Gardening with Children at CHOM

Kellee and Neal
Kellee and Neal

Visitors to CHOM(Children’s Hands On Museum) in Tuscaloosa got a treat in June.  County Extension Agents Neal Hargle and Kellee Lassiter were there to help children plant a pumpkin seed.  The kids got to put dirt in a peat pot, push in the seed, water the pot, and take their pot home to plant.  Hopefully, children will be able to grow their own pumpkin just in time for Halloween.

It was such a fun activity to plant your own pumpkin.  Thank you CHOM and Tuscaloosa County Extension Agents.  And, I get to help Andrew plant his pumpkin at my house, I’m so excited!

Tuscaloosa Master Gardeners would also like to welcome Kellee to the Extension Office where she will serve as the 4H Regional Agent.

A belated congratulations to TCMG Plant Sale Chairman Sybil Phillips for her hard work and for the very successful Tuscaloosa County Master Gardener plant sale.  Sales exceeded our expectations and the TCMG horticulture scholarship will be fully funded this year.  Following are pictures taken at our plant sale.

From Southern Living, “Gardening Checklist”


Water―Pay attention to hanging baskets and containers, because they dry out more quickly with the warmer temperatures. Irrigate plants at dawn and dusk to reduce water loss from evaporation. As you make additions to your garden, you will need to water them more than established areas.
Houseplants―Place houseplants outside in a shady location to enjoy the fresh air and rejuvenate. Water regularly, and feed with an all-purpose (20-20-20) water-soluble fertilizer to encourage growth.
Mulch―Apply extra pine straw or shredded bark mulch around newly planted trees and shrubs to better transition these plants into your garden. The extra mulch will reduce water loss and heat stress to the new roots.
Lawns―Raise the cutting height of your lawnmower 1 to 1.5 inches to help your grass survive drought and heat. Tall turf shades the soil, slows evaporation, and reduces weeds.
Birdbaths―Relocate birdbaths to a shaded spot to slow evaporation and keep water from becoming too hot. Placing the bath near a small tree or large shrub provides shelter for the birds and encourages use.

Website statistics for the last 30 days?  We’ve had 2,292 visitors….AMAZING!

Sneak Peek Pass-along Plant Sale and TCMG April meeting

Master Gardeners all over Tuscaloosa County are gathering plant materials for the upcoming Annual Plant Sale, better known as the Pass-Along Plant Sale on April 30 2016. The sale will be held at The Tuscaloosa County Extension Office;  2501 7th St, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401 from 8 until 2.  All proceeds go to funding a horticulture scholarship to Auburn University.  Here’s a sneek peak at some of the items that will be available for sale:

Judith Rives
Judith Rives

Members of the Tuscaloosa County Master Gardeners recently enjoyed an evening at the home of Master Gardener, Judith Rives.

Participants brought their favorite spring garden party appetizers and desserts to share.

Dexter Duren
Dexter Duren




Dexter Duren, Outings Leader for West  Alabama Sierra  Club  conducted a  “Yard  Walk” to identify Judith’s lovely choices of plants and trees.

Special thanks to Kay Smith for sharing the wonderful pictures that she took of this event.

Save the date- September 29, 2016 will be an exciting day of learning and fun at the AMGA Fall Seminar – it will be in Birmingham ………. More details will be sent as they are finalized!


Get Ready for the TCMG Pass Along Plant Sale!

Master Gardeners all over Tuscaloosa County are gathering plant materials for the upcoming Annual Plant Sale, better known as the Pass-Along Plant Sale on April 30 2016.

Items for sale will include divisions of ground covers and edging plants; divisions from shrubs, irises, daylilys, and other rhizome, tuber and bulb type plants.  Succulents, potted plants, plants for mixed containers including thrillers, spillers and fillers will also be sold.  You might even find unusual plants since Master Gardeners often grow plants that are not carried by local nurseries


Come shop Master Gardener’s homegrown plants and take advantage of expertise from gardeners who can tell you about the growth habits of the plants and their requirements as to sun, shade, water and fertilizer.  The sale is from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. at The Tuscaloosa County Extension Office.  All sales fund a horticulture scholarship to Auburn University.

Click here to review a Southeastern Gardener’s March To-Do List.


Where did you Get your Green Thumb?

Amelia Pilsch
Amelia Pilsch

by Amelia PIlsch

BSGreenhouseThe man that I knew as Granddaddy, was actually Robert Alec Sansing, Bob to his friends.  He attended Auburn University, earned a degree in engineering, and served his country during WWII.  He owned his own business and… he allowed me, his oldest grandchild, to drive his super-sized, Olds Ninety-Eight around his suburban neighborhood in Pensacola Florida when I was only 13 years old.  His catch phrase, was “fun, fun, fun” and he repeated this often.  He was also very passionate about Camellias.

