Extension office ready to help community during garden season | Local News

Hopkins County Cooperative Extension Office officers do more than 4-H camps and family classes, they also have a horticulture officer who helps with anything plant-related.

Erika Wood, horticulture officer, said her work covers everything from helping start new gardens to diagnosing what may be wrong with plants to overseeing the Pennyroyal Master’s volunteer program Gardeners Association.

“I can also help with wildlife control if people have different wildlife issues,” she said.

The main reason people come to her is for help when starting a garden, whether it’s a vegetable patch or a flower garden. When starting a new garden, there are three main areas that need to be addressed: soil quality, sun exposure and drainage. When starting a garden for the first time, she recommends testing the soil to see macronutrient levels.

“We live here in a part of the state where there’s a lot of clay soil, so sometimes the quality of the soil in our backyards may not be the best,” Wood said.

Soil testing can be done through the extension office for only $7 per sample. Wood said she reviews the results of each test and gives recommendations on how much fertilizer is needed or whether Lyme or sulfur is needed. Soil testing does not require expensive equipment, homeowners can borrow a soil probe free of charge from the extension office or use a trowel to dig up soil samples. They recommend going down about three to five inches into the ground for a good sample and taking in a few different spots where the garden will be.

Wood said all the soil would be mixed in a plastic bucket, not a metal bucket, because that could give false readings of metal in the soil. The extension office has bags of soil that can be filled to the line and returned for testing. She said they were sending the soil samples to Lexington to be tested.

“The key is to check the quality of your soil first to see if you need to make any changes,” Wood said.

Sunlight is also important when starting a garden for the first time. She said vegetables especially need full sun conditions to grow well.

“They need six or more hours of direct sunlight, so the sun is shining directly on the plants,” Wood said. “As a general rule, we’d like it to be longer than six hours, but that’s the bare minimum.”

The third thing prospective gardeners should consider is drainage and water quality. She said that if the soil is poorly drained, the plants won’t do well because most plants don’t like their roots very wet.

“We’ve had quite a bit of rain over the past few years and that’s definitely been a challenge for people because they’ve found that a lot of the water can stay in their yard for long periods of time,” Wood said.

If there is poor drainage, she recommends using potting containers or building a raised bed to help improve drainage. She said it’s also important to water the plants properly.

“If your plants look like they’re wilting, that probably means you need to give them a good rain,” Wood said.

When starting a garden, it’s just a matter of being patient.

“A lot of gardening is trial and error, and it’s okay to make mistakes,” Wood said.

For more information on the different areas Horticulture Officer Erika Wood can help, call the Hopkins County Extension Office at 270-821-3650.

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