Roanoke Master Gardener Help Desk open to new gardeners

Digital Originals

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — With spring underway and the COVID-19 pandemic impacting food supplies, more people are turning to gardening.

Barbara Leach is a horticulture technician with the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) and she also manages the VCE-Roanoke Master Gardener Help Desk. People can ask the help desk a number of questions. Topics can range from bugs, ornamental and native plants, vegetable gardens, erosion prevention, lawn maintenance, just to name a few.

When Leach found out that the VCE – Roanoke County/Roanoke & Salem office was to close due to COVID-19 concerns, she left a message for people to contact her through her email if they had any questions. Even with the digital transition, Leach says she’s still able to help people.

However, she believes that as we move further into the month of May and temperatures warm up, more people will contact her and the help desk.

“I think there’s a lot of insecurity right now,” she said. “People aren’t really sure where their food is going to come from.”

People aren’t just interested in caring for vegetable gardens. With the news of Asian giant hornets (“murder hornets”) making their way into the United States, some want to grow pollinator gardens for bees.

Nonetheless, Leach has noticed more gardening newcomers.

“In my generation, many people my age had a parent or a grandparent who had gardened before,” she said. “Now we’re getting calls from people that have probably had nobody in their family who’s ever gardened before.”

Some of the new gardeners who call in feel like they need to know everything about gardening before they get started. Leach says that isn’t necessarily the case.

“If you can prepare your soil properly, give the plant the things that it needs; give it sunlight, give it water, give it nutrients; you’re going to have some level of success. You will learn as you go along because the plant will teach you.”

For those who are planning on starting a garden, some material maybe difficult to find. Leach has heard of people having a hard time finding seeds, certain types of plants, and other gardening supplies. She suggests shopping at the smaller businesses in the region.

“I think a lot of people have forgotten that we have a whole lot of small independent nurseries around here, who probably really need your business.”

Some nurseries and garden supply stores are open to the public during this time. Leach suggests looking up store hours or checking to see if these nurseries offer pick-up or delivery. There are farmers markets that allow customers to order plants and seeds online for pick-up. Mail order is another option for people to receive plants and seeds.

“Here in the Valley, we’ve got a lot of small nurseries. Some of them are just a little hoop house at the back of a convenience store. Some of them are full-blown nurseries. We’ve got a lot of options here,” Leach said. “It may take googling it to find out who’s available in the Valley, but they’re out there.”

To contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at VCE-Roanoke, call (540) 776-7178.

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