PERRY TWP.  The planting and growing season is upon us and Stark Parks once again has been offering a free gardening series at the Exploration Gateway for those who want to learn a new thing or two about successful gardening.

The 10-week series, which is taught by local master gardeners, began in late March and continues through May 11.

"We top off the series with the annual spring plant sale which is on May 20 this year," said Danielle Grimm, education administrator assistant and plant sale coordinator. "Stark Parks has offered the gardening classes for at least 11 years and it has grown every year."

The April 20 class, presented by Master Gardener Fred Hanacek, focused on common pests and diseases found in gardens. Tips were shared on practical solutions preventing their occurrence.

Hanacek started the presentation by saying that three elements are a must have for good gardens: sun, good soil and water. The participants heard several ways to test and prepare soil and how to set up a good irrigation system. Hanacek also suggested making a plan for the garden before starting to plant.

He said the best way to water plants is to put the water on the roots. If you water the leafy parts of the plants, it will encourage weeds to grow.

"I believe the biggest pests in our gardens are the weeds, others may tell you it’s the butterflies that lay eggs but I think it’s the weeds," Hanacek said. "Items needed for weed control are a good hoe, a household vinegar mix to spray, black plastic mulch, weed control plastic and flame control."

Hanacek also gave information on physiological disorders such as blossom end rot, leaf roll, catface, zipper and lightning injury.

"Walnut wilt is another common disorder," he said. "Don’t plant close to walnut trees or their root lines. There is a poisonous substance in the tree that will kill plants."

Participants learned about the most common pests including beetles, stink bugs and moths. Hanacek said the stink bugs first showed up in the U.S. in 2001. There are native to Asian countries and started to show up in the crates of fruits and vegetables shipped to cities along the East Coast of the United States.

There are several beneficial insects such as spiders and birds which help protect gardens. Lady bugs, garden spiders, praying mantis, cardinals, robins and house sparrows all help keep the garden plants safe while growing.

"The feedback is always positive from the participants," Grimm said. "We try to offer informative classes on topics that are trendy and we try to offer a take home for every class so that students can try what they learned in the class at home.

"Gardening and rowing food at home is popular right now with all ages. Offering the 10 week series is a way for us to help people be successful with their gardens."