How to Become a Master Gardener: Education and Career Roadmap

Jul 17, 2018

Explore the requirements to become a master gardener. Learn about the job description and duties, and go through the step-by-step process that can help you start a career as a master gardener. View article »

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  • 0:00 Master Gardeners
  • 0:45 Career Information
  • 1:37 Step 1: Apply
  • 2:10 Step 2: Screening & Interview
  • 3:13 Step 3: Take the Classes
  • 4:11 Step 4: Volunteer Hours

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Video Transcript

Master Gardeners

Master gardeners are volunteers who have received the requisite gardening education and performed volunteer work in the gardening community. They are knowledgeable about the issues that influence horticulture in their specific geographic area, including fruit-bearing trees and bushes, pests, climate, flowers and vegetables. Master gardeners act as official representatives of county extension offices, providing education to the community and assistance to local gardeners with gardening issues. The biggest drawback to being a master gardener is that it's a volunteer position, so there may not be an opportunity for financial compensation. However, you'll have the chance to work outdoors and connect with the gardening community.

Career Information

Degree Level None
Certification Master gardeners must obtain certification, which is only valid during the volunteer's active participation in the program
Experience Varies from none to home gardening
Key Skills Interest in gardening, good communication skills, time and willingness to volunteer;
Salary Not applicable; this is a volunteer position

Source: University extension offices for Colorado, California, Pennsylvania and New York

To be a master gardener, you'll need an interest in gardening and a willingness to volunteer with gardening-related events. Experience is desirable, as it's difficult to provide training to someone who doesn't have some gardening background. Since master gardener programs are conducted in conjunction with the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Cooperative Extension System, all states have the same general requirements. No degree is required, but master gardeners must obtain certification, which is only valid during a volunteer's active participation in the program. Along with an interest in gardening, master gardeners should have good communication skills, and the time and willingness to volunteer. Proficiency with computers isn't necessary, but some counties offer their master gardener courses as a distance learning option. Let's explore some of these requirements in more depth.

Step 1: Apply

Master gardener programs are provided in conjunction with the cooperative extension service through each state's university system. In some locations, there are far more applicants than openings, and there may be a wait list. If interested, you can find the master gardener program application on your county extension office's website.

Success Tip:

  • Pay the tuition. Due to the limited number of openings, applications are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. It's advisable to pay the tuition at the time the application is submitted, which may lead to first consideration.

Step 2: Screening & Interview

Master gardener programs conduct a screening and interview process for all applicants. Many offices require applicants to provide references, which they check. Applicants are judged on their gardening knowledge, passion for the subject, experience and willingness to participate in the program fully.

Success Tips:

  • Be forthcoming. Due to federal requirements involving volunteers, many extension offices screen all applicants. While criminal history or other issues are not necessarily grounds for denying an application, applicants should disclose any information about previous offenses. If an offense is minor or old, an extension office may not find an applicant's past history to be an obstacle to participation in the master gardener program.
  • Make a good impression. Master gardeners are official representatives of the extension office's outreach to the community; therefore, they can be very particular about who they admit to the program. Applicants should treat this like an important job interview. Be professional and dress appropriately.

Step 3: Take the Classes

Students accepted into master gardener programs take approximately 60 hours of classes relating to gardening issues and situations unique to the geographic area in which the extension office is located. Students usually attend classes in the county in which they'll live and garden, which are offered over a four-month period during the winter, and completed in time for the spring planting season.

Success Tips:

  • Attend the classes. Some master gardener programs have minimum attendance requirements that students have to meet before they can receive the master gardener certification. Many programs will drop students who have missed too many classes. In addition, students who do miss a session are responsible for learning the information covered, since there are usually no make-up classes available.
  • Study the lessons. Some programs require a minimum passing score on exams before students can receive the master gardener certification. Students should make sure to review each lesson carefully.

Step 4: Volunteer Hours

Most master gardener programs require a minimum of 50 hours of volunteer service in the extension office's community outreach program before students receive the master gardener certification. This service can be performed in a variety of ways, such as answering phone calls and providing gardening advice to callers, teaching classes, maintaining an office's website or participating in on-site projects. After the first year of volunteering, a master gardener is required to volunteer for 20 to 25 hours per year and take continuing education courses in order to maintain certification.

Success Tip:

  • Maintain professional conduct. Many programs require a certain degree of decorum while the volunteer is working as a master gardener. Profanity, aggressive conduct, improper attire and other unprofessional behaviors are not permitted.

Remember, master gardeners are not paid for their work and must attend a class and pass background checks and exams before they can work for their county extension offices.

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