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Starr set to teach final Master Gardener class

Staff Writer

Lincoln County Cooperative Extension Director Kevin Starr is preparing to set down his gardening gloves after his last Master Gardener class this fall, finishing up a 20-year run of teaching local residents how to tidy up their flower beds and appreciate local horticulture.
There will be an information session for those interested in learning more about the class at 9 a.m., Sept. 11, in the demonstration kitchen at the Citizen’s Center in downtown Lincolnton.
The 40-hour course that starts Oct. 16, focuses on the basic types of horticulture, such as trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables, Starr told the Times-News on Tuesday.
Every Tuesday, with the exception of select weeks during the holiday season, until Feb. 19, students will meet with Starr from 9 a.m. to noon. Guest speakers, such as Extension Agent for Agriculture Libby Yarber and Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Leigh Guth will be speaking on relevant gardening topics, such as soil and local foods.
Starr is expecting his usual 18 to 24 number of participants, but said he is able to have up to 28 students this year. Over the years, he has seen several repeat-students who have taken his course more than once, such as Beverly Phelps.
Phelps took the course for the first time in 2007, and went back for seconds in 2010, she said. The gardener is “highly considering” taking the course for the third time, as it will be Starr’s last of his career.
“The class is absolutely essential for any gardener, especially for someone who is new to the area,” Phelps said. “Even if you’re an avid gardener, you learn there is so much more to learn. (On a 1 to 10-scale) If I was at a level two or three before I took his course, I bumped up to a seven or eight by the end.”
Phelps moved to Lincoln County about six years ago, from California — a state that is welcoming to plants and easy to garden in, she said. The red clay found in North Carolina makes it difficult to grow certain things, Phelps has learned, and through Starr’s class she was able to pinpoint what factors to consider and what was going wrong. The humidity in the air, too, was something the California native was unfamiliar with and had to take into consideration with her new garden.
Phelps and Starr agree that the course is thorough with covering the basic “A to Z knowledge” of horticulture; not just gardening, but information about plant basics, pests, diseases and growing conditions.
Learning how to make his students good horticultural consumers, by teaching them the tools to find the best, most cost efficient and environmentally-responsible decisions to their problems are Starr’s goals for his students, he said.
Though this year’s group will cover a broad spectrum within the horticulture family, there won’t be enough time to delve into too many specifics, such as certain flowers or plants, he said. However, he hopes the basic skills his trainees acquire will be enough to lure them away from the old wives’ tales that so many people use, and tips that do more harm than good.
In addition to the course, those participating must also complete volunteer activities through Cooperative Extension, such as working with the Farmers Market and helping judge livestock competitions.
The course costs $85, and Starr advises those who are interested in attending the course to stop by the Sept. 11 session; spots will fill up quickly, he warns. For more information, call (704) 736-8452.
“There really is something for everyone in this class,” Starr said.

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