Want to know if stink bugs will ruin your flower beds or which vegetables will flourish in a Western Pennsylvania garden? Both seasoned and new gardeners can get answers at the annual Demonstration Gardens Open House in Hempfield, set for July 13 and hosted by Penn State Master Gardeners of Westmoreland County.
"We are showcasing things that do well here, and visitors may ask questions," said coordinator Linda Hyatt.
Measuring about an acre, the demo gardens are graced with numerous perennials, annuals, vegetables, an ornamental grass bed and herbs. There is also a composting site with various examples of compost bins. The gardens are open year round but are now in peak season.
"The day lily bed is perfect right now," Ms. Hyatt said. There are more than 100 named varieties of day lilies in the garden, and, except for the Stella d'Oro variety, they bloom for only a few weeks from late June into the first couple of weeks of July.
Statewide there are 1,400 volunteer master gardeners in 58 counties. They are trained by the Penn State Cooperative Extension to be a resource for homeowners. These green-thumbed volunteers also speak to groups, work on local horticultural projects and participate in civic beautification. Locally, there are about 125 active master gardeners with 40 of them, each with their area of expertise, dedicated to tending the Demonstration Gardens, Ms. Hyatt noted.
One team carefully evaluates more than three dozen varieties of annuals every two weeks, documenting their uniformity and foliage.
"At the end of the season, a group of master gardeners compiles a list of how the plants did. The list is made available to the public," Ms. Hyatt said.
Another group cultivates the garden's vegetables including potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuces and corn. Once the produce is harvested, the gardeners make weekly donations to the Westmoreland County Food Bank's "Fresh Express" program.
Volunteers also serve the community daily, offering free advice on site or troubleshooting via the group's help line, 724-838-1402.
"People will bring us samples of plants that have something going on, and we diagnose and give recommendations," Ms. Hyatt said. In some cases, volunteers will package a diseased plant and send it to the entomology lab at Penn State for further study.
Some of the most common problems involve fungus diseases, especially on tomatoes, or insect issues such as the dreaded Halyomorpha halys -- called a stink bug -- that are in the news these days.
"Stink bugs mainly affect fruits and veggies with their piercing mouth. It doesn't make [the plants] not edible," Ms. Hyatt said, but the pests "wreak havoc for those trying to sell their crops."
The insects, native to China, Japan and Korea, were accidently introduced in the late 1990s to Pennsylvania.
And what about the growing numbers of deer in the region with an appetite for just about anything? The gardeners keep a list of plants, also available to the public, that may or may not rank high on a deer's preferred menu. For example daffodil, dahlias and the ground cover, lamium, are pretty safe, but clematis, apples, hosta plants, rhododendron and day lilies are appetizing to a hungry deer.
"There really aren't a lot of good answers for deer, just be vigilant with repellents on flowers," Ms. Hyatt said.
The garden open house runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 214 Donohoe Road, rain or shine. The gardens are open year round daily from dawn to dusk. Details: 724-837-1402.
Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.