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Become a Certified Master Gardener

Does any of this sound like you? (check all that apply):

  • Are you unable to refrain from identifying and giving at least one fact aloud about plants passed on the street (usually to friends and family who are beginning to get really tired of it)?
  • Will you slow nearly to a stop in traffic to admire a particularly bright and luxurious carpet of phlox in someone’s yard?
  • Do you tense up when you watch someone toss a perfectly compostable orange peel in the garbage can?
  • Do you have an account or some sort of membership card to every nursery in your county?
  • Do you frustrate those you live with by turning every room in your home into a seed-starting operation?
  • Does the sheer weight and volume of your spring seed, bulb, and gardening catalogues and magazines make you consider buying a second mailbox?
  • When visiting friends and family, do you find yourself unconsciously dead-heading or weeding their planters?
  • Are you concerned about how our agricultural and gardening practices affect the environment as a whole, and would you like to share what you know about growing with your community to ensure the health of local ecosystems?

Whether you have one or every one of these traits, you’re probably a great Master Gardener candidate for your state.  All you need is a love of the natural world, a desire to share your knowledge with others, and a little bit of spare time to do what you do best, and you could become a certified Master Gardener. 

What does a Master Gardener do?

The Master Gardener program isn’t about giving you the tools to make sure your rose garden has the most impressive blooms or your vegetable garden has legendary yields of disease-free tomatoes and peppers—it’s about creating experts and leaders that will share what they know with the community.  Master Gardeners receive training and hands-on experience that, while making them better home gardeners, is meant to be passed on to both enrich and help neighbors in their own gardens and spread awareness about environmental issues and solutions affecting a particular area.  Master Gardeners take their passion and knowledge about gardening and become very active volunteers, participating in a variety of community gardening projects.  They may appear at special community events to share information, contribute written articles on gardening subjects to local publications, teach classes, assist at plant help desks or assist community members with their plant questions online, or apply their green thumbs in community gardens.  Master Gardeners may combine their garden education efforts with other organizations, like youth and school groups to cultivate interests in young people, or nursing and assisted living communities to provide therapeutic activity. 

The Benefits

Okay, so all of that may sound like a lot, but if you think about it, if you love gardening, you’re probably doing a lot of these things already.  Do you like answering questions on gardening forums in your spare time?  Are you the one your friends come to for advice or tutorials?  Have you taught your child or a niece or nephew how to plant seeds, weed, or pick vegetables?  Well, then you’re already pretty experienced at giving lectures, working with kids, solving garden mysteries, and writing about the garden.  Neat, huh?

The primary benefit of Master Gardener status for the individual is the opportunity to spend more time doing what interests you most—no gardener is going to be bummed out by having more gardening to do, or having more ears to babble about gardening into. This time will also be spent engaging in projects that don’t only have to do with your own backyard.  As a volunteer, you could be given the chance to interact with people and groups you may never have, or visit and contribute at locations you wouldn’t have otherwise visited.  Being an involved Master Gardener will not only offer you more occasion to hang out in the garden or talk about the garden, but unique experiences that will keep you interested and always learning.

Members of your community benefit when you organize and participate in outreach and civic improvement or beautification projects.  Master Gardeners offer services that will allow residents to improve their landscape, provide more and healthier food for their families, save money, have access to gardening plots if they have no usable gardening area, diagnose pest activity or disease that may be sabotaging the garden, limit waste and curb practices that may be harmful to the environment, and motivate them to get outside and get active. 

Naturally, the biggest beneficiary of all of this increased education about gardening practices is Earth.  Along with sharing information to help others achieve success in their own gardens, Masters share information about water conservation strategies, native plants, composting and more.

What Does a Master Gardener Learn?

First, you will go over the basics. You will go over ecology, botany, soils, entomology and plant diseases. You will learn about different plant groups such as turfgrass, herbaceous plants, woody plants, vegetables, small fruits, tree fruits, herbs, and houseplants. Other fun topics, such as wildlife, landscaping design, invasive species, weeds, organic gardening, lawn care, aquagardening and more could be covered, based on the program. The idea is to have a holistic and well-rounded working knowledge of plants and gardening that is relevant in today’s environment.

Continued education is important to the Master Gardening program. MGs will often participate in meetings with other volunteers in the area, and may even attend national conventions. There, discussions on new issues, findings and trends 

take place. Moreover, Master Gardeners renew their certification by taking classes every year to refresh their knowledge and stay relevant.

How Do I Become a Master?

Every state in the US offers a Certified Master Gardener program via university extension services in various counties. 

The certification process takes 30 hours, and 8 hours each following year to keep the certification from expiring. Once certified, volunteer MGs will volunteer about 50 hours the
first year to community service and about 20 hours a year after the first year to remain active.

The only requirement for becoming a Master Gardener is the participant must be at least 18 year of age and have the desire to help people by spreading the love and knowledge of plants.  

Check out these resources:




Photo credits:

By Srl (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Joshjrowe (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By John Baker [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons