In 1973, Dr. David Gibby from the Washington State University Cooperative Extension established and created curriculum for the the first Master Gardener program. Master Gardener programs have since been implemented in all 50 states (including the District of Columbia) as well as Canada.
What is a Master Gardener?
Master Gardeners are gardening enthusiasts from the local community who have undergone extensive training in the art and science of gardening and horticulture through a program designed by the Cooperative Extension Service of a state's land-grant university and have performed a significant amount of volunteer work advising and educating the local public in the areas of gardening and horticulture.
Once community members complete the Master Gardener curriculum and required number of hours as a volunteer educator, they become certified as a Master Gardener. To remain certified, they are required to continue actively volunteering a certain number of hours each year.
Master Gardeners are a key part of furthering the mission of land-grant universities in each state through their Cooperative Extension Service. These volunteers are crucial in disseminating scientifically based gardening and horticultural information to the public. This is done by creating educational projects and programs to target a variety of audiences from school children to farmers to gardening clubs and more.
How to Become a Master Gardener?
To become a Master Gardener, you need to enroll in and successfully complete a Master Gardener program as well as volunteer some required number of hours. Though the Master Gardener programs throughout the US are designed by the Cooperative Extension Service of each state’s land-grant university, the courses are administered through the Extension Office for the county you live in.
Contact your county’s Extension Office to obtain an application to enroll in the program. Once you have submitted your application, you will receive additional information on becoming a Master Gardener as well as when your class will begin.
Master Gardener Requirements
The requirements to become a Master Gardener are generally the same across all states, though they may vary slightly from state-to-state or even county-to-county within a state. This is true because all the Master Gardener programs across the US are conducted in cooperation with the Cooperative Extension System of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Applicants for Master Gardener programs are screened and interviewed. The county Extension Office may even require references which they will check. Ultimately, candidates are evaluated based on their knowledge of, enthusiasm for, and experience with gardening as well as their willingness to complete the program and volunteer in the community.
It is important to be honest and forthcoming during the interview. Because of federal requirements for volunteers, a background check is often required for applicants.
As a Master Gardener, you will represent the county’s Extension Office while you volunteer and perform community outreach. Because of this, the Extension Office can be selective about who they admit into the program. It's important to dress appropriately and professionally when you interview for the program.
Once accepted, you will be required to attend classes for typically 40-70 hours over a roughly four-month period. These classes are usually offered in the county where you live and garden. They are generally offered during the winter months so that you can complete the course before the spring planting season arrives.
Most Master Gardener programs require 40-75 hours of volunteer work within the first year of enrolling in the program before the candidate can be certified as a Master Gardener. The volunteer service is performed for the county Extension Office's outreach program. Once certified, the Master Gardener is required to actively volunteer 20-30 hours per year thereafter to maintain their certification status. They may also be required to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education.
Benefits of Being a Master Gardener
There are many benefits to becoming a Master Gardener. Some of those benefits apply to you personally. Other benefits are to your local community through your volunteer work.
The training you initially receive to become a certified Master Gardner is quite advanced and should drastically improve your knowledge of gardening and horticulture. The ongoing training made available through the county’s Extension Office on behalf of the Cooperative Extension Service of your state’s land-grant university should continue to challenge you and take your gardening and horticulture skills to the next level.
In addition to great training, volunteering with projects and developing educational programs for your community will benefit you in a lot of other ways. You will grow your leadership, analytical, and public speaking skills. You will encounter a more diverse set of real-life situations through volunteering than you would have by simply working in your own garden. These will require you to draw on your Master Gardener training and experience to assist others in the community with solving complex gardening and horticulture issues.
Finally, you will meet many people in your community with a similar interest in gardening. Many great friendships will be forged that often last a lifetime.