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All Posts By

Erika Szonntag

JCMGA Coordinator Column

By Beet 2022 05 May


Dear Master Gardeners,

I hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather. Here at 9,200 feet in Colorado, some days feel like the middle of winter and others feel like spring has arrived. While there is still plenty of snow on the ground, some of the aspens are budding out, tufts of new grasses and yarrow are making their appearance, and plenty of sun peeks out between snow squalls.

This will be my last coordinator column and final month with OSU. My last day will be May 31 and I will be available by phone or email until then. After that day, Heidi Gehman, the administrative office manager, will be your point of contact for any in-person concerns or to connect you to OSU guidance. Please note that her primary job is office manager and filling in for the vacant research building office manager. She has kindly offered to be a resource for Master Gardeners until a new coordinator is hired, so please be conscientious of her time if you need anything from her. Her contact information is

I really enjoyed my time in southern Oregon and getting to know the local flora. I also enjoyed working with and getting to know many of you. I wish you all the best for the future.


Hello Master Gardeners!

By Beet 2021 03 March


I hope you are all doing well. I’m writing to share some news that my last day with OSU Extension will be May 31, 2022.  My partner got a new job with the US Forest Service in Colorado, so we are moving back there (I lived there prior to moving to Oregon, and we are very excited for this opportunity to move back). We are actually moving in about 2 weeks, and I will work remotely from mid-March to the end of May. I will still be available by email and phone. Heidi Gehman, our administrative office manager whose office is across the hall from the Plant Clinic, will be an in-person contact for any logistical things related to the MG Program. Her contact information is

I have enjoyed getting to know and working closely with many of you over the last few years. While I’ll still be ‘here’ for a couple of more months, I wanted to let everyone know of this transition. I wish you all the best and talk to you soon!


2022 MG Training Program

By Beet 2022 02 February

Hello Master Gardeners,

It’s February and time for Master Gardener Program training once again!  This year, we have a new class of 28.  The training will be a hybrid model, with lectures offered as modules plus a weekly Zoom meet-up each Thursday from 4 pm to 5 pm.  Outdoor, in-person garden labs will begin in late February or early March.  Veteran/current Master Gardeners are invited to any or all of these sessions!

Veteran/Current Master Gardeners can register for these classes FOR FREE!  To register, please visit this link: 2022 Master Gardener Continuing Education Link.  You will want to register for the “Master Gardener Continuing Ed” option.  (If you get a message that registration for MG training is closed, you can ignore that because registration for continuing education is still open.) Ideal-Logic is the same registration platform we have used for Extension programs in the past.

How You Will View the Modules:  Modules will be viewed in Canvas via OSU’s website.  You will receive confirmation of your registration; however, you will not have access to the modules until the morning of Monday, February 7 (around 8 am).  Each week, a new module will open.  Modules will then remain open until at least the end of May, if not later.  There will also be a page with the syllabus and Zoom link information for the Thursday meet-ups.

More information about the training can be found here: 2022 Master Gardener Volunteer Training information.  This page outlines the training, with a tentative schedule that will be finalized before the first day of class (Feb 7).

Please reach out to me with any questions ( and I hope to see you at the training!



Happy New Year, Gardeners!

By Beet 2022 01 January

  I hope that the slower days of winter have been relaxing and cozy and that plenty of time was spent with family and loved ones over the holidays. 

With my family, I have recently enjoyed the first outings into the snowy winter wonderlands of southwestern Oregon and with the solstice, I got to thinking about which plants have been historically significant around the time of solstice.  Some of this information was featured in my column for the January 2019 Garden Beet column.

The spruce and fir forests are some of my favorite places in southwestern Oregon.  Sacred trees of the winter solstice to cultures in the northern hemisphere include oak, yew, silver fir, birch, and pine.   


Silver fir

Yew represents death of the old year, while silver fir represents the new year and rebirth.  Birch also symbolizes new beginnings.  Pines are for peace, healing, and joy; conifers in general were a symbol of the continuity of life and prosperity.  Oak symbolizes eternal life, protection, and strength, and was the traditional type of tree used as a yule log.  Yule logs were burned for 12 days, and their ashes were scattered afterwards over fields for health and a bountiful harvest.     

Perhaps the most interesting botanical story around the winter solstice (in my opinion) and Christmas is that of the fly agaric (Amanita muscaria) mushroom.  This Old World mushroom is thought to be the foundation of the story of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.

In northern Europe and Asia, this fungi typically appears underneath firs and spruce in the days leading up to the winter solstice.  Shamans from these regions would dress in special red garments trimmed with white fur and black boots (sound familiar?) to collect these mushrooms.  Upon returning to the village, they would enter their yurts through the smoke hole, as this was the portal to the spirit world.  When the mushrooms were ingested, one’s face would flush (think rosy cheeks and noses) and gave a sense of well-being, visions, and even the feeling of flying, as the Sami (Laplander) people would say when riding on their sleighs with reindeer.  The reindeer from these northern regions even have a documented taste for the fungi.  In addition to being shared as gifts, dried fly agaric mushrooms were historically strung with popcorn and cranberries as mid-winter decorations. Depending on how these mushrooms are cooked, they can impart some hallucinogenic side effects. 