His passion began with roses when he lived in Nashville, Tennessee before I knew him.  Later, he started a business in Pensacola, and transferred that love to camellias.  He was so committed to this interest that he bought the entire city block next to his new home and built a great, big climate controlled Granddaddygreenhouse and outdoor camellia garden.  As a child, I remember it being a beautiful and wondrous place to play.  These prize winning blooms from a grandchild’s playground were shown all over the United States.

Granddaddy was an active member of the Pensacola Men’s Camellia Society, and served as President. This organization is older than the American Camellia Society and thank goodness, is no longer just for men.  He also contributed articles to the American Camellia Society yearbook. He has the honor of having a camellia cultivar named after him, “Bob Sansing”.

Bob SansingAt the time of his death, he had over 100 camellia plants in his greenhouse and yard.  Many specimens were donated to Baptist Hospital in Pensacola.  There is a plaque there that reads, “The Ella Ruth Sansing Garden”, named after my Grandmother.

I do not have a “Bob Sansing” camellia in my yard, but I wish I did.  I’m on a mission to locate 3, for my Mother, my sister and I, who all inherited our green thumbs from my Granddad, Bob Sansing.  Do you have someone in your life that inspired your green thumb?  Let me know by emailing me, Amelia PIlsch at



8 Weeks until Spring!

Vince Wallace
Vince Wallace

Miss Emily's TomatoesSpringtime   is   eight   weeks   away,   and we are all eager to get outside and ready our flower and vegetable gardens.

Please plan to attend our monthly association meeting on Tuesday, February 9 at 5:00 p.m in the auditorium of the Tuscaloosa County Extension Service.  The CEU speaker for this month’s meeting is Vince Wallace, co-owner of Miss Emily’s Tomatoes.  His presentation will focus on “Growing Hydroponic Tomatoes”.

Tuscaloosa County Master Gardener meetings are open to
the public.

There is a new Tuscaloosa County Master Gardener Class beginning soon. The class is set for February 23, 2016 from 10:00 to 2:00pm. Inquiries to Extension Agent Neal Hargle  To learn more about Master Gardener requirements and to find a membership application, click here.

Here’s your gardening “to do” list for the month of February.

  • Feed the soil by applying compost to plantings throughout your landscape: trees, shrubs, lawn, and all garden beds.
  • By the third week of the month, plant potatoes 4 inches deep in warm soil.
  • Begin sowing seeds of leaf lettuces, collards, and other greens outdoors; for continuous harvest, repeat sowings every 2 weeks.
  • On Valentine’s Day, prune roses, clean up debris, and then top-dress the shrubs with fresh mulch. No roses? Plant some now!
  • Prune fruit trees, then spray them at their “pink bud” stage with either a copper or lime-sulfur solution if you’ve had trouble with foliar and fruit diseases.
  • Plant alyssum (Lobularia maritima), hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus), rocket larkspurs (Consolida ajacis), and Canterbury bells (Campanula medium).                                                                                                                                                                                       From Rodale’s Organic Life


WEBSITE statistics as of February 4  12 PM

Happy New Year

HAPPY NEW YEAR AND to all, as we begin this New Year, may all of your gardening ventures be “Masterful”

Please join us for our next meeting on Tuesday, January 12, 5:30 pm in the auditorium of the Tuscaloosa County Extension Service.

Richard CarrollOur speaker for January is Richard Carroll, Coal Geologist at Geological Survey of Alabama.  The topic is “The Wonderful World of Pollen.” As always, TCMG meetings are open to the public.

Recently,  on Kip Tyner’s  TV Show, “Great Day Tuscaloosa”, our County Agent,  Neal Hargle, and Master Gardener, Pam Sloan. shared information with viewers on ” Getting ready for Spring planting” and “Terrariums.”

Kip Tyner, Pam Sloan and Neal Hargle
Kip Tyner, Pam Sloan and Neal Hargle

Judith Rives sent information about 2016 gardening trends from Paul Zammit , head of the Toronto Botanical Gardens, and published in the Toronto Star.

Paul Zammit
Paul Zammit

Some of Zammit’s predictions for the year ahead:

  • Drinking from the garden: Mojitos made with our own potted Cuban mint, bloody marys using homegrown dill. Plus teas, smoothies and syrups.

“The drinkable component of gardening is growing,” he says. “It’s an extension of the urban farming movement which will continue strongly. And we’ll be more social, sharing those drinks and our expertise about food plants with friends.”

