Trumbull County Master Gardeners are taught, through The Ohio State University Extension, basic concepts of all aspects of gardening.
Our handbook is four inches thick and divided into chapters that include the science of botany, integrated pest management, plant pathology and diagnostics, as well as the ''fun'' topics that include vegetables, houseplants and herbaceous perennials.
While all of this is interesting and informative, it doesn't always answer the questions that Master Gardener volunteers often deal with on a daily basis. For those gardening answers, we turn to a wide array of resources, most of which are science based, but all are from reputable sources. To put it bluntly, we don't recommend you turn your kitchen into a laboratory for mixing all sorts of concoctions that weren't originally meant to do the job at hand. Instead, we recommend products that were intended for that specific purpose.
Here are some of the books that are used not only by Master Gardeners, but are also used by me in the writing this column for more than seven years.
''Botany for Gardeners,'' by Brian Capon is a reference book I often turn to when I need accurate descriptions of leaf shapes, what constitutes a true bulb, corm, or rhizome, how trees get their nutrients, what happens to a seed after it is planted and how plants reproduce. In terms that are easy to understand, the book explains the formation of plants beginning with their lives as single cells, how those cells become leaves, stems and flowers, and through the process of reproduction, back to seeds. The book is filled with color plates that help make the science of botany easier to understand. If your gardener isn't content to simply put a seed in the ground and watch it grow, you might want to consider giving this book for Christmas. It is available through any bookseller as well as online.
My next favorite resource for information is not just one book but is the work of one author. Everything written by Michael Dirr eventually ends up as textbook material for horticulturalists, landscapers and Master Gardeners. Dirr is a horticulturist and a professor of horticulture at the University of Georgia. He is also an expert on woody plants and shrubs. I own three of his books with an eye on another that delves into the world of Viburnums. The three that are on my bookshelf; however, include ''Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: An Illustrated Encyclopedia,'' ''Hydrangeas for American Gardens,'' and the definitive manual on woody landscape plants and trees, ''Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses.'' The latter was given to me as a gift last Christmas, and I can't stop perusing its pages. Expect to pay a bit more for this one, even in soft cover, but it is well worth every dime if you can't get enough information about woody landscape plants.
If books on trees and shrubs don't grab your gardener, ''Hydrangeas for American Gardens,'' is an excellent resource for learning the different varieties of hydrangeas, particularly those that grow and bloom well here in northeast Ohio. The book also answers the question, why don't my mopheads bloom? - yet we keep on planting them and continue to be disappointed.
For organic gardeners, my favorite reference book is ''The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control: A Complete Problem-Solving Guide to Keeping Your Garden and Yard Healthy Without Chemicals'' by Barbara W. Ellis and Fern Marshall Bradley. This book is published by Rodale Press. If the name sounds familiar, it is because Rodale Press also publishes ''Organic Gardening'' and ''Prevention'' magazines. Their founder, J.I. Rodale, is known as the founder of the organic movement in the United States as early as 1954. The organic growing techniques profiled in this book have been through several research trials.
For plant identification, there isn't one specific reference book that I can recommend. I keep several perennial plant books on hand because no one book is able to cover everything. For this reason, it is necessary to have several reference books for identification. A popular book for Ohio; however, is ''Perennials for Ohio'' by Debra Knapke and Alison Beck. This paperback is available at local bookstores and online and is one of several handy books by Knapp that addresses common plants for our area.
I feel the same way about field guides for identifying wildflowers, trees, mushrooms and other botanical interests. No one book can provide all of the answers. Some field guides use real photos for identification, while others use drawings that point to specific key elements used to identify one plant from another.
With Christmas right around the corner, last minute shoppers can't go wrong if they present the gardener in their life a quality reference book.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org