With the winter solstice past, enjoy the coming longer days and continued beauty of winter!   

Britt Festival Demonstration Garden – planting day success!

By Beet 2021 12 December


Dear Master Gardeners,

This month, I want to highlight the big success of installing the new demonstration garden at the Britt Festival, which features a variety of native, pollinator, and waterwise plants.  This garden is located at the main entrance of the Britt Festival pavilion, next to the ticket booth.

The Britt approached me last winter and asked if the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program would be interested in partnering on a gardening project which would showcase native plants, pollinator plants, and waterwise plants.  This was a great opportunity to partner with a local organization outside of our normal wheelhouse.  The project was first opened to 2020 students to give them the opportunity to have ownership in a project (after all the challenges of COVID!).

Sharon Bryson, Cassandra Toews, and Lora West were our leaders in this project and did an amazing job designing the space.  We were grateful to have the expertise from some experienced Master Gardeners, along with Christie Mackison of Shooting Start Nursery (Central Point) to give the final design the green light.

On November 18, nine MGs – Teresina Christy, Louise Parker, Lynn Kunstman, Cassandra Toews, Barb Steely, Ruth Alexander, Sharon Bryson, Romina Ramos, and Lora West – came together to plant over 100 plants donated by Shooting Star Nursery, Forest Farm and Plant Oregon (thanks to Lora West for the rocks she donated!).  The JCMGA also generously donated 45 Camassia bulbs and compost (thank you!). Thanks also to Sherri Morgan who donated native iris plants.

We will create signage over the winter describing the various plants, highlighting our donors, and other relevant information.  The signs will be installed in time for the Britt’s 2022 season.

Thanks again to everyone who came out on planting day, and thanks to Cassandra, Lora, and Sharon for all of your hard work and dedication!


Congratulations Graduates!

By Beet 2021 11 Nov

Dear Master Gardeners,

The biggest news of the month in the world of Jackson County Master Gardeners (in my opinion) is that the class of 2020 has finally graduated! This class has worked so incredibly hard and has endured so many challenges over the last year and a half.  I extend a big congratulations to you all, and a very warm welcome as official OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers!  Graduates include Lisa Brill, Sharon Bryson, Seán Cawley, Debbie Connolly, Mindy Folsom, Carolyn Gale, Ann Hackett, Lindsey Herberger, Karen Layfield, Linda Low, Barbara Lowe, Joanne Mitani, Lesley Moehle, Lucy Moore, Carolyn Piatt, Romina Ramos, Cas Toews, and Lora West.

While we could not meet to celebrate in person, we had a very fun graduation ceremony via Zoom (see photos!).  We had a chance to connect, congratulate each other, and celebrate with our favorite gardening hats (and refreshments).

Congratulations to the class of 2020, you have certainly earned your certification as Master Gardener Volunteers!


Volunteer Opportunity to Help Our Pollinators, and More

By Beet 2021 10 October

Dear Gardeners, 

Happy October! Hopefully, everyone is having a chance to enjoy the clear air and cooler temperatures we’ve been having. While there were some challenges this growing season with the hot weather we had early on, I recently enjoyed the beautiful blooms of my sunflowers in my garden (see my photo), something I look forward to each year. Next it will be watching the cover crops of Austrian winter pea and Fava bean take over my garden boxes!

I have some brief updates, resources, and a volunteer opportunity to help our pollinators to share with you:
Be sure to check out OSU Extension’s October Gardening Calendar. This is part of a 12-month calendar with gardening tips and tricks for each month. This is a great resource for your reference, or to share with family, friends, and community members.
Volunteer opportunity: 2021 Oregon Mason Bee Health Survey! The OSU Pollinator Health Lab needs your help to establish a baseline on the health of mason bee stocks, which ultimately will help track the health of these bees over time. Click here to learn more about the project and how to register!
COVID Update: Consistent with the CDC and OHA recommendations and university policy, face coverings are now required to be worn indoors at all times, unless eating or drinking. This means you must wear a mask when visiting SOREC.
2020 Student Graduation – details are forthcoming, but we are planning to hold a graduation celebration virtually on Thursday, October 14, from 5 pm – 7pm. Stay tuned!
2020 Student Hours Requirements – 40 hours of volunteer service are due by October 1, 2021. If you need an extension, please talk to me and I will be happy to arrange one. You can log your hours on the Volunteer Reporting System. A link can also be found on the Volunteer Resources page.
Updated Project Proposal Application form can be found here, on the Volunteer Resources page (link in previous paragraph). This form is required for any new MG project.
Lastly, I want to thank all of you for continuing to stick through these challenging times with COVID. Each of your contributions and participation are what make this program so great, and I am so grateful for your perseverance and positive attitudes this past 1.5 years. Thank you! -Erika

Update on Extension operations for COVID Delta variant

By Beet 2021 08 August 102 Comments

Dear Master Gardeners,

I want to provide a brief update regarding COVID operations and other items, to hopefully answer the questions you are having.