  • Novelty veggies: Kale in all shapes and colours will stay hot, but young foodies will seek out new edible excitement.

“We grew kalettes, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, at the Toronto Botanical Garden last summer and they went nuts over it because it looked cool and is good for us,” he says.

  • Hot herb. Millennials love edible flowers. In 2016, Zammit is betting his money on African blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum), “Dark opal.”

“The flowers and foliage look beautiful. You can eat both. And this herb is a magnet for pollinators and great as a cut flower.”

Edible floral arrangements — using all kinds of herbs and blooms from the garden — also push the right buttons. Zammit loves concocting these himself.

  • Pollinator flowers: Gardening with bees in mind (particularly beleaguered honey bees), as well as birds and butterflies, is a growing trend.

“I was thrilled by the response to the Got Milkweed Campaign in 2015,” he says. “Gardeners of all ages are becoming increasingly aware of the power of the plants they choose to buy. No longer do we just pick them for their colour.”

  • More native plants. We want them and we’re getting more interested in biodiversity. Zammit forecasts that many gardeners will want to learn how to make ecologically-sound choices for their front and backyards in 2016.
  • Sustainable practices, less waste. More plastic plant pots will be recycled, instead of winding up in landfill sites. Locally produced plants will be in. Fewer homeowners will pile their leaves into paper bags for city trucks to collect.

“Collecting and shredding leaves, then using them to amend the soil, is actually in fashion,” Zammit says, sounding rather surprised.

  • Gardening for health: More people will become aware of the physical and mental benefits of working in the garden, instead of merely treating the backyard as an outdoor living room.

Well, amen to that. Here’s to the joys of staying fit with a trowel in your hand next spring.

Tuscaloosa County Master Gardeners were asked to submit their gardening resolutions.  Amelia Pilsch resolves to stop trying to rescue plants from the bargain bin at the big box stores and to incorporate more natives into her yard.  Sybil Phillips wants to take a look at what she can let go in the garden and resolves to choose garden chores that will be more gratifying, and add color.

Did you mean to add your garden resolutions to the list?  If so, just leave a reply.

I’m still looking for people to profile in future articles who inspired you to become a gardener.  You can submit those to me, Amelia PIlsch at

Again, Happy New Year!


December TCMG Meeting

President Octavia Miles and 2015 TCMG of the Year Sybil Phillips
President Octavia Miles and 2015 TCMG of the Year Sybil Phillips

The Tuscaloosa County Master Gardeners would like to recognize our 2015 Master Gardener of the Year, Sybil Phillips.

TCMG’  2016  officers   and  Board   of
  Directors   were  installed   by   Brenda  Lynch!   Thanks,  Brenda   for    excellent   service   as    Chair   of   the   Nominations   Committee!  Thanks   to   you,  the  membership   for  your   vote  of  confidence  by  re-electing   officers   and   Board   members,  including     the   addition  of    Debra  Steadman  as   secretary.



It   is   evident   that  TCMG  is   visible  throughout   the   West  Alabama   area   as   badges,   awards,   and   other   recognitions   were   acknowledged   last  night.      CONGRATULATIONS,     Susan  Gaskins,   Terry  Reaves,   Barbara  Martin,   Corrine   Elliott,    Lucia  Duggins,    Ronald  Phelps,   Rena  Jarvis,   and   Amelia  Pilsch     who   received   their   Master  Gardeners’  badges.

The   sharing    of     our     “favorite  Christmas   treats”   was   truly   a  “Horn  of  Plenty”   and   very  scrumptious!    Thanks,  chefs!

Thanks   to   each   of   you   for   your  generous   donations   of  food  items   which   will  bless   and  enrich   the  lives   of  those   whose  pantries    are  not   as  bountiful  as   ours!

Miss   Christmas  Holly   (alias  Ann  Hewitt),  Thank  you  for   an  educational  and   appealing  program  regarding    the   genus   of     holly       evergreen   trees  and  shrubs    and   their  usefulness   during   the  Christmas   season!

greenthumb2I am looking for people to profile in a future article, called “Where’d you get your green thumb?”. I think it would be fun to learn how you got your green thumb; did you inherit it OR did someone inspire your love of gardening?  Tell us about it in a paragraph or two and include a picture(s), if you have them.  Send information to Amelia PIlsch, I think I’ll write about my grandfather, how about you?


