Tropical Gardening: Make a resolution to develop your horticultural expertise as a Master Gardener

  • Photo courtesy of VOLTAIRE MOISE Students from charter and public schools visit the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary to appreciate this rainbow eucalyptus. The tree is only 40 years old and 100 feet tall. It is doing its job to add oxygen to the atmosphere as well as sequester carbon, thus making one small step to reduce global warming.

New Year’s resolutions are fun to make every year, but it is sometimes hard to measure their success.

Learning about landscaping and gardening is a good example.


Hawaii is unique in its horticultural blend of plants and landscapes. Although we live in the tropics, gardening is heavily influenced by the ways of Europe and the Americas. This plus Asian, Polynesian and African agricultural influences make landscaping and gardening fun, but a bit complicated.

Fortunately, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources has been active in the development of the Master Gardener program in Hawaii County.

If you decide to get involved with the program you will have 45 hours of classroom and hands-on horticultural training, plus ongoing continuing education. Course topics include basic botany, native plants, nutrition, insect and disease management, propagation, pruning and much more.

Once you finish the course you will become a local expert to assist others to be better gardeners. Master Gardeners also have several outings each year and get involved with community landscape projects.

On Jan. 7, the Kona group is visiting the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka, where they will plant native hibiscus.

The sanctuary is a 70-acre forest dedicated to teaching living forest-friendly and to remind folks that our forests are the lungs of the planet. Most of the land is native forest, but 15 acres that were originally pasture are now totally reforested with a variety of plants and trees donated by plant societies and Hawaii’s Department of Wildlife and Forestry. Once the aggressive kikuyu grass was suppressed by shade, many native plants began to reestablish.

Hawaii Island Land Trust is cooperating in preserving the sanctuary forest. For information about the trust, contact Kawika K. Burgess at 791-0729.

To learn more about the program in West Hawaii, contact Ty McDonald, UH Extension agent, at 322-4893 or by email at In East Hawaii, call UH Extension agent Eli Isele at 969-8209 or by email at

Other opportunities to learn and apply your horticultural knowledge include joining a plant society such as the Hawaii Island Palm Society, Hawaii Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society or one of the many orchid societies. We also have societies and associations focusing on coffee, tea, nuts and tropical fruits.


Information for how to get in touch is available online or by contacting the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources offices in Hilo and Kona.

Getting connected with local plant enthusiasts is a great way to expand your knowledge with others of our island community and make friends as well.

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