Tropical Gardening: West Hawaii’s Grasp Gardeners are greening the island

Tropical Gardening: West Hawaii’s Master Gardeners are greening the island

When it comes to community outreach, the University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture’s outreach service is comparable to the way the Peace Corps reaches out to people in other countries. The Master Gardener program is an important part of the UHCTAHR Extension Service. The program was set up to support the local population with home gardening problems.

Fortunately, UHCTAHR has been actively involved in the development of Hawaii County’s Master Gardener Program. If you choose the master’s program, you will receive 45 hours of classroom and practical horticultural training, as well as continuing education. Course topics include basic botany, native plants, nutrition, insect and disease management, propagation, pruning and more. Once you complete the course, you will become a local expert helping others to become better gardeners. Gardeners also go on several field trips each year and participate in community landscape projects.

The last day of registration for the 2023 class series was supposed to be Monday 16th January but there is still time to register as long as you call by Friday 20th January.

This year’s course series includes field trips to places like the Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary in Kaloko Mauka, where participants will plant native hibiscus and collect seeds from the famous Blue Marble (Eleaocarpus grandis) trees, which are used to make Buddhist prayer beads.

This tree is closely related to our Hawaiian species, Eleocarpus bifidus or Kalia. Hawaiians made cordage from the inner bark and used the branches in building pili grass houses according to Marie C. Neal’s book In Gardens Of Hawaii.

The Sanctuary is a 70-acre forest dedicated to teaching living forest kindly and reminding people that our forests are the lungs of the planet.

Most of the land is native forest, but 15 acres that were originally rangeland are now fully reforested with a variety of plants and trees donated by plant societies and the Hawaii Department of Wildlife and Forestry. As the aggressive Kikuyu grass was suppressed by shade, many native plants also began to re-establish themselves.

To learn more about the Master Gardener program in West Hawaii, contact Ty McDonald, UH Extension Agent, at 322-4884 or email

Other ways to learn and apply your horticultural knowledge is to join a plant society, such as We also have societies and associations focused on coffee, tea, nuts and tropical fruits.

Contact information is available online or by contacting the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources offices in Hilo and Kona. Connecting with local plant lovers is a great way to expand your knowledge with others in our island community and make friends too.

Don’t forget that the East Hawaii Master Gardeners will be hosting a major plant sale on Sunday, January 29 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm at the UH Komohana Ag Complex in Hilo. For more information, call Russell Galanti at (808) 746-0910 or email