Education is paramount for York/Poquoson Master Gardener volunteers

The York/Poquoson Master Gardeners are helping area residents take an active role in improving the region’s environment through community collaboration and educational outreach.

Master Gardener Pete Peterman inspects to see if it is healthy and viable as a filter for storm water runoff.

Master Gardener Pete Peterman inspects to see if it is healthy and viable as a filter for storm water runoff.

“The Master Gardener Program brings scientific-based education to the public to help improve lives through citizen outreach. Our program focuses on the needs of citizens in York and Poquoson based on resident input, environmental assessments, and innovation,” said Megan Tierney, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent.

For the York/Poquoson Master Gardener Program, community education is key to sustaining environmental responsibility. The program hosts several events throughout the year at which guest speakers and Master Gardener volunteers educate homeowners on topics including landscaping, pruning, beekeeping, lawn care, and native plant care.

Gwen Harris, who has been a Master Gardener in the community since 2012, explained that each program’s responsibilities and educational efforts differ depending on the region they serve.

“For example, in the York/Poquoson area, runoff into the Chesapeake Bay is a huge concern,” Harris said. “It’s a highly residential area where people want to have beautiful lawns.”

Master Gardener volunteers Merrilyn Dodson and Pete Peterman measure lawns for homeowners for the Healthy Virginia Lawns Program.

Master Gardener volunteers Merrilyn Dodson and Pete Peterman measure lawns for homeowners for the Healthy Virginia Lawns Program.

One way to help reduce harmful runoff is to make sure residents aren’t over-fertilizing their lawns.

“We have been working with the Healthy Virginia Lawns Program to help residents measure their lot size in order to calculate how much fertilizer they may need to ensure they are not applying fertilizer unnecessarily or in excess that ultimately ends up in our bay,” Harris said.

The Master Gardeners also stress the importance of using thoughtful landscape design as a strategy to reduce runoff. According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, small shrubs and groundcover capture 56 percent of runoff. Additionally, mulching and planting shrubs as opposed to maintaining a manicured lawn greatly increase the capacity for water retention.

By fostering strong communal relationships and staying up to date on the most effective and efficient environmental protection methods, this program serves as an important resource to the community. In the spring of 2016 alone, the 119 York/Poquoson Master Gardeners served 74 citizens with lawn visits through the Virginia Healthy Lawns Program.

“To witness our impact and community outreach firsthand, we encourage individuals to visit our Poquoson Learning Garden to see the latest in urban food-growing practices, walk the nature trail, and see the partnership we have facilitated with the local beekeepers and the history museum,” Tierney said.

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