Holiday Updates

RedBirdPlease   join us for our December,  TCMG  membership   meeting  on  Tuesday,   December  8  at  5:30 pm   in   the   auditorium  of   the   Tuscaloosa  Extension  Service  Building.
This   is   our   annual  CHRISTMAS   SOCIAL;    therefore,     our   theme   for  our   refreshment  table  is  “MY   FAVORITE   CHRISTMAS   TREAT”.
Special recognition will be given to our    2015   Interns   and   to   TCMG’   MASTER  GARDENER   OF   THE   YEAR.
We are accepting  canned/boxed   food   items to be   donated   to   West  Alabama  Food  Bank  on   TCMG’ s behalf.       Membership  dues   for   2016   are   also   due in December as are your 2015 Volunteer Hours.

I am looking for people to profile in a future article, called “Where’d you get your green thumb?”. I greenthumb2think it would be fun to learn how you got your green thumb; did you inherit it OR did someone inspire your love of gardening?  Tell us about it in a paragraph or two and include a picture(s), if you have them.  Send information to Amelia PIlsch, I think I’ll write about my grandfather, how about you?

Be sure to note the new look on our front page, it’s quite chilling!

Website statistics as of Dec. 1:





A Lasagna Garden is Not What you Think!

Amelia Pilsch
Amelia Pilsch

by Amelia Pilsch

In an early Master Gardener class, when the topic was preparing soil for planting, a member asked the speaker about “lasagna gardening.” Now, I had never heard this term before, and it felt a little sketchy when the speaker appeared to brush over the question.  I asked my seat mate about it, trying not to disrupt the class, and later, “googled” it to learn more.

Preparing a new garden bed using the lasagna method refers to building a garden by adding layers of organic materials that will “cook down” over time, resulting in rich soil that will help your plants thrive. Also called sheet composting, you don’t have to dig at all, you simply layer your materials directly on top of the ground where you’ve planned your new garden, even on top of the grass!

My Inspiration, don't judge me!
Inspiration: I have big dreams, people!

Being a single, teacher person, and getting a little long in the tooth, I thought my days of creating a new garden space were over. Honestly, cutting the grass has even become a chore, but I still prefer that chore over the alternate, indoor kind. The idea of creating a new bed without the hours of back breaking labor seemed very appealing to me.  Plus, I already had a space in mind and, I’d been saving an inspiration picture…don’t judge me. I decided to give it a try.Sheet Composting 1





The garage connects to my house by a mudroom, creating a very, small courtyard area.   Half of the space gets afternoon shade, the other half, full sun all day long.  The soil was hard, red clay covered with Bermuda grass.

Sheet composting paperI started my garden in the fall after a friend built the trellises along the wall. I used my garden hose to outline the new space, then covered the entire area in cardboard and newspaper. Here’s a tip; I filled my garden cart with water and soaked the newspaper to keep it from blowing around before I added another layer.

The paper and cardboard are an invitation to earthworms, they love paper and are vital for good soil. Earthworms aerate the soil as they move by burrowing small holes. They process organic matter in their bodies and return vital compounds to the soil, increasing the nutrients available to plants.

The second layer that I added was peat moss. I have learned that using peat moss is environmentally unfriendly, non-sustainable, and now, I’d recommend mulch instead.   Sometimes, peat moss can turn into a wet, mushy bog, but not to worry, my bed is fine!  I topped the peat with wheat hay, covered the entire concoction with a tarp and left it for several weeks.  From time to time, I’d uncover the space, add another layer and wet it with the hose.   I used manure, mushroom compost, more hay, Hay layergrass clippings, and hardwood leaves.

When spring came, I started adding items to my new bed.  I decided to experiment with espalier, training a shrub to grow flat against a wall using my trellises.  I selected Camellia Sasanqua “October Magic”  because I needed something evergreen and loved the idea of having blooms in the fall.  I also added three dwarf lorepetulums.  Existing plants included a hydrangea, a gardenia, irises and day lilies. Instead of a fountain,  I installed a bird bath.

A Work in Progress
A Work in Progress

I needed a way in and out so I put in pavers, but hope to replace those with personalized, stepping stones, mementos of my family.  It’s still a work in progress but that is the beauty of gardening isn’t it?

In case you are wondering what soil looks like that has been “lasagnafied”, I’ve included a picture here.

From red clay to "lasagnafied"
From red clay to
Personalized stepping stones
Personalized stepping



Any questions or comments?  Leave a reply!


Take-aways from the TCMG Fall Conference

What were your take-aways from the TCMG Fall Conference?  Click on Leave a Reply to share.

My take-aways? I am fascinated by bees and their secret lives inside the hive.   Mary Jo inspired me to consider new types of plants, and to pick up bulbs for forcing and  planting outside.  We are lucky to have someone like Roald Hazelhoff looking after the environment and creating ecoscapes in Alabama.

Click on the pictures to enlarge:

Door Prizes
Door Prizes

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