and land resources from invasive species.

So this year participate in National Invasive Species Awareness Week (Feb. 21-27) and share this information and its trusted resources like an “invasive.” Educating friends, family and neighbors is an important step in early detection and prevention!

Posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 8:26 AM

Skip landscape fertilization during the drought

It's a good idea to skip fertilizer in the garden during a severe drought. (Photo:
Because high-nitrogen fertilizer prompts plants to grow a lot of leaves and use more water, director of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) Master Gardener Program suggests California gardeners put away the fertilizer spreader for a time.

"When plants are under drought stress, we don't want to promote a lot of leafy growth," says Missy Gable in the fifth installment of UC ANR's six-part video series on saving water in the landscape. "If using fertilizer, choose a fertilizer low in nitrogen, or don't fertilize this year."

The UC Master Gardener Program provides a detailed description of landscape fertilizer needs on its California Backyard Orchard website. Visit the website to learn about the various nutrient needs of growing trees and shrubs, symptoms of nutrient deficiencies, and how much fertilizer should generally be applied each year.

View the latest video here:

Additional videos in the UC ANR video series on saving water in the landscape.

Prioritize your plants

Early-morning watering is best

Remove weeds from your landscape

Mulch the soil surface

The videos are also available on the UC ANR YouTube channel.

Coming next week, a video about using fertilizers under drought conditions.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Sunday, September 20, 2015 at 2:51 PM

Video series with water saving tips debuts

Missy Gable, director of the UC Master Gardener Program, works on video series.
The University of California Master Gardener Program offers simple tips for saving water in home landscaping in a six-part video series that debuts today, Aug. 24.

In the first episode, embedded below, UC Master Gardener director Missy Gable tells viewers about prioritizing plants in the landscape when making irrigation decisions. Because of the four-year drought, most California residents are required to reduce their water use 25 to 36 percent. Gable recommends making trees and shrubs a top watering priority in your home landscape because they take longer to become established and are more costly to replace, while inexpensive and easily replaced annual plants are a lower water priority.

Each Monday for the next six weeks a new water-saving video tip will be released on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) YouTube channel, in the UC Green Blog, and on UC ANR's Facebook page. Topics will include irrigation timing, the importance of mulch, use of fertilizers, weed removal and adding compost.

The UC Master Gardener Program is a statewide network of more than 6,000 volunteers, organized under the auspices of UC ANR, who provide research-based gardening information to residents of California. County-based UC Master Gardener volunteers answer home landscape and gardening questions by phone and email; interact with community members at fairs, festivals, nurseries and farmers markets; manage demonstration gardens; and work with children and adults in establishing school and community gardens. Click here to find a local UC Master Gardener Program.

UC ANR also has numerous online resources for California gardeners.

Additional water-saving tips from Gable and her UC ANR Cooperative Extension colleagues are in a recently published guideline published on The Confluence, a blog of UC ANR's California Institute for Water Resources.

An initiative to improve California water quality, quantity and security is part of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Strategic Vision 2025.

Author: Jeannette Warnert

Posted on Monday, August 24, 2015 at 8:55 AM

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