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Oct. 17-19 in McAllen:

US: Behind-the-scenes tours highlight Texas Master Gardener Conference

The public will get a rare opportunity to witness major agricultural research projects in progress during the 2013 Texas Master Gardener Conference slated Oct. 17-19 at the McAllen Convention Center, 700 Convention Center Blvd., McAllen.

“We’ve got such a special, world-class corner of paradise here in South Texas that just fascinates people interested in nature,” said Barbara Storz, a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist in Edinburg and an organizer of the upcoming state conference.

“We’ve organized this three-day conference to allow people the once-in-a-lifetime chance to go behind the scenes and up close to groundbreaking scientific research projects, a winery, several wildlife habitats, a native palm sanctuary, and many other fascinating sub-tropical locations here,” she said.

The conference will also feature a full slate of speakers, including authors and agricultural and horticultural experts, Storz said.

“We’ll have a silent auction, a trade show with 40-plus vendors and book signings by many of the authors who will be speaking. We’ll have eight tours in one day. Surely people will have difficulty choosing which to go on because they are all so interesting.”

Among the tours will be site visits to US Department of Agriculture’s insect facilities north of Mission. Participants will observe the rearing of parasitic insects that show great promise in controlling pests that spread citrus greening, a bacterial disease that kills citrus trees, Storz said.

“We’ll also tour the pathogen-free budwood program under screen at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center at Weslaco,” she said. “These citrus research operations are highly successful cutting-edge projects not normally on display to the public.”

The conference begins with registration from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 17, and a trade show from 1-5 p.m.

Workshops will be held from 1-5 p.m. Topics include garden journaling, grafting watermelon, bonsai, butterfly and bird feeders, gourd birdhouses and writing winning grants.

Tours will be held Oct. 18 from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. All tours are $45 and include lunch. Destinations include Quinta Mazatlan and the Edinburg World Birding Center, Jaber Estates Winery, Rivers End Nursery, Historic Hidalgo Pump House, Sabal Palms Sanctuary, the Texas A&M-Kingsville Citrus Center, USDA’s Moore Air Base insect facility and several community and Master Gardener educational gardens.

Non-tour options Oct. 18 include two presentations from 8 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Dr. Art Hadley, a certified Master Gardener, will discuss citrus greening disease and biological controls, and Clyde Holt of Galveston will discuss bonsai trees and their care. The bonsai class costs $35 and includes a take-home Bonsai tree.

Afternoon sessions Oct. 18 include talks by various scientists, experts and authors. Topics include growing roses, hummingbird gardens, backyard strawberry production, cultural uses of Texas native plants and coping with drought.

Talks Oct. 19 will be held during two morning sessions and repeated in two afternoon sessions. Topics include organic gardening, the Benz School of Floral Design, herb gardening, creating a wildflower meadow, plant sex in landscaping, successful community gardens, Master Gardener efforts to slow the spread of citrus greening, ornamental edibles, container vegetable gardening, weed control and roaming the world for landscape jewels.

Cost of registration for the Oct. 18 session is $25. The fee for the Oct. 19 program is $60, including lunch.

The Texas A&M University Press will have a large variety of books on sale, including those of the speakers.

“The Master Gardeners organization was created at Texas A&M University in College Station in 1980,” Storz said. “Master Gardeners got started here in South Texas in 1993, and this is the first state conference ever held this far south. They’ve been held in Corpus Christi and San Antonio, and while those are great convention site cities, they just don’t have the diversity of wildlife, agriculture, plant life and agricultural research that we’ll witness and enjoy at this conference in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley. Several hundred people have already indicated they will attend.”

For registration and program information, go to the conference website at or call 956-383-1026 or 956-361-8236.
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