What Is A Master Gardener: Learn About Master Gardener Training

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

So you say you want to become a master gardener? What is a master gardener and what steps must be taken to achieve that goal? Extension services in your locality are a good place to start gathering information. Master gardening programs are community and volunteer based horticultural education services. Becoming a master gardener allows you to spread your knowledge, learn more about gardening and service your municipality.

Master garden training is a lengthy process with annually required retraining hours. It also involves up to 50 volunteer hours per year, but if you like helping others and have a passion for gardening, becoming a master gardener may be for you. Extension services in your area are government run organizations that train master gardeners and provide opportunities to serve.

What is a Master Gardener?

A master gardener is a citizen that is interested in gardening and can fulfill the training and volunteer hours necessary. Requirements vary by county and state, and the course is tailored for that specific region. You will receive special education on the soils in your area, the types of native plants, insect and disease issues, basic botany and other information pertinent to your gardening zone.

The educational opportunity to learn specifics about where you garden will not only help you become a better gardener but is then passed along to the general public in lectures, clinics and through newsletters.

How to Become a Master Gardener

The first step to becoming a master gardener is to fill out an application. You can get this online at your County Extension offices website. Once you have your application in, information will be sent to you on how to become a master gardener and to let you know when training begins.

Training is typically in the winter months of January through March. This allows the new master gardener to be ready for the volunteer service requirements at the start of the gardening season. Volunteer hours vary by county but are typically 50 hours the first year and 20 hours in subsequent years.

Master Gardening Programs

Once you have completed approximately 30 hours of training, the opportunities to serve are nearly endless. Participation in scheduled gardening clinics at schools, garden and community centers and plant fairs are a few possibilities.

Additionally, you can meet seniors, students and other gardening enthusiasts to exchange information and hone your skills. You may also be asked to write articles and participate in publications.

Annually, you also get the opportunity to get more training and glean new information to share. Master gardener training is a chance to give back to your community and learn more about your favorite hobby — gardening.

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Master Gardeners are community educators trained to work in partnership with Washington State University (WSU) Extension to educate the public and enhance the quality of life in communities by promoting science-based gardening practices. Pierce County Master Gardeners give particular focus to issues of water quality and conservation, waste reduction, biodiversity, and food security.

Please see our “Become a Master Gardener” page to learn how to become a Master Gardener in Pierce County.

Our Vision

Highly recognized, diverse and fully supported, WSU Master Gardener volunteers are the go-to resource for communities seeking research-based, innovative solutions for their ever-changing horticulture and environmental stewardship needs.

Our Mission

Engaging university-trained volunteers to empower and sustain diverse communities with relevant, unbiased, research-based horticulture and environmental stewardship education.

Our Eight Guiding Principals for a more Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive Program

  1. We must feel dissatisfied with the status quo.
  2. We must have a commitment to diversity that includes time and resources.
  3. We must have a vision of where we want to be in the future and a process for how to get there.
  4. We must develop intercultural competency skills and engage in work on personal attitudes based on our societal identities.
  5. We must begin to understand how our programs and delivery methods have been designed from a dominant cultural perspective, which does not work for most of our under-represented cultural groups.
  6. We must become a learning organization that is continually recreating itself in partnership with culturally diverse community groups.
  7. We must bring our traditional audiences along with us as we also learn about how to serve new audiences.
  8. We must see this work as everyone’s responsibility. It is not just up to our leaders, but each of us, within our sphere of influence. We must be bold, learn more, and take new risks.

Services we offer:

  • Ask a Master Gardener – Get answers to your gardening questions. This page also includes information about our diagnostic clinics
  • Request a Master Gardener Speaker – We can present on many topics for all ages
  • Request Help from a Master Gardener – We can help your organization or group with a gardening project

Resources we offer:

  • Grab-and-Go Garden Kits – A free community resource for youth garden educators
  • Downloadable Vegetable Gardening Materials – Information about vegetable gardening techniques
  • Resources for Homeowners – A list of science-based gardening resources for our area
  • Sharon Ballard Community Garden Grant Program – Grant assistance for non-profits within Pierce County to support new or established community gardens

Our public gardens and events:

  • Demonstration Gardens – Information about our public gardens and free garden talks
  • Puyallup Children’s Garden – Information about out public children’s garden and activities
  • Events & Workshops – A list of public events that we organize, such as the annual plant sale and “From the Ground and Up” conference

“Gardening Advice from a Master Gardener” Podcast

These podcasts, written by Pierce County Master Gardener Karen Fischer, provide a variety of gardening advice for homeowners, from small space gardening to using natural pesticides.

Where to listen:

Application and Training

Ideal applicants are committed to volunteering and able to communicate horticulture knowledge with diverse people in Douglas-Sarpy County.


  • At least 18 years of age.
  • Available to spend time volunteering, attending classes, and participating in field trips.
  • Love gardening and have a desire to learn and practice environmentally-friendly horticulture methods and share this information with others.
  • Eager to learn horticulture by actively participating in an intensive 48 hour 8-week training program every Friday in February and March, and a plant clinic in the June.

