Master Gardener College

Virtual College 2024! June 5-9

We’re going virtual! This year’s event will be held via Zoom Events, an easy-to-use conference platform that works the same way regular Zoom meetings work. In-person tour spaces are limited, so register early! We do not currently have a cap on registration–as many EMGs as want to attend can come!

Schedule will be: June 5, 6, 8, and 9 afternoon to early evening. June 7: day of virtual and in-person tours beginning in the morning.

Costs (subject to change)

Early registration (opens mid-April, open to Virginia Master Gardeners and interns): $40

Regular registration (begins May 8 and open to Master Gardeners from other states): $60

In-person tour add-ons: Range from $5-$15

How to register

You will register and pay for College via Destiny here. You may have used Destiny to register for Extension programming before. If so, you should be able to log in using your existing account. You may need to reset your password. If you have not used Destiny before, you will need to create a Destiny account.

After registering via Destiny, you will receive a confirmation email. This is all you need to do for now.

In the beginning of May (tentatively May 8), we will add all early registrants to the EMGC Zoom event. We will add regular registrants On May 29. You will receive an email from Zoom with instructions for accessing the platform. We will remind you before this happens so you know to expect the email.

IMPORTANT: You will only be able to access the Zoom platform using the email address you used during your Destiny registration. If you have an existing Zoom account, please use the email address associated with it to register via Destiny.

Water Steward Training

Water Steward training will be held separately from EMGC this year. Look for more information and registration this spring.



American Horticultural Society

Speaker Sponsors

Master Gardeners of Prince William

Fairfax County Master Gardeners

Program Sponsors

Merrifield Garden Center

Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia

Cross Creek Nursery And Greenhouse

Northern Neck Master Gardener Association

Hanover Master Gardeners

Program Supporters

Suffolk Master Gardeners Association

Piedmont Master Gardeners

Henrico Master Gardeners

New River Valley Master Gardener Association

Roanoke Master Gardener Association

Loudoun Master Gardeners 


Wednesday, June 5

11:00 am – noonPractice Session
Zoom events is a very easy-to-use conference platform, but if you are not yet feeling comfortable, join us for this practice session to get oriented in Zoom events.
12:30 – 1:30 pmWelcome Plenary: EMGC Planning Team
Welcome to Master Gardener College! In this session we will cover conference basics, introduce our planning team, and go over fun challenges and opportunities for socialization throughout the conference.

1:30 -2:30 pm

Concurrent Session 1
Small Tree (and Large Shrubs) for Urban and Small Gardens | Kathy Jentz Join Kathy Jentz, editor and publisher of Washington Gardener Magazine, host of the GardenDC Podcast, and co-author of The Urban Garden, as she explores the possibilities of what small trees and large shrubs you can plant in small urban and suburban lots. Tailored to the Mid-Atlantic region and what grows best here, the choices will cover natives, edibles, and nonnative ornamentals that withstand heat, pollution, and urban stress — from full sun to full shade. For every place, there is a tree that is a perfect fit. Even if you only have a few pots to plant in, a tree can be part of your urban life.

Creating Effective Extension Presentations | Fred Whitford Dr. Fred Whitford has given more than 6,000 Extension presentations during his career and he wants to teach YOU the most important lessons he’s learned. In this interactive session, Dr. Whitford will help us understand what makes an engaging presentation and how to leave audiences with a clear message. Come with a presentation topic in mind to think through during the session!

Introduction to Indoor Vertical Gardening of Vegetables and Herbs | Kaylee SouthEver wondered about growing veggies indoors using a home hydroponics system? Dr. Kaylee South, Assistant Professor from Virginia Tech’s School of Plant and Environmental Sciences and a member of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Innovation Center, will show you how!

Forest Carbon Sequestration | Christopher Gough, Lisa Haber, Ariel Johnson Forest management, preservation and sustainability are important to the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; forests are a key piece in the climate change puzzle! Dr. Christopher Gough and members of his lab will join us to explain how forests can effectively sequester carbon and why this matters for the future!

What’s Wrong With My Shrub!? Diagnostics for Woody Plants | Forrest Brown Questions about shrubs or trees in decline are some of the most common help desk requests, but they can be among the most difficult to answer. In this presentation, Forrest Brown will cover common problems with woody plants and how you can diagnose them.

What are Invasive Species? | Blue Ridge PRISM In this session learn about invasive species and the work of Blue Ridge PRISM–an organization that reduces the impact of invasive plants on the ecosystems of the northern Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding areas through regional and statewide advocacy, landowner support, implementing control measures, and public education.
3:00 – 4:30 pmKeynote 1: Doug Tallamy
I know You’re Very Busy but… I want to learn more about nature gardening. | Doug TallamyNearly every day I get emails from people who have read my books and heard my talks and yet still have questions about ecological landscaping. These are good, thoughtful questions about ecology and evolution, biodiversity, invasive species, insect declines, native and non-native plants, conservation and restoration, residential and city landscapes, urban issues, oak biology, keystone plants, Homegrown National Park, monarchs, supporting wildlife at home, and more. In this talk I address as many of these queries as I can with hope that my answers will further motivate people to help restore ecosystem function where they live, work, play, worship, and farm.
This session is sponsored by the American Horticultural Society.

