What is a Master Gardener and How You Become One

Learn How to Become a Master Gardener and How the Program Works

by Stephanie Thurow
PHOTO: Master Gardener

What is a Master Gardener? Many people assume that you must be a skilled gardener to become a Master Gardener, but the truth is that anyone can become one. Master Gardener volunteers are trained volunteers that educate the public on a variety of research based (scientifically studied) horticultural topics.

Novice gardeners, expert gardeners and everyone in between is encouraged to participate. Of course, you must have an interest in growing plants, cultivating gardens and a desire to share your knowledge with the community. Sharing your knowledge with the community is a key component to the program. Becoming a volunteer is a fabulous way to connect with other local people with common interests and a wonderful way to help others learn more about the environment.

Master Gardener programs are run through your county extension offices. Here in Minnesota, I’m a Master Gardener volunteer through Hennepin County and I became one in 2021. The process begins by filling out an application. Next, you’ll be interviewed by 2-3 extension office people, just to make sure that you have a good understanding of what the program entails and that your goals align.

Master Gardener Programs

Once you are accepted into the Master Gardener program, there are 48 hours of core courses that you will take that teach you about a wide variety of research-based topics. Our program offers weekly classes that each cover a different topic. Our core courses are taught by the University of Minnesota’s horticultural experts. Core courses cover topics such as pollinator health, plant biodiversity, clean water, creating resilient landscapes and techniques for growing vegetables.

Once you’ve completed the core courses, you’re required to volunteer for 50 hours during the first year.

Master Gardener Volunteer Activities

Volunteer activities of a Master Gardener include helping with community gardens, assisting with youth programs, offering support for schoolyard gardens, participating in environmental educational programs, partaking at question-and-answer tables at farmers markets, speaking to garden clubs and so much more.

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Other volunteer activities include writing for your local paper, participating in garden tours, plant sales and other special events, growing seeds as part of the annual seed trials, installing pollinator gardens at home, plus more! One of my favorite ways to volunteer is to grow a giving garden where the fresh produce grown in my garden is donated to a local food shelf. There are many volunteer opportunities throughout the year, so it’s very simple to meet the volunteer hour requirements.

Staying Active

Each year after the initial one, you will be required to volunteer a certain number of hours as well as meet continuing education hours to keep your Master Gardener status active.

Programs vary by state and county and the information provided throughout the courses will be tailored to your region. No matter how experienced you are, you will be sure to learn more through the educational courses offered and from other participants. I can’t say enough positive things about the program and encourage anyone interested in it to explore your local offerings.

What to Know

There are class fees required to participate, as well as a background check.

There are application deadlines, so if you are interested, I encourage you to look at your county extension office website sooner rather than later.

If you want to learn more but don’t want to volunteer, there is an option to take the core courses without the commitment of volunteering (at least with our program).

This article about what is a master gardener was written for Hobby Farms magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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