Great Garden Advice

NGA websiteNeed some know-how on how to prune your lilacs? Want to cultivate the best-tasting carrots? Looking for a way to garden from your yard-less apartment? No matter what your gardening question might be, the National Gardening Association (NGA) has answers.

I first learned about this amazing nonprofit organization back in the early ’80s. My savvy husband subscribed me to their garden magazine, Gardens for All. It came on folded up, printed on thin, oversized paper… clearly a low-budget operation. But the information was first-rate.

Many years have passed. The magazine got fancier, then was replaced by an even better website. The association’s focus grew to include five core areas: education, health and wellness, environmental stewardship, community development, and home gardening. They serve their vision by providing “educational plant-based materials, grants, and resources that speak to young minds, educators, youth and community organizations, and the general gardening public.” Plus, it’s all free!

How do they do it? You really need to explore their website to discover all their programs and activities, but here are some highlights:

General Garden Advice
Talk about expert advice—the NGA has an extensive directory of the most popular plants with information on how to choose, plant, and take care of them. You can click on anything from Arborvitae to turnips—there are sections on perennials, bulbs, trees and shrubs, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. That pretty much covers everything.

In addition, you can click on pest control, watch how-to videos, or scroll through one of my favorites, the weed library, where you can identify your weed, then learn which control techniques are most effective. If you don’t find what you need, there’s even a Q & A service.

Regional Advice
Lots of gardening magazines claim to offer regional advice, but their regions are so large as to be practically useless, especially in the western states. The NGA’s regions are actually useful!

For instance, rather than lumping all of California with the “southwest” or “Pacific,” it’s divided into five zones. The far northern part of the state is included with coastal Oregon and Washington. There’s both northern and southern areas of “California Coastal and Inland Valleys,” the southeast part of the state is included in “Southwestern Deserts,” and the Sierras are part of “Western Mountains and High Plains” (which also includes Colorado).  Those are divisions which actually correlate with the state’s varied growing conditions and the plants that survive there.

Of course, Colorado itself includes a number of zones, from high elevations in the mountains to the Arkansas Valley. This diversity isn’t addressed. That level of detail is pretty much beyond the reach of a national organization, and is one major reason I turn to our local Master Gardener program for local advice. Still, the NGA’s regions are more pertinent than those most resources have to offer.

As I mentioned, the NGA encourages community development, with an emphasis on schools and urban gardens. They have tons of advice and resources for teachers and families who want to get kids excited about gardening. They even provide financial support through their grant program. Their goal is to “provide a source of food, add aesthetic value, encourage physical activity, help preserve cultural identity and, most importantly, cultivate neighborhood relationships.”

You can also interact with other enthusiastic gardeners through an online seed swap and the NGA’s Facebook page.

I’d rely on the NGA for garden advice even if they didn’t hand it out for free. They aren’t exaggerating when they claim on their website, “NGA offers the largest and most respected array of gardening content for consumers and educators.”

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