Twenty Years of the Backyard Gardener - May 2, 2018
Jeff Schalau, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County

Gardeners are constantly seeking new and better-informed sources of horticultural information. In my opinion, there is no better source of this information than our national Cooperative Extension system. Cooperative Extension is available in every state and in most counties within those states. Cooperative Extension provides science-based information which is appropriate for local climate and soil conditions. In Yavapai County, I am the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Agent tasked with this mission. I am assisted by over 170 trained and certified Master Gardener volunteers whom are also dedicated to that mission.

I started writing the Backyard Gardener in April 1998 when my predecessor, Dr. Deborah Young, left Cooperative Extension in Yavapai County to become the Associate Director of Programs with Cooperative Extension at the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. Some of you will remember Deb. In 2001, I created a simple website where each weekly column was archived by date and searchable by subject or keyword. In 2012, I began including relevant links and photos where people could access additional information. Apparently, this strategy was a good idea because search engines often list my columns in their top results.

In the Backyard Gardener, I strive to increase reader’s knowledge of sustainable gardening/landscaping practices and local ecosystems. Sustainable practices include reducing unnecessary applications of pesticides and fertilizers, conserving and effectively managing irrigation water, properly amending soil for annual crops, and growing and selecting healthy native and ornamental plants. Understanding local ecosystems leads to better gardening by working in concert with natural processes and beneficial organisms that will positively impact your garden or landscape. In addition, I try to offer sensible mitigation strategies for pests and diseases present in our environment.

Since 1998, I have written over 1,025 installments of the Backyard Gardener. In reviewing these, I have specifically written about plant health and function, wildlife, insects, diseases, weeds, drought-tolerant landscape plants, fruit and nut trees, and vegetable crops. I think it is very important to understand where we live and to base our gardening and landscaping decisions on our local environment’s opportunities and limitations. Increasing food production in personal and community gardens/orchards, reducing waste, and recycling nutrients through composting and mulching is something many of us can and should do. When it comes to pesticides, we should never use them without first employing non-chemical integrated pest management strategies (prevention, exclusion, cultural practices, biocontrol, etc.).

I am surprised that my antiquated, now-retro website attracts so much attention. Over the past 18 years, the Backyard Gardener website received an average 253,786 page views per year. Most of these visitors are locally based, but others are outside Yavapai County, Arizona, and in many foreign countries. I always try to assist with all inquiries and refer those within the US to their local Cooperative Extension offices. In case you have not visited the website, the URL is included at the end of this column or you can enter “Backyard Gardener Arizona” in a search engine and it should appear near the top of the search results. You might want to bookmark it in your web browser (wink, wink).

In an effort to keep up with younger, tech-savvy audiences, I started announcing publication of each new Backyard Gardener column using Twitter (@jeffschalau) in 2010. My number of followers has slowly increased, but is still only at 469. For comparison, you might compare me with Lady Gaga (109,370,035 followers), Justin Bieber (106,314,987 followers), or Donald Trump (51,187,096 followers). Oh well, I’m allowed to dream… I also post each column to the Yavapai County Master Gardener Facebook page (@yavapaicountymastergardeners).

If you have any comments or feedback, you can send them to me through the Backyard Gardener Feedback Form on the website’s homepage. Moving forward, I will strive to provide science-based horticultural information that is locally-relevant through the Backyard Gardener weekly newspaper column. By the way, if you prefer real people to virtual ones, Yavapai County Master Gardeners are available for consultation in both our Camp Verde and Prescott Cooperative Extension offices Monday through Friday 9 am to noon and 1 to 4 pm.

Follow the Backyard Gardener on Twitter – use the link on the BYG website. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener help line in the Camp Verde office at 928-554-8992 or e-mail us at and be sure to include your name, address and phone number. Find past Backyard Gardener columns or provide feedback at the Backyard Gardener web site:

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension Agent, Jeff Schalau (middle with blue shirt), AKA Backyard Gardener, describing the native grass nursery at Camp Verde's Rezzonico Family Park adjacent to the 2018 Yavapai County Associate Master Gardeners with the Camp Verde Community Library in the background (photo by S. Marmaduke).

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Arizona Cooperative Extension
Yavapai County
840 Rodeo Dr. #C
Prescott, AZ 86305
(928) 445-6590
Last Updated: April 25, 2018
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