When you need lawn and garden advice, you can find it in just about any format you like: books, websites, classes, tours and individual conversations with experts.


Master gardeners answering questions from people who call the hotline. They are (L-R) Sarai Taylor and Debbie Binswanger.

I recently reduced my garden book collection from five shelves to four, but one book I’ll never part with is the “Mid-South Garden Guide.” This book, first published in 1954 and now in its seventh edition, has been a dependable, comprehensive resource for generations of Memphis gardeners. I frequently turn to the month-by-month guide for reminders. The book’s section on lawn care also has monthly guides for different kinds of grass. The information is based on our local conditions, which makes it a realistic guide.

The internet provides good and bad advice, as we all know. To refine your online search, include the word “Extension” in your terms. This will take you to sites sponsored by university-based extension services that conform to strict standards of accuracy. Once the list comes up, go first to Tennessee Extension and then surrounding states for information most relevant to our climate and soil. Each state’s site has a section of publications you can read online or download and print for free.

Plant societies, master gardeners, Memphis Botanic Garden, Dixon, Lichterman, Memphis Tilth, Urban Earth Nursery, libraries and other organizations offer lectures and workshops on almost every gardening topic. Many of them are free, and others charge a fee to help cover expenses. Memphis Horticultural Society (memphishorticulture.org) and Memphis Area Master Gardeners (memphisareamastergardeners.org) have taken on the challenging task of trying to list all these events on their websites as a public service.

When you attend lectures or guided garden tours you usually have an opportunity to ask a knowledgeable person individual questions as long as you don’t monopolize his or her time at the expense of the other participants. Local garden centers have some outstanding pros and some novices on staff, so don’t hesitate to ask, “Who’s the best person here to answer a question about…?”

The master gardener hotline, 901-752-1207, is open Monday through Friday, 8:00-4:30. One or two master gardeners sit at two large desks with a computer and volumes of massive reference notebooks and texts. Because the master gardener program is under the direction of University of Tennessee Extension, all the information they give must meet university standards. If they can’t provide the right answer immediately, they’ll check with an extension agent and call you back. You can also bring samples of weeds and damaged or unidentified plants to the hotline office in Wing B at the back of the Agricenter building.

Master gardeners will present Spring Fling again this year March 29-30 at the Agricenter Red Barn. This free expo features exhibits and vendors with plenty of opportunities for conversations to address your garden questions. There are also formal talks on pruning, herbs, shade plants, vegetables, pests, and other topics. The talk by Greg Touliatos at 11:00 March 30 at Spring Fling is called “Help Me! I’m Not a Garden Expert.” Sounds like a good place to start.

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