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Garden tips may go out of phones reach

For years they've been picking up the telephone and answering our gardening queries. But now, who are we going to call?

In May, the Master Gardener Volunteer Hotline in Multnomah County is set to go silent. And, under county budget cuts, the hot line might not come back. Many people might find that understandable, but the master gardeners themselves are not quite ready to hang it up.

The master gardeners have answered thousands of gardeners' questions over the hot line and at farmers markets and plant shows, and hope to continue doing so. Everyone involved wants to see the program continue. But without money, there's no office and no telephones for the volunteer master gardeners to provide their service.

Most of the program's success can be traced to Ray and Jan McNeilan. With 40 years of experience between them, much of it as 'consumer horticulture agents' at Oregon State University, the McNeilans have taught solid, research-based gardening practices to thousands of people.

Jan spearheads a fund-raiser set for Tuesday, March 4, as a grass-roots effort to keep alive some parts of the Multnomah County program, such as the visits to farmers markets and garden shows. And you don't have to be a master gardener to enjoy the festivities.

The event, 'Gardeners Night Out,' benefits Metro Master Gardeners and runs from 6 p.m. to9 p.m. in Portland State University Smith Center Ballroom, 1825 S.W. Broadway. The cost is $25.

(Funding for the master gardener hot lines in Washington and Clackamas counties still exists.)

Over the years, the master gardeners have answered questions on the spot on a huge range of topics. Here are excerpts from the call log of queries taken by the master gardeners over the hot line, courtesy of Jan McNeilan.

Q: 'Is it too late to prune my roses?'

A: 'No, but it is best to do it soon. É Pruning needs to be done during the dormant season.'

Q: 'Should I prune if the plant is already sprouting new leaves?'

A: 'Yes, just cut them down, and the plant will generate new wood for blooms.'

Q: 'Can I plant a lawn now?'

A: 'No, wait until late March or April.'

Q: 'What seed can I use for a lawn in the shade?'

A: 'No seed mix will work if the lawn is really in the shade all day. If the area gets some sun during the day, you might try a combination of fine fescue and perennial rye.'

Q: 'Is there any way to keep frogs from croaking in a pond?'

A: 'No, there's no (humane) way to stop them. Mating frogs can be pretty loud in the spring.'

Q: 'What do I do about the bugs inside my house (black bugs with red outlines on back)?'

A: 'The best answer is: Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum, and caulk any openings the bugs use to get inside.' (The first warm days bring out the box-elder bugs, en masse. They don't do much damage to box-elder, maple or ash trees, but they are a nuisance when they get inside your home.)

All right, so these answers aren't going to ease world hunger or stop the pending war in Iraq, but they do help home gardeners who want to do the right thing. Quite simply, the master gardener program is a wonderful statewide community service for those of us who believe gardening makes the world a better place.

So if they've ever answered your question by phone, or at a plant sale or county fair, please come by the Smith Center tonight and show your support.

Auction items up for bid:

• Your garden on TV. Mike Darcy will profile the garden of the highest bidder on his KATU (2) Sunday morning program.

• Picture your garden. Professional horticultural photographer Janet Loughrey will take pictures of your garden that are suitable for reproduction in national magazines.

• Weekend getaways to the beach, mountains and elsewhere.

This week's to-do list:

• Spread used coffee grounds on soil under azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias. They are acid-loving plants.

• Plant dahlias. Use bone meal instead of nitrogen fertilizer.

• Dig and divide hosta and day lilies.

'Anne Jaeger's Gardening Tips' airs at 9:56 a.m. Saturday and Sunday on KGW (8). Jaeger's Web site is at www.gardengal.tv.