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Helping your garden grow

Part of the University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, there are Master Gardeners and UCCE (University of California Cooperative Extension) Coordinators throughout the 209 area.

Among them is Anne Schellman, who serves as the UCCE Master Gardener Coordinator for Stanislaus County.

“The Master Gardeners we have number about 52, from all around the Stanislaus County area,” Schellman explained. “Other neighboring counties have their own programs and a coordinator like myself.”

She is a staff of one, but with the support of the Master Gardeners who are available on a regular basis to help people with all types of gardening questions and concerns.

With the arrival of spring just around the corner on March 20, this is the perfect opportunity to review getting ready for spring planting, as well as learning some tips and tricks about how to make your garden – vegetables or flowers – grow.

The 209 Magazine put together a “Q &A” format with Anne Schellman to cover some of the basics.

What is a good timeline for people in our region to follow to get ready for spring planting?

Stanislaus County is a great place to grow food almost year-round. This year, soils are very wet, so wait until they dry out before working the soil. Working wet soil causes compaction and creates dirt clods that are difficult to break up later.

To prepare the garden for vegetables, add 3-5” of compost and work it into the soil before planting. If adding manure, choose composted manure and work it in a few weeks before planting.

In February, plant beets, carrots, peas, leafy greens like lettuce, collards, and Swiss chard to harvest in spring. In late winter, start seeds indoors for crops like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and cucumber so they are ready to plant in the garden in early April when soil is warm. To know when to start the seeds, read the back of the seed packet.

Are there different time frames for planting landscapes, primarily flowers, as opposed to getting ready for a vegetable garden?

There are two seasons from annual plants and flowers. For example, if you want to grow zinnias, plant them in spring. For pansies, you would plant them in fall. In terms of vegetables, it can be a bit more flexible. Perennial flowers can be planted anytime.

What is the specific prep needed for each type of project, decorative vs. productive? 

Fruit trees and vegetables produce food, which is why soil preparation and fertilization are important. Trees, shrubs, and flowers benefit from well-prepared soil, but it’s not necessary to add fertilizer, unless they are grown in a pot.

Do you see more people coming to UCCE for assistance now, as people look at fruits and/or vegetables as a way to help the family’s bottom line by growing some food for their own use?

Yes! We’ve had calls from gardeners who specifically mention they want to grow their own food because of rising prices.

What assistance are your Master Gardeners able to provide, whether that is hands on or advice giving?

Our volunteers are available on Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. in person or on the phone to answer questions. We are located at the Ag Center in Modesto on the corner of Crows Landing and Service Roads in the Stanislaus Building. Samples of plants or pests can be dropped off during office hours Monday – Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We can also be contacted online, using our “Ask a Master Gardener” form:

We are also giving monthly classes on various topics at local libraries. (Native plants will be featured in March classes, Citrus in April.)

In addition to our in-person classes, we have a YouTube Channel with videos on how to compost, grow fruit trees, vegetables, or herbs, information about native plants, pollinator plants, water-wise plants, and more at

Are there specific vegetables/fruits that are recommended for novice gardeners, those that want to try it for the first time, that would be easy to grow and tend?

Yes! The easiest fruit trees to grow are citrus, as they need the least amount of care. For gardeners new to growing vegetables, use mainly transplants from local nurseries or garden centers instead of seeds to get started. If you decide to grow something from seed, pay close attention to the requirement planting depth, and keep the soil moist.

What flowers or plants are best suited for those wishing to create a pleasing ornamental aesthetic at their home or business?

Instead of specific plants, first decide on the “bones” of the landscape. Sometimes we get excited while shopping for plants and choose one of everything (I’m speaking from experience!) which leads to a chaotic looking landscape.

Once you have a design in mind, pick out a large accent plant for a specific location, and evergreen perennial shrubs to create the main structure. Then, choose perennials that lose their leaves. Plant most of these plants in groups of odd numbers like 3 or 5. If you have time to maintain it, create a bed of annuals you change out every year.

How did you get involved in the Master Gardener program?

My grandfather inspired my love of gardening, and in high school I worked at Scenic Nursery. I attended Modesto Junior College and discovered horticulture could be a possible career, so I went on to Cal Poly State University to earn a bachelor’s degree. In 2007, I was hired with UC Cooperative Extension to work for Ed Perry, the Environmental Horticulture advisor. That was the first time I heard about the Master Gardener Program, but it would not be until 2018 that I was hired for what has become my dream job.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest benefit to gardening?

Being outdoors, observing insects and other pollinators, feeling the sun on my face, eating food grown in the garden, and surprising someone with a homegrown bouquet. 

Anne Schellman is the Coordinator for the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program in Stanislaus County. The office is at 3800 Cornucopia Way, Suite A, Modesto, CA 95358 and the phone number to reach the Master Gardener program is 209-525-6802.