Buffer Landscaping in Action: Master Gardeners & Master Naturalists Collaborate at Smith Mountain Lake

Photo Provided by Smith Mountain Lake Association Buffer Landscape Committee

When Smith Mountain Lake experienced an increase in runoff of fertilizers and sediments due to a housing boom in the 80’s, the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) recognized the importance of landscaping to prevent harmful runoff and erosion of the lake’s shoreline. In addition to promoting Phosphorous-free fertilizer, the SMLA manages a Buffer Landscape Advisory Service Team (BLAST) that helps introduce and support buffer landscaping to homeowners near the lake.

As the Smith Mountain Lake Association’s website states, the mission of BLAST is to, “preserve the lake shoreline and water quality while providing wildlife habitat and protecting property investment and enhancing the beauty of the lake.” In order to achieve this mission, the Buffer Landscaping Committee was created, consisting of a team of approximately 20 volunteers, many of whom are Virginia Master Naturalists and Extension Master Gardeners.

These committee members use their specialized knowledge to make recommendations to homeowners on how to use native plants to slow and filter water flowing into the lake. They also create demonstration gardens, provide on-site advice to lake residents, and operate a recognition program that acknowledges the efforts of residents who have effectively utilized buffer landscaping techniques.

Rich Brager, a Master Naturalist who has worked on the BLAST project, believes that collaboration between Extension Master Gardeners and Extension Master Naturalists has been invaluable to the success of this initiative.

“Collaboration between these programs has absolutely furthered the goals of the BLAST project. Some Buffer Landscape Committee members are both Virginia Master Naturalists and Virginia Master Gardeners. Each member draws on their own knowledge base and training from their respective organizations,” says Brager.

Both Extension Master Gardeners and Extension Master Naturalists have a thorough background knowledge and training in a variety of horticultural and environmental topics. By working together on this initiative, the two programs have achieved a great deal towards remediating the water quality of Smith Mountain Lake.

When Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists team up on projects, there’s no limit to the possibilities.

“Although both organizations have different Mission Statements and goals,” Brager says, “I think there are many potential projects that could easily fit into a common wheelhouse.”

Whether it be buffer landscaping, installing a rain garden, or any other project, consider reaching out to your local chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists. When these two programs work together to share knowledge and empower communities, the results can be remarkable.


To learn more about the Smith Mountain Lake Association and their efforts in buffer landscaping, visit the Smith Mountain Lake Association’s webpage here.

When it Rains, it Pours: An Introduction to Stormwater Management

The autumn weather can be unpredictable. When storms come to visit, they often lead to messy runoff that carries away your garden’s dirt and form large puddles in the most inconvenient places. But where does all that water go once the storm passes?

This water, known as stormwater, often runs into storm drains that lead directly into the nearest streams with little to no filtration. Along the way, it picks up chemicals and oils from the street, plastic and other litter, and all the dirt that was washed from the garden along with whatever fertilizers and chemicals it contains. These pollutants end up in the local waterways, contributing to issues such as increased sedimentation and water pollution right in our own neighborhoods.

Today we’re going to talk about stormwater and how gardening can play an important role in helping to support water quality.


What is stormwater?

According to the EPA, stormwater is runoff generated from rain or snowmelt that flows over land or impervious surfaces (such as paved streets, parking lots, and building rooftops) and does not soak into the ground.  As water travels over these surfaces, it picks up pollutants such as trash, chemicals, oils, and sediment that then make their way into waterways, often causing harm to the larger bodies of water into which they flow.

As the global population continues to grow, development and urbanization increase the amount of impervious surfaces, contributing to an increased volume and rate of run off. These changes in hydrology result in habitat modification and loss, increased risk of flooding, decreased aquatic biological diversity, and increased sedimentation and erosion.

So how can Extension Master Gardeners make a positive impact on stormwater? With the help of some Master Naturalists, we’re going to explore the idea of buffer landscaping.


What is buffer landscaping?

