INDEPENDENCE – It was a beautiful day for the Buchanan County Master Gardeners as they held their 16th annual gardening symposium February 25.

The symposium is open to the public and draws gardeners from all over Northeast Iowa. This year the 100 attendees were from Buchanan, Benton, Bremer, Fayette, Black Hawk, Clayton, Delaware, Dubuque, Marshall, Tama, Winneshiek and Allamakee.

This year four main speakers were joined by two special lunchtime breakout speakers.

Alex Hoffman

Impact of Climate Change on Trees

Alex is a District Forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources covering five counties: Black Hawk, Buchanan, Delaware, Dubuque, and Fayette. Based in Manchester, his duties are to help private landowners in improving their woodlands through activities such as tree plantings, thinning, harvesting, and more. He also drafts plans and implements management on public lands including DNR Wildlife Management Areas and through assisting county conservation boards with forestry planning.

In his presentation, he spoke about what changes are projected according to carefully considered forest-focused climate projections and what those changes could mean for the trees and forests of Northeast Iowa. He covered changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as what species of trees to plant (prefers oaks, but diversity or any native species is key).

Keith Kovarik

Landscaping – Small Areas, Sun/Shade, Use of Yard Art

What started as small gardening hobby, became K & K Gardens in Hawkeye for Keith and his wife Kelli in 1996. K & K Gardens is a retail garden center featuring an acre of display gardens, garden cottage, ponds, and perennial gardens. Specializing in perennials, trees, shrubs, water gardens, hostas, and anything else that grows in Iowa.

Keith likes to plant visually diverse plants and trees. He doesn’t like straight lines. He likes angles and curves, and pops of color for accent and the use of different heights of vegetation.

Eileen Schmidt

Pruning Perennial Shrubs and Plants

Eileen Schmidt stepped up to provide the program on pruning because the announced speaker Justin Myers was with his wife in childbirth. Eileen has been a Benton County Master Gardener since 2009. She is Coordinator for Vinton Community Youth Garden, on the Board of Directors for Old School Producer Partners Donation/Giving Garden in Vinton, Project Manager of Vinton-Shellsburg’s USDA Farm to School Implementation Grant, Urbana Farmers’ Market Manager, and a manager at Cedar River Garden Center in Palo.

During her presentation, Eileen displayed her favorite tools for pruning and shared tips and techniques. Tip for tools: Keep them clean and sharp. Tip for technique: “If it blooms in spring, prune in fall.” And vice versa. She also talked about the importance of thinning out plants and pruning them back more than you may think. One tip that may go against the grain, is for roses. She doesn’t prune roses. She lets the rabbits do natural pruning in the winter.

Josh Spece

Succulents: What’s New and How to Incorporate them into the Garden and Containers

Local horticulturist Josh Spece is a nationally recognized expert on hostas and succulents. Josh regularly contributes articles and photos to the American Hosta Society’s The Hosta Journal. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the American Hosta Society and is a past board member of the American Hosta Grower’s Association. He speaks frequently on hostas, succulents, shade gardens, water gardening, and accessible gardening to garden and pond clubs, Master Gardener groups, and other gardening groups and events. His program this time focused on the care of succulents, their propagation, and new ideas on how to use them.

Attendees had the to choose between two lunchtime speakers (or not have lunch).

- Neal Beck of Becks’ Wapsie Fresh Produce & Greenhouse near Fairbank shared advice during his “Tips on Starting Vegetables for your Garden” program. He covered equipment, lighting, soils, heat, humidity, fertilizer, etc. A relatively new ingredient is the use of biochar. Everything boiled down to following his grandfather’s advice,” You want every day to be good for the plant.”

- Shaffer Ridgeway of Waterloo shared his take on “Southern and Black Ethnic Gardening.” His locally owned and operated vegetable farm, Southern Goods, grows and sells food that’s “good for your body and the environment by working in tune with nature.” He offers produce such as collard greens, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, purple hull peas, onions, okra, and sweet corn. He spoke on soil health principals, including reduced tillage, living roots, cover crops, and diversity.

“We have completed another successful symposium,” said Nancy Weber, President of the Buchanan County Master Gardeners. “Each year we try to address topics that help all gardeners enhance their love of gardening. This year we focused on environmental impact, selecting new products for our gardens and yards and caring for the plants we have. Response from participants confirmed that we met their needs. We are grateful for their support. Dollars received allow us to improve community gardens across the county.”