The program includes classroom training via lectures and group activities. Interns must receive a passing grade on a test. For $255.00, interns will receive 48 hours of instruction, reference materials including a Master Gardener Handbook, a name badge, t-shirt and a monthly MG newsletter.

Volunteer Service & Training Commitment:

  • Master Gardener Interns volunteer 40 hours of their time by December 31st per annum to become a certified Master Gardener.
  • To maintain certification as a Master Gardener Master Gardeners are required to volunteer a minimum of 40 hours and complete at least 15 hours of continuing education annually.

Become A Master Gardener

Annual Master Gardener Training

Home Horticulture Training Course

Would you like to be a better gardener? Learn more about soil, bugs, pesticides, vegetables and more?

  • Saturday mornings, 9 a.m. to noon, from January 9 to April 24 (excluding April 3), 2021.
  • Students will have access to the WSU Extension online Master Gardener Training Modules and the Master Gardener manual. There is also the opportunity to earn a Certificate of Completion. Please note: Be aware that completion of this course does not lead to becoming a Master Gardener. If your interest is in becoming a Master Gardener, please consider waiting until our regular WSU Master Gardener Basic Training which will take place winter 2022.
  • Tuition for this comprehensive course is $300.

If you would like more information, you will find a list of topics, the course syllabus, and Frequently Asked Questions on the WSU Extension Home Horticulture Training website. You can also contact the King County Master Gardener Program Office at [email protected] or call 206-543-0943.

Master Gardeners, please note: Single-class registration is not offered thus the classes are not recommended for continuing education credit.

WSU Extension programs, classes, and employment are available to all without discrimination. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported to your local WSU Extension office.

Becoming A Master Gardener

Master Gardeners are community educators trained to work in partnership with Washington State University (WSU) Extension to educate the public and enhance the quality of life in communities by promoting science-based gardening practices. Master Gardeners provide gardening advice to the public at plant clinics, demonstration gardens and other outreach activities.

The Master Gardener program was started by Washington State University Extension in King and Pierce counties in 1973 and has since been adopted in all 50 states and parts of Canada. Last year King County Master Gardeners donated over 44,000 hours of volunteer time at plant clinics, demonstration gardens, plant sales and other program activities.

Becoming a WSU Master Gardener starts with a 12-week training course that includes both classroom and online elements. Email and internet access are required. The textbook for the online course is the WSU Master Gardener Manual, a 25-chapter, 640-page publication that includes photographs and diagrams on such topics as basic botany, soil science, fruit and vegetable gardening, pruning, composting, landscape plants and entomology.

Completion of the online course includes multiple choice, open-book quizzes as well as an open-book final exam. A passing score on the multiple-choice quizzes is 80% or better. Time spent each week in the online portion of the class varies by student, but 3+ hours should be expected. The in-person classroom portion of the course includes presentations from WSU and other local gardening experts on science-based gardening, plant problem diagnosis, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and other topics specific to gardening in the Puget Sound region. You will become familiar with resources Master Gardeners refer to when advising the public. A key element of training is becoming familiar with these materials.

Successful applicants to the Master Gardener program have an interest in and enthusiasm for volunteer work, enjoy talking to people about gardening, and a strong desire for continuous learning. Applications are generally available August 1 st for the following year’s class and are due from October 15 to October 31. Applications will be processed in the order received, and there are usually more applicants than space allows.

Typically, the training is held at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. Some years, the training is offered at the WSU King County Extension office in Renton. Classes are held on 12 consecutive Saturdays, January through March, 9:00AM to 3:00PM. Attendance at each of the 12 Saturdays is required, as well as the successful completion of the online training. The primary mode of communication outside of the classroom is via email. Access to a printer is helpful but not required.

For the first calendar year, successful trainees are considered “Interns” and must complete 40 hours of volunteer time, including at least 5 plant clinic shifts (each shift is 3-5 hours), at least 2 demonstration garden shifts (shift length is flexible) and at least 1 shift at one of the county plant sales (2-3 hours in April/May). After successful completion of the first year requirements, ‘interns’ graduate to ‘veteran’ status. Veteran Master Gardeners must be recertified each year. Recertification requirements include 25 volunteer hours (in King County Master Gardener activities of their choice) and 10 hours of continuing education (in-person or online training on topics relevant to gardening in the Pacific Northwest).

Cost for the training in 2020 was $375, including $75 to WSU for the online portion (which includes online access to the textbook/manual and quizzes). Cost for training in future years may vary. Please do NOT send payment with your application – that will be due upon your acceptance into the program. If cost is a financial hardship, a limited amount of financial assistance is available – please contact the King County Master Gardener program office and a financial assistance form will be emailed to you. Phone: 206-543-0943 Email: [email protected]

For additional information, please visit the statewide website at: WSU Master Gardener Program

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Working with their local N.C. Cooperative Extension county center, Master Gardener℠ volunteers provide unbiased, research-based information that empowers residents to cultivate healthy gardens, landscapes, and ecosystems through safe, effective and sustainable gardening practices.

Since 1979, Extension has recruited, trained and engaged local residents to serve as Master Gardener volunteers who expand Extension’s capacity to meet the needs of the gardening public.