Buffer landscaping is the maintenance of vegetation along a waterfront. These plants create a buffer which acts as a filter for stormwater and other runoff, catching sediment, debris, and pollutants before they can enter the waterway. Buffer landscaping also helps prevent bank erosion because the roots of the plants hold the soil and prevent it from being washed away. This increases water clarity and protects aquatic and terrestrial habitats by preventing sediment from being swept into the waterway. Having plants near the water also provides shade, helping keep water temperatures cooler and improving habitat for fish, amphibians, and other aquatic life.

You don’t have to live alongside a waterfront to plant a garden that performs valuable water filtration services. Consider creating a rain garden to help prevent stormwater runoff in your own neighborhood. Rain gardens contain plants that can survive soil soaked in water from rainstorms, although they are not meant to remain in standing water indefinitely. These gardens collect and slow stormwater runoff, allowing it to filter through the soil and preventing it from running straight into storm drains, carrying sediment and pollutants with it.

Rain gardens and buffer landscaping provide important ecological services to the landscape. In addition to reducing flooding and increasing filtration, these gardens provide other benefits such as:

  • protecting the value of your property
  • retaining soil
  • requiring less maintenance
  • providing natural habitat for wildlife

When choosing plants for your rain garden or buffer landscaping, there are a few important characteristics to keep in mind.

Recommended plant characteristics:

  • Native
  • Deep roots
  • Pollinator friendly
  • Prefer wet soil

Native plants are best adapted for local climate conditions and provide important habitat cover for native wildlife. As an added bonus, choose plants that are pollinator friendly to encourage pollinators to visit your garden. Deep roots ensure that your plants won’t be washed away during heavy rainfall and plants that prefer wet soil are sure to thrive in areas often inundated with water.

For a list of recommended plant species for riparian buffers and other landscaping in Bedford, Franklin, Pittsylvania, and Roanoke counties, visit the Smith Mountain Lake Association’s Buffer Landscaping Web Page here.

For a comprehensive guide to installing a rain garden, visit the Department of Forestry’s Rain Garden Technical guide here.


Interested in learning more about stormwater management?
Check out these additional resources from the Virginia Cooperative Extension!

Stormwater Management for Homeowners: Rooftop Redirection

Stormwater Management for Homeowners: Rain Gardens

master food volunteers prepare food at a demonstration

From the Cookbook to the Community: Who are Master Food Volunteers?

By: Gabrielle Sanderson

The famous red and white cookbook Joy of Cooking is a timeless classic for any kitchen, and it’s referenced throughout the training manual for the Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Food Volunteer program. Just as Joy of Cooking educates its readers about the food they are preparing, Master Food Volunteers (MFV) are able to reach and educate people around Virginia about food preparation, nutrition, food safety, and physical activity. The program allows volunteers to merge their appreciation of cooking, nutrition, and physical activity with the act of  helping others. Melissa Chase, Master Food Volunteer Virginia State Coordinator, states that an aspect that draws people to this program is “their love of cooking,” although their love for volunteering fuels their passion as well.

One of the requirements to become a Master Food Volunteer is to complete a mandatory 30-hour Master Food Volunteer training course and then reciprocate with 30 hours of service within one year of training. Once the volunteers are trained, they are able to work with a number of different programs aiding in the expansion of program activity. The more volunteers that are trained, the faster Extension is able to educate Virginians about food and physical activity.

master food volunteer logo

While the program is small compared to the Master Gardener program, Chase states that it continues to grow. The Master Food Volunteer Program started with about 50 volunteers, but currently has 200 – 225 statewide. The program has grown through the volunteers’ participation at farmers markets, health fairs, and by word of mouth.

“They probably see more people at the farmers markets programs, if it is located in a fairly high-volume area,” states Chase. In addition, a lot of communities are putting on health fairs now, which allow Master Food Volunteers to exhibit the behaviors of preparing safe and nutritious food.

“The thing that I hear the most is that the volunteers are really interested in helping people to make better choices and improve their eating behaviors. It is an important part of service,” states Chase.

There are also a lot of opportunities in the program to reach children. “If you can get [children] excited about preparation, then their families are more likely to get involved.” The Master Food Volunteers can show them different, tasty ways to prepare food that provide people incentives to go back and prepare the same dish at home. The program enables the community to be involved in the food preparation process, while also working hands-on with food that they love.