Thursday June 7

11:00 am – noonCoffee Break: American Horticultural Society
Sponsor highlight: AHS Informational SessionUnderwriter Sponsor American Horticultural Society will discuss their travel program and opportunities for Extension Master Gardeners.
Noon – 1:30 pmRoundtable 1: Volunteering
Volunteering: Fulfillment and Growth | Laurie FoxThis is an opportunity to discuss volunteerism with fellow EMGs from around the commonwealth. How does your unit recognize volunteers? Why do you volunteer? And more. Led by Laurie Fox.
1:30 – 2:30 pmConcurrent Session 2
Heirloom Collard Project | Ira Wallace “The Heirloom Collard Project is working for the recognition and respect of collards as a key component of American food culture so their seeds and stories will never be forgotten.” Join the amazing Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange to learn about this collaborative seed-saving project!
This session is sponsored by Fairfax Extension Master Gardeners.

Public Speaking Basics | Brandi Quesenberry What are the most important things to know before you take the stage at your local library presentation or lead your next workshop? How can you manage pre-speaking nerves? Dr. Brandi Quesenberry from Virginia Tech’s Department of Communications will cover the basics in this introduction to public speaking.

Ant Party | Scotty Yang Virginia has multiple species of invasive ants, including the Asian needle ant and the imported red fire ant. Their painful bites make them a dreaded garden visitor. What can be done? Dr. Scotty Yang of Virginia Tech’s Department of Entomology will cover ant basics with a focus on Virginia’s invasive species

AMAZING Insects: Identification and Conservation | Amada Whispell Beloved speaker Amanda Wispell of the Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District will share her passion for insects. If you don’t already love bugs, you will after her talk

Gardening as You Age | Laurie Fox It’s hard to admit that you can’t work as long or as hard in the garden as you used to. So, you just have to work smarter!  Dr. Laurie Fox with Virginia Tech will share some frustrations and fixes for gardening with the challenges that come with age.

Birds, Bees, Flowers, Trees: The Phenological Impacts of Climate Change | Jeremy Hoffman Spring seems to come earlier. You didn’t notice your favorite bee species this year. Your favorite flowers bloomed much earlier. Is it climate change?! What other things is climate change affecting? Climate scientist Jeremy Hoffman will share trends and ideas for a warming future in this easy-to-understand presentation. 
3:00 – 4:00 pmKeynote 2: Debra Freeman
Gardens of Resilience | Debra Freeman Gardens of Resilience explores the fascinating history and relevance of traditional African-American crops including fish peppers, watermelons, sweet potatoes, collards, peanuts, and other legacy vegetables that still endure today. This session is sponsored by the American Horticultural Society.

Friday, June 7

Day of optional in-person tours; see “Tours” section for more information. If you do not attend an in-person tour, everyone is welcome at our virtual tours!
Virtual Tour 1: 9:30 – 10:30 amWhat is Therapeutic Horticulture?  | Emilee Weaver This session with Emilee Weaver of North Carolina Botanic Garden will cover an introduction to therapeutic horticulture governed by principles of inclusivity and Universal Design. Then we will “tour” some real therapeutic horticulture sites including a psychiatric hospital, public garden, and assisted living community.
Virtual Tour 2: 11:00 am – NoonNational Arboretum Trials | Margaret PoolerDr. Margaret Pooler will provide a virtual “tour” of the research trials underway at the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.
Virtual Tour 3: 1:00 – 2:00 pmD’Esopo House | Chrissie D’Esopo Take a virtual “tour” of this jaw-dropping private garden located in Avon, Connecticut. Please view the slideshow beforehand and come prepared with questions.
Virtual Tour 4: 2:30 – 3:30 pmHahn Garden Virtual TourIf you’ve never visited the Hahn Garden at Virginia Tech, here’s an opportunity to “tour” the grounds and learn about the plants highlighted at Virginia Tech’s only on-campus garden.

Saturday, June 8

11:00 am – noonCoffee Break: Virginia Master Gardener Association
What is VMGA, the Statewide Master Gardener Association?VMGA leadership will explain what they do and how membership in VMGA can help you and your unit!
Noon – 1:30 pmRoundtable 2: Steward Programs
This roundtable discussion will cover advanced Master Gardener Steward training. Breakout sessions will focus on each Steward program: tree, land, and water.
1:30 – 2:30 pmConcurrent Session 3
Johnson-Su Bioreactor | Patrick DeSimo Similarly to how humans have interdependent relationships with the gut microbiome, many plants have interdependent relationships with the soil microbiome, especially with aerobic microbes. In this presentation, you’ll get an introduction to the recent body of scientific literature documenting plant-microbe interactions, with a focus on the work of pioneering researchers Dr. David Johnson and Hui-Chun Su-Johnson.

