A master gardener is a trained volunteer who donates their time to their local extension. They do this because they are experienced, gardening enthusiasts and love all aspects of growing plants, flowers and vegetables. They are also knowledgeable about what plants do well in their zone as well as what pests and diseases are prevalent there.
Master gardeners are not only experienced gardeners but go through training. The training is occasionally provided free of charge by local extensions. In some areas, the potential master gardener must pay for the course. There are nearly 100,000 master gardeners that volunteer to help residents at their local extension. Master gardeners donate about five million hours of their time to help others grow healthy gardens that will thrive in the area.
What It Takes to Be a Master Gardener
If you want to become a volunteer for the master gardener program, you must first contact your local Cooperative Extension. They will have you fill out some paperwork which is quite simple and almost like filling out a job application. Some extensions do have you take a test so they can decide if you have the basic knowledge to even be considered for the program. Provided that you do well on the test, you will then be offered to take the coursework to become one of the extension’s master gardeners.
Most master gardener courses run for at least eleven weeks and consist of forty hours of coursework. The classes are usually taught by horticultural specialists from the local university or known experts in the field. Each student will need the local extension’s manual because the course material is inside of the manual.
Basic horticultural science is stressed in the first few classes. Later classes get into proper plant selection, water conservation, soil maintenance, pest identification and control as well as disease prevention and control. Each extension has a different manual because of climate zones so classes will not be the same in all areas.
Keep in mind that this is not a simple thing to do. There are quizzes and a final exam to complete the course and attain your certificate. Potential master gardeners must also complete a certain number of volunteer hours pertaining to horticulture for completion.
A master gardener’s certification must be updated each year. Master gardeners must continue to volunteer for the extension. The amount of required volunteer hours will vary depending on the local extension. They must also continue their education. The hours of necessary education to maintain the certification depends upon the local’s requirements.
Community Work for Master Gardeners
Master gardeners are required to do some kind of horticultural, community volunteer work. The hours vary as do the requirements for the type of service. Most extensions require forty hours of volunteer services before the applicant can gain the certificate as master gardener. It is the norm that half of those hours are spent on extension projects or working the phones. The second half is usually required to be some sort of community based improvement project involving gardening. These projects can be anything from neighborhood clean up and beautification to pulling weeds at the local botanical gardens. The options are available from the local extension.
What Can You Do As A Master Gardener?
Master gardeners volunteer to assist local citizens with plant or pest problems by phone. They do much more than that because as experts, they will speak at garden club meetings or be a guest teacher at classes offered by local nurseries. Many master gardeners write gardening columns for their area newspapers.
Becoming a master gardener is time consuming yet rewarding. The avid gardener who also feels volunteering is essential for a strong community will do well in the master gardener program. Contact your local extension agency for more information about the program.