There is a growing interest for Extension Master Gardeners to also become Master Food Volunteers because there is a relationship between how people harvest food and how they prepare food.

“We see the connection between being a Master Food Volunteer and the Extension Master Gardener Program, because it is a continuum. Master Gardeners really bring an element to this that we haven’t seen before, because we can talk to people about where their food comes from,” explains Chase. The Master Food Volunteers can then demonstrate what can be done with the produce once it is harvested, making it a collaborative effort.

Even though many volunteers are drawn to the program for their love of cooking, many leave with more than they bargained for. Volunteers are setting the example for the community to follow.

“Volunteers come in by participating; they can make changes and become healthier by being in the Master Food Volunteer program. They can really be the example that others need to see to make those changes. They can reach the public more easily than we can. They’re a living example,” says Chase.

By becoming a Master Food Volunteer and an Extension Master Gardener, new skills can be brought to the table that allow Extension to better reach the public. “Volunteers can do things that we probably couldn’t do without them,” states Chase. “When they can bring those skills, it really strengthens the program. We value that.” Just as Joy of Cooking brings different ingredients together to make a spectacular dish, Master Food Volunteers and Extension Master Gardeners bring together different skills that greatly benefit their communities.

To learn more about the Master Food Volunteer program, visit their website here.


Cultivating Collaboration: Master Naturalists in the Garden

Extension Master Gardeners love to grow. We grow plants in our gardens, cultivate knowledge through continuing education, but most of all, Master Gardeners love developing friendships and connections within the community.

As part of Virginia Cooperative Extension, we’re always looking to strengthen our networks through collaboration. Extension Master Gardeners do a lot of important work in the community centered around education, horticulture, and working outside. We bring important skills and knowledge into communities regarding the domesticated plants we grow in our gardens, but what about those wild plants and animals that we encounter in the flower beds?

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hanover master gardeners at help desk

Growing Our Program: Introduction to EMG Recruitment

By Maeghan Klinker

It’s that time of the year again.

The summer is ending, the leaves are just starting to blush with the first thoughts of autumn, and it’s time to start thinking about the future. With all the work still to be had in the garden, surely we could use a few more helping hands…

That’s right, it’s recruitment season for Extension Master Gardeners!

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Parasitic Plants Offer Insight Into Plant Communication


You might be familiar with carnivorous plants (like the Venus fly trap) that feed on insects, but have you heard of parasitic plants that feed on other plants?

Parasitic plants aren’t much of a problem for home gardeners in Virginia, but they do have very important lessons to teach us about the ways that plants communicate with and sense one another. For example, dodder, a relatively common parasitic plant in Virginia, germinates and then grows towards a host plant that it will latch onto in order to steal water and nutrients. Dodder has evolved a sophisticated set of sensory adaptations that allow it to find appropriate host plants without being able to “see” what’s around it.

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Diplopoda: The Not-So Creepy Crawlies


By Jackson Means (mjacks4@vt.edu) and Derek Hennen (dhennen@vt.edu)

Millipedes (Fig. 1) are one of those insect-like creatures that you’re likely to encounter in your garden on a regular basis, and toss aside as just another natural oddity you would rather not look at too closely. One could not be blamed for this reaction; millipedes do frequently produce chemical defenses that can smell quite powerful and have a few too many legs to remain in the comfort zone of most people. This really is a shame, as millipedes are one of the most fascinating and diverse groups of animals on the planet. Plus, some of those chemical defenses smell like cherry cola, which is pretty cool.

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Boxwood Blight: Frequently Asked Questions

boxwood blight

Boxwoods are a useful and popular element of many Virginia gardens, but boxwood blight, a serious fungal disease first discovered in the United States in 2011, poses a threat to Virginia’s boxwoods.

Mary Ann Hansen, manager of the VT Plant Disease Clinic, recently visited the Extension Master Gardener State Office to share information on boxwood blight and offer suggestions for controlling the spread of this serious disease in Virginia.

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