Published on 06/02/16

UGA horticulture experts talk National Gardening Week, June 5-11

By Stephanie Schupska

With National Gardening Week coming up on June 5-11 and National Gardening Day falling on June 6, the University of Georgia has horticulture experts ready with fresh-from-the-garden advice.

The horticulture faculty members work daily with growers ranging from home gardeners to commercial nurseries to small organic farm owners and everyone in between. The "green industry," as they call it, of flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables is big business, especially with spring in full swing. We've compiled what the faculty have to say about the importance of gardening.

Paul Thomas, professor of horticulture, on how children learn through gardening:
"When you have a young person involved in gardening, they start learning about insects; they start learning about weather; they start learning about how people interact with plant materials and with other things that are living in the garden. And I just think it broadens all kinds of horizons and opens up a lot of doors to other lines of inquiry.

"Gardening activities really help young people look at the world, see how things grow, give them the feeling of the fact that they can grow something and make something flower or perhaps make a tomato have a fruit, for example."

Expertise: Thomas is a professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. His research focuses on floriculture, commercial bedding plants, perennial production, improvement of pansies and vinca and growth control of container-grown perennials. Contact: 706-542-9047 or

Suzanne O'Connell, assistant professor of horticulture, on organic gardening:
"A recipe for successful organic gardening is comprised of three equal parts: planning, maintenance and enjoying the harvest.

"Organic gardening requires a balance between short-term and long-term goals. Adopting this approach results in a deeper understanding of the natural world and can provide many moments of surprise, reflection and rewards!"

Expertise: O'Connell is an assistant professor of horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Her research focuses on sustainable and organic production of horticultural crops, high-tunnel systems, plant-available nitrogen from natural fertilizers, cover cropping, soil management and local food. Contact: 706-542-0786 or

John Ruter, director of the Trial Gardens at UGA, on growing new varieties of plants:
"As director of the Trial Gardens at UGA, I get to view about 550 new annuals and perennials every summer, year after year. What fun! If you've got a passion for petunias, come see us. We have over 125 varieties of roses as well. Our public open house is Saturday, July 9. Bring lots of friends."

Expertise: Ruter is director of the Trial Gardens and the Allan Armitage Professor of Horticulture in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. His research focuses on herbaceous and woody ornamental plant breeding-or plants and shrubs-and selection and nursery crop production. Contact: 706-542-9059 or

Becky Griffin, community and school garden coordinator for the Center for Urban Agriculture, on community gardening:
"In the community garden, summer is the time to enjoy your harvest and to share extras with your fellow gardeners. This summer, don't let the weeds get the best of your community garden harvest. Stay on top of weeding, so you will have vegetables for yourself and some for sharing."

Expertise: Griffin works primarily in Atlanta as the community and school garden coordinator. Her work includes collaborating with partners on a healthy soil initiative, participating in the community garden action committee at Food Well Alliance and working with the Pizza Farm project. She also organizes school garden teacher training. Contact: 770-528-4070 or

Amanda Tedrow, UGA Cooperative Extension county coordinator in Athens-Clarke County, on issues herbicide can cause in the garden:
"We have had numerous tomato plant samples submitted to the Extension office this spring with herbicide damage. This damage can appear as new growth that is often thickened and twisted and does not expand. Other herbicides cause bleaching of the foliage. The plants typically cannot recover from this damage and will remain stunted for the remainder of the season.

"Herbicide damage can occur in a few different ways. The most obvious is drift from herbicide spray in another part of the yard or even a neighbor's property if there is even the hint of a breeze. Herbicide damage can also occur from compost or mulch with herbicide residue. While it is easy to remove contaminated mulch, it is much harder to remove compost incorporated into the soil; it may have residual activity for the next few years."

Expertise: Tedrow is the Athens-Clarke County Extension coordinator and agricultural and natural resources agent. She works with home and organic gardeners and landscapers on their horticulture questions and coordinates the Master Gardener, Master Naturalist and Master Composter programs in Athens-Clarke County. Contact: 706-613-3640 or

Norman Winter, director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, on gardening making everyone feel young again.
"Thomas Jefferson said, ‘Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.' The great new plants showing up at our local garden centers make us all feel young again. Whether we want to create a corner of paradise that feels like Jamaica, grow plants to bring in pollinators and birds like a backyard Serengeti, or harvest a bounty of fresh produce, gardening is fun and will keep a spring in our step."

Expertise: Winter is the syndicated Garden Guru columnist, along with his duties at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens. His expertise lies in horticulture, gardening, sustainability and community outreach. Contact: 912-921-5460 or

Stephanie Schupska is the communications coordinator with the University of Georgia Honors College.

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