Jan 7, 2024 - Things to Do

Green thumbs flock to Minnesota gardening course post-pandemic

Illustration of a college pennant with a plant logo and the words "Go Green!".

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

It's just starting to feel like winter in the Twin Cities, but spring planting season is already top of mind for many home gardeners.

Driving the green thumbs: Hundreds of experienced and aspiring gardeners will gather, starting this week, to hone their horticultural skills via the annual ProHort seminar run by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and University of Minnesota Extension.

Why it matters: In addition to creating a nice-looking yard or balcony, spending time with plants is good for our mental and physical health.

The big picture: Home gardening bloomed nationwide during the pandemic, as housebound folks looked for new hobbies and ways to connect with nature.

Zoom in: Interest in the U's online program reflects the trend: It went from 50 participants in 2019, most of whom were from the industry, to more than 200 by 2021.

  • Given the rising demand, organizers are offering 400 spots this year.

What to expect: Self-guided online courses cover everything from botany and soil to weed and pest management. Lawn care, woody plants and growing fruits and vegetables are also covered.

  • The full program, which includes Zoom Q-and-A's and quizzes to test participants' knowledge, should take 40-60 hours to complete.

What they're saying: "When people get into gardening, even if it's just indoor plants ... they can get overwhelmed," course coordinator Laura Vogel said of the strong interest.

  • "There are a lot of plant species. And there's a lot of things that can go wrong," she added. "People want answers and aren't really sure where to start."

Reality check: The program isn't cheap. The fee is $599, significantly more than Hennepin County's Master Gardener Training; however, discounts are available for members of the Arboretum and other local organizations.

Yes, but: The county program, which is already at capacity for the current year, requires additional volunteer hours and continued training.

Be smart: Registration for this year's ProHort opens Tuesday. The program begins Jan. 11.

  • Gardeners who don't want to drop a lot of green for their green thumb can always find free tips and tricks via the U's yard-and-garden resources, Vogel noted.

One gardener's experience in the course

lush garden
Kevin Wand's pollinator plants are thriving, thanks to his new skills. Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Wand

Kevin Wand fits Vogel's profile of the typical ProHort participant.

Details: After retiring from a career in medicine and the Navy, the Edina resident decided to spend his newfound free time working on his yard. But he soon realized he didn't know a thing about gardening.

  • "Before I took the course, I figured you plant a plant by digging a hole and putting the plant in, put the dirt around it and water it," he said.

Now, he knows that everything β€” from what you plant to the pH level of the soil β€” can make a big difference.

  • "I learned new plants that I didn't know existed," he said.

His pro tip: Tracking how much sun an area gets is a game changer for figuring out which plant varieties will thrive there.

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