Welcoming Fireflies | Alyssa Ford Morel Are you charmed on summer evenings by the tiny bobbing lights of amorous fireflies? Many non-human creatures share the property we call our own, and we can improve the quality of their lives and support the environment by the way we garden. This talk by Extension Master Gardener and Master Naturalist Alyssa Ford Morel looks at fireflies, hummingbirds, lady bugs, and other creatures with whom we share our yards, and suggests practices to welcome and support them. You will learn ways to start addressing the biodiversity crisis at home.

Regenerative Soil Management for the Backyard Gardener | Mark Schönbeck This session will outline the principles of soil health management and the central role that living plants play in supporting soil life and enhancing the functioning of healthy soil. We will discuss cover cropping, intercropping, organic amendments, minimum tillage, nutrient management, and several effective soil management strategies that are particularly suited to the home garden scale.  

Creating Engaging Displays Roundtable | Christy Brennan, Devon JohnsonHow do you set up a vibrant, interactive, and attractive display for your next event? In this roundtable, we’ll see examples of effective displays and learn from EMG volunteers with experience organizing event displays. We will also explore how the State Office can offer support for your next great display! Come with display ideas to share with the group during our brainstorm session.

Overview of Invasive Forest Insects Pests in VA | Olivia Andrews Love Virginia forests? Worried about the increasing number of threats to our trees and natural areas? PhD candidate Olivia Andrews shares her work on invasive forest insect pests in this engaging talk.
3:00 – 4:00 pmKeynote 3: Megan Pullin
Flourishing in the Garden: What, How, and Why | Megan Pullin There is no doubt that gardening provides physical activity, stress relief, joy, and connection to the earth. What is less known is that it also provides a space to increase our community belonging, mental health, and wellbeing through empowerment. Inviting curiosity in a garden setting, we can offer adaptable and holistic offerings that meet the multiple needs of our participants. This kind of approach is not new, but rather it borrows concepts and ideologies from ancient lineages like yoga (practices to cultivate connection which originated in India), and the agriculture of our ancestors based in holistic ecosystems. These approaches are now backed by neuroscience, psychology, and systems engineering.   This presentation will provide listeners with an educational and experiential space for engaged attendees to build confidence in sharing permaculture and yoga practices in a garden setting. The power of observation resonates in our internal and external landscapes and can serve as a catalyst for intentional and empowering change in our approach to growth. These practices and principles will guide us towards flourishing, both with our garden and participants.”

Sunday, June 9

Noon – 1:30 pmRoundtable 3: Leadership
Based on a highly-successful leadership roundtable session at EMGC 2023, this roundtable will provide an opportunity to brainstorm leadership within EMG groups.
1:30 – 2:30 pmConcurrent Session 4
Insect Invasions: How Plants Pave the Way to Success or Failure | Katlyn Catron Will a new invasive insect thrive in your community? PhD candidate Katlyn Catron will cover the role plants play in the establishment of invasive insects in a new range.

What is the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory? | Gary Kinard  USDA funds have been dedicated since 1898 to collect, maintain, document, and share plant material related to food and agriculture. This is one of the oldest continuous scientific activities of USDA. This mission is even more critical than ever today to help meet the global challenges of safe and secure production of food, feed, fiber, ornamental, industrial, and medicinal plants. Dr. Gary Kinard of the National Germplasm Resources Library joins us to share the vital work of his agency.

Creating a Well-layered Landscape | Elaine Mills  Many gardeners are looking to bring both beauty and support for wildlife into their garden designs. One important way to do that is through creating a well-layered landscape. Join Extension Master Gardener Elaine Mills to learn some techniques for introducing diverse layers of vegetation in a variety of garden contexts, from reestablishing forest edges and planting around trees to refreshing foundation plantings, creating perennial beds, and rethinking front yard designs. Elaine shares ideas and lessons learned from her own garden and those of several Master Gardener colleagues.

Hello Purple Tomato: Common Questions and Answers About the World of GMOs | Kevin Folta The first commercially-available home garden GMO vegetable seed is here: the purple tomato! Do you have questions? Want to know how to explain the subject when working with the public? Dr. Kevin Folta, professor of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida is a national expert on GMOs who will share his experience in the field!

Soil Your Undies | Mary Sketch How long does it take cotton underwear to decompose in your garden? Mary Sketch of 4theSoil will share this “soil your undies” decomposition project with us!

Meet Ed Olsen: State Office Updates | Ed Olsen Ed Olsen, the new Consumer Horticulture Specialist and Extension Master Gardener Program Director will cover program updates and changes after a year of position vacancies. Join this session to learn about our ideas for the future and share your suggestions too!
3:00 – 4:00 pmKeynote 4: Heather Holm
Specialist Bees | Heather Holm The monarch butterfly is probably the most famous insect specialist (the caterpillars feed only on milkweed), but did you know that many native bees are also specialists? Female native bee specialists or oligoleges, collect pollen from a narrow range of native plants; this could mean just one plant genus or species, or many genera that belong to one plant family. Heather will highlight many of these native plant-bee specializations as well as the overlapping habitat requirements of the bees and plants. The presentation will also include the threats to specialists such as habitat loss and climate change.

This session is sponsored by Prince William Extension Master Gardeners.
4:00 – 4:30 pmClosing Session: EMGC Planning Team
We will wrap up college and award winners of challenges.