Master Gardener Monthly a Letter to the Black-Thumb Crew

Ashley Schimke headshotBy Ashley Schimke

Dear Black Thumb Crew,

This letter is for those who are new to our beautifully dry and hot climate (you’re welcome), to those who grew up with a garden but were really more consumers than tenders of said garden, and to those who have purchased many green plants only to watch them crawl to an inevitable death. Dry those eyes, dear friend; I have some advice for you.

Black Thumb, meet UA Cooperative Extension! Congratulations, you are now friends.

Know your resources

First things first: know your resources! The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Cooperative Extension (UA Extension) has been around since 1914.

With direction from the federal government, UA Extension conducts research to benefit Arizona agriculture and provides outreach and education about the application of that research. Their Master Gardener Program, which is specific to each county, is a volunteer-based program that trains gardeners to review that research and help disseminate the information relative to gardening in Arizona. The Desert Institute of Gardening is a program of the UA Maricopa County Extension Office hosted by Master Gardeners for experienced and novice gardeners alike.

Start small

Do not overwhelm yourself with all the really cool ‘Do It Yourself’ projects that you found on Pinterest or the dream of living off the land. Let our farmers help us live and let the Master Gardeners help you learn. Seriously, start small! Pick a plant, figure out when to grow it (pay attention to outdoor temperatures), and study up on its needs. You can start with a seed packet, or you can consult your UA Extension Vegetable Planting Guide.

Try something easy

Grow a bean. Literally, pick any bean and the bigger the better. This is a first-grade lesson on germination. Growing from seed offers you the opportunity to see a variety of stages in your plant’s life. Sometimes we joke that children who grow tall and skinny are “bean poles” – that’s because beans grow quickly and they grow tall and skinny. Yes, like the story of Jack and Beanstalk. This will build your confidence as a gardener. You can do this. We believe in you.

Capture what you learn and try again

We’re talking about journaling here. Get in touch with your adolescent self and write yourself some notes. When something goes wrong, write it down. When something goes right? Celebrate and then write it down. Capture what you observe: the amendments and applications that you use, the temperatures that spike or drop and the rainfall that comes. All of this information will help you investigate what is going on beneath the surface (in the soil) and what might be attacking your plant babies (the insects or disease). In any event, there’s a publication for that. Visit the UA Extension website to help troubleshoot.

This is your year. Can you feel it?

With love and fresh air,

The Master Gardeners

For more information and for what to plant in May, ask a Master Gardener! Call the “Plant Help Desk” at 602-827-8201 or email To view the upcoming schedule, visit

Ashley Schimke is a recent graduate of the Maricopa County Master Gardener Program.

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