There are no closures at the Extension at this time.  We recommend scheduling meetings virtually, or holding them outdoors when air quality and weather are good and when possible.  The Plant Clinic currently remains open.

As of Friday, Aug. 6, OSU is requiring that you wear masks indoors. 

Working outdoors or in the Demo Gardens: Please be cognizant of temperatures and air quality, and only work in the Demo Gardens or outdoors otherwise when you feel comfortable.  Safety first!

Lastly, bring produce donations for ACCESS to the arboretum Wednesdays between 9 am and 11:45 am.  Thank you for your donations!

Thanks all, and be well,

– Erika

Erika Szonntag, MAg (she/her/hers)

Master Gardener Program Coordinator

Updates for Students and Continuing Master Gardeners 

By Beet 2021 08 August 37 Comments

Dear Gardeners,

Happy August!  I’d like to give some updates to both students and continuing Master Gardener volunteers this month. Hopefully this will answer many frequently asked questions.  If you have not already done so, bookmark the Volunteer Resources webpage, which should be your go-to for questions regarding hours requirements, forms, and more.

2020 Students:

Plant Clinic Training – I plan to hold Plant Clinic training for 2020 students in mid- to late September.  Details are being worked out, but I envision doing two mini sessions (1.5 – 2 hours max) in-person at the Extension.  There may be a small online component.  I’d like all students to have this training because solving plant and insect problems is a common Master Gardener activity.  You may then choose if you would like time in the Plant Clinic for volunteer hours (remember, the Plant Clinic hour requirement has been waived for the 2020 class due to COVID).


Graduation – details are forthcoming, but we plan to hold a graduation ceremony for students the evening of Saturday, October 9, 2021.  Please hold the date!

Hours Requirements – 40 hours of volunteer service are due by October 1, 2021.  If you need an extension, please talk to me and I will be happy to arrange one.  You can log your hours on the Volunteer Reporting System.  A link can also be found on the Volunteer Resources page. 

Current Master Gardeners:

Hours requirements – For recertification for continuing MGs, this year we are asking for 20 hours of volunteer service and 10 hours of continuing education to be completed by October 1, 2021.  However, if this proves challenging or burdensome due to COVID-19, please let me know and I will accept whatever hours you can give this year, even if it’s zero (so, if someone needs the hours requirement waived again this year, I will approve that).


Badges – Badges will be ordered by late September, in time for the October graduation.  Current Master Gardeners should reach out to me if they need replacement badges.  I typically only order them before graduation, to ensure bulk pricing. 

Thank you everyone, and as always, please reach out with any questions you may have!


Reopening and other program updates

By Beet 2021 07 July 36 Comments

Dear Gardeners,

This month, I have a few program updates to share with you, as Oregon ‘reopened’ on June 30. Read the full announcement from the governor’s office here. While we don’t have the full details of when OSU Extension will be open to the public (as of June 29), we can start to increase activity in the Demonstration Gardens and have meetings in person. There is also an update about the upcoming 2022 MG training.

Demonstration Gardens: Beginning Wednesday, June 30, our capacity and activity limits for working in the Demonstration Gardens will be lifted. So, if you have been interested in working in the Demonstration Gardens all summer, contact me (Erika) for a list of gardens with a head gardener, and we’ll find a spot for you!

Programming: Programming will be planned and executed without the need for formal approval from OSU Extension Administration. Please be sure to check in with me and fill out the appropriate project selection and activity proposal forms before organizing a new event or program.

Face coverings: Face coverings are no longer required as of June 30, except for individuals who remain unvaccinated. Individuals are encouraged to wear masks if they choose, but are not required to do so.

COVID-19 training: COVID-19 training for employees and volunteers will no longer be required.
**Additionally, OSU’s policy (current as of June 29) is that vaccination status of volunteers or the public cannot determine participation in Extension activities, which includes JCMGA events and activities.

2022 MG trainings: MG trainings will be held in 2022. Because of a reduction in available instructors, it is likely that some counties may use online MG training classes to supplement on-site classes. Hybrid trainings (part online and part in person) may thus become more common in MG trainings. In addition, we are looking at ways to make MG training classes and certification more broadly accessible. One way to do this is to reduce the service hour requirement, so long as it does not go below the national minimum standard of 40 hours of volunteer service. The hybrid training option is another option to make classes more accessible.

That’s all for now, and please reach out with any questions or comments.


– Erika