Under the guidance and direction of Extension agents, individuals complete a 40-hour training program, pass an examination, and complete at least a 40-hour internship to become certified Master Gardener volunteers. To remain active in the program, volunteers must complete a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer service and a minimum of 10 hours of continuing education each year.

Become a Master Gardener

The spring 2021 Master Gardener Virtual Training Course is full.Information about virtual and in-person courses for 2022 will be publicized through the Massachusetts Master Gardeners Association (MMGA) newsletter, The Dirt.[Subscribe to The Dirt]

How Can I Become a Massachusetts Master Gardener?

A Certified Massachusetts Master Gardener is a member of a large, like-minded community dedicated to horticulture and gardening. Master Gardeners share their knowledge, experience, and expertise with each other and the public.

Becoming a Massachusetts Master Gardener requires the completion of a horticultural learning program and a 60-hour internship.

The 2021 virtual program consists of twelve class sessions, each 3-hours long, using the Zoom platform. The topics are:

  • Orientation
  • Botany and Nomenclature
  • Soil Management
  • Woody Ornamentals
  • Perennials and Natives
  • Vegetables
  • Weeds and Invasive Species
  • Plant Diseases
  • Pest Control and Entomology
  • Propagation
  • Pruning
  • Garden Ecology

Each class is taught by an expert from such institutions and organizations as the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Trustees of Reservations, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts, University of Rhode Island, and Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum. There are weekly reading and homework assignments and mid-course and final exams. The class uses the Pennsylvania State University Extension Master Gardener manual. Additional resources are provided by both the MMGA and individual instructors.

The internship, which occurs after the successful completion of the classroom course, requires student Master Gardeners to complete 60 hours of volunteer work under the supervision of a Certified Master Gardener in at least one of our 40 project gardens in central and eastern Massachusetts (such as Tower Hill Botanic Garden, the Gardens at Elm Bank, Haskell Garden, Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters NHS, Long Hill, The Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) at Concord, and the Southwest Corridor Park).

Interns must also volunteer at either the Massachusetts Horticultural Society Helpline or Tower Hill Hortline and complete outreach activities such as Ask-a-Master-Gardener booths at farmers markets and autumn agricultural fairs. Interns are also required to complete at least six hours each in continuing education and MMGA-specific administrative work such as serving on a committee, attending Associates Meetings, or volunteering at our annual Massachusetts Gardening Symposium.

Once certified, active MMGA members must complete 30 hours of approved volunteering in gardens, outreach activities, continuing education, and MMGA administrative tasks each year and pay annual dues.

What are the Benefits to Becoming a Massachusetts Master Gardener?

Benefits of Massachusetts Master Gardener membership include the following:

  • Networking with other Master Gardeners
  • Participating annually in dozens of MMGA-sponsored no-cost/low-cost continuing education classes, workshops, field trips, and visits to members’ and project gardens
  • Supporting communities by nominating public or non-profit organizations to become official MMGA gardening sites, where MG volunteers provide free hands-on support
  • Recommending community fairs, plant sales, and other events for a free Ask-a-Master-Gardener or Soil pH Testing table staffed by MGs
  • Learning how to be a compelling, informative speaker by joining our Speakers Bureau and presenting lectures on favorite topics to garden clubs and other organizations
  • Attending bi-monthly Associates Meetings which include horticulture presentations, organizational and member news, and time to socialize with fellow MGs
  • Receiving monthly member-written newsletters that cover a wide variety of topics

If you would like to become part of this dedicated community of gardeners, the MMGA provides a comprehensive learning experience. The MG Training Course is open to Massachusetts residents 18 years old and older.

If you would like to be added to our mailing list and be notified when registration opens for our next class, please sign up for our monthly newsletter The Dirt.

Best Master Gardener Alternative: Colorado State Certified Gardener Program

Colorado State University

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Colorado State University

Why We Chose It: Those who can’t go through their local office for master gardener programs can still become an authority on gardening with the Certified Gardener program, a self-led online certificate course at Colorado State that offers an extensive guide to how plants grow, diagnostics and pest management, landscape design, and more.

Similar to a traditional master gardener program without in-person volunteer requirements

Ability to purchase individual segments of the coursework

Colorado State is leading the way when it comes to online, fully remote training for Master Gardener candidates, with 10 weeks of core training through live and recorded webinars, Q&A sessions, and self-paced lessons before students engage in the required 50 hours of volunteering over the following year. But those who aren’t ready for such a hefty time commitment—or who simply don’t live in Colorado—can get in on the top-notch education, too.

Colorado State’s Certified Gardener Program is modeled after the same curriculum that its Master Gardener program uses, but it follows a self-guided structure and doesn’t require any volunteer hours. Sign up for individual segments (or “Quest Bundles”) that focus on specific tasks, like growing fruits and vegetables or “water-wise” landscape design, for about $110 to 150 per segment. Or you can enroll in the full program for a little more than $650 for the most extensive training in the art of gardening. Each segment has a recommended timeline for completion, but students can move at their own pace. No experience? Rest easy—there’s no application required.

Watch the video: Master Gardeners Make a Difference in Minnesota

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