hiring a master gardener

applejrJuly 23, 2013

Hey! new member here. I'm not sure if this is the perfect place to ask this, but thought it'd be a good place to start. I'm a new homeowner (first house) and the house I bought was kept in pretty good shape, including the house. The problem is I don't know much at all about gardening and plant life, and don't know a lot of what is already planted and how to care for it.

I thought it'd be money well spent if I just hired an expert for an hour or two, to walk around my yard with me, point out what things are, educate me on basic care, and answer questions. Is that kind of service available anywhere? Or should I just find a local gardener and ask them directly?

Thanks in advance for any pointers!


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Depends on where you are located but sure, that is a service that is widely available :-) I would caution you as to how you ask for what you are wanting.......not really a "master gardener" but a consulting horticulturist (lots of baggage comes with the term "master" gardener and it doesn't necessarily mean anyone particularly skilled at what you need). Sometimes these folks are also called 'garden coaches' or just plain old garden consultants.

My first inclination would be to ask at local nurseries or retail garden centers (not the box stores!) - lots of times they have referral lists for landscaping professionals. Or if there are any local horticultural colleges, try there.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 7:36PM
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Awesome, thanks for cleaning up my terminology...and I work for one of those box stores, so don't knock em too much! :)

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:49AM
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Not knocking them - I shop them myself! You never know what you might find. It's just that some folks - usually novice gardeners - think they are garden centers or retail nurseries when they are just big stores that sell plants and supplies, among a whole bunch of other stuff :-) Independent garden centers - stores that specialize primarily in plants and gardening - usually have a network of landscape professionals they can refer you to or even have them on staff. Gardening and landscaping is their entire focus and the knowledge base is often very high.

FWIW, I am a consulting horticulturist myself and work for a large independent retail nursery in my area. I go out on onsite calls several times a week!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 3:01PM
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I know, was just giving you a hard time. Garden specific stores will usually have the better specialists, although we do make quite an effort to hire knowledgeable people and train them, not just people to stock shelves. I will head by the local nursery this weekend to see what they say.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 11:12AM
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Hi gardengal48!

You brought up an issue that I would really like to get the scoop on.
I'm thinking about going through the MN Master Gardner program.
Just for fun and a way to meet like minded people.
I have fears of being surrounded by folks who might take the title "Master" a little too seriously.
Is this part of the "baggage" you mentioned in your earlier post?
Or could you fill me in?

Thank Much!

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 5:47PM
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iclimbtrees - yes, that's a good part of it :-) A really unfortunate choice for the program title as a great many take the master portion to heart. And that applies to the general public as well as program participants. The GP I tend to excuse however, as misunderstanding the title "master gardener" is not their fault. But I can't tell you how many times I've encountered MG's who think they know it all. And they don't, period. To be fair, many are extremely knowledgeable, far and above their training, but the basic MG training does not begin to take one into the realm of professional horticulture and even degreed pros like me don't know it all either :-)

Also - and this is more to the OP's issues - master gardeners are not able to take on private jobs. They are volunteer-only under that title and chapter bylaws generally prohibit for onsite consultations to private properties.

But as much as I think there is a lot of confusion about the title 'master gardener", it is a wonderful program that spreads the value of gardening and the basic knowledge of horticulture across the country and is a great gardening meeting place as well as a positive volunteer activity. If you are interested in the program and have the time to volunteer (requirements vary by area), by all means join.

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 7:10PM
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Interesting discussion about Master Gardeners and the reputation some of them have acquired in the link below.

To me, Master Gardeners are often enthusiastic amateurs, with all the good and bad that entails. Ever been to a comic-con?

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Rant

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 9:50AM
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Thank you gardengal48!

Thanks so much for the info
What a shame that a few can give so many such a bad name.
I will most likely pursue as education track versus the MG track.
Am looking into Twin city schools right now.
Unfortunately, U of M no longer has a Hort program so I feel a bit lost.
I am strictly interested in creating beautiful spaces and botany (as it applies to design). Too old to go through an entire Landscape Arch program and love to get dirty!
There are several small colleges that offer programs...just not sure if they "hold water".
Any thought?
Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 10:26AM
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I am a 'retired' Master Gardener and do business of caring for plants for friends & neighbors; getting work mostly through word-of-mouth.

The MG program gives one a basic introduction to all serious subjects relating to gardening: the ecology of the natural world. As with all education, each person will pursue their particular interest for the rest of their life.

The main value of the program is setting priorities to the approach to gardening: considering all the living things in your garden, not mainly flowers as many amateurs gardeners seem to do.
The people come in all sizes and colors but the experience of being among like-minded folks is wonderful, not to be missed. It has changed my life for the better!
If you are a 'giving' person you'll love this program!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 12:20PM
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Hi Grassyfields,

Thank you for sharing your perspective.
I found it very encouraging.
To me I could never approach the MA program with a need to increase ego or status.
Respect is truly earned...not given to you on a piece of paper.
Sounds like some MAs have lost sight of this but my guess is that most are just like you.
Kind, intuitive and love to share/gain knowledge.

Thank you again!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 8:07PM
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Hi All, I am a MG, a professional garden designer, an experienced gardener and a teacher. I would like to add that the MG program is a very thorough overview presented by many extremely well regarded professionals and PHDs who are willing to share their time and expertise with passionate gardeners, who in return share their time and knowledge with the public.

While classroom and book knowledge does not take the place of actual gardening experience, the MG is a great place to start. A great many of the MGs I know have a lifetime of experience. Yes, the course requires 60 hours of volunteer community service, and it also requires several months of classes, various testing, and each year afterwards requires additional training. I would not consider this degree of dedication "amateurish", although yes, some do it just for the love of gardening.

I would whole heartedly recommend consulting with a MG for any home or business owner, as well as landscaping professionals. MGs working in the cooperative extension centers assist professional landscapers with diagnostic answers, problem solutions, IPM, soil testing, and information for the proper use of fertilizers and pesticides.

During my coursework I met many professional people in various green businesses who were taking the course as well, and would encourage others to do so.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2013 at 4:52PM
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Hi Bantamkeeper,

Just wanted to thank you for your perspective.
Makes me even more excited as I will be taking the MG courses this Fall (MN).
I've heard mixed reviews about MGs and that the quality of the course varies from state to state.
What state are you in?


    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 6:31AM
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Sharron, I'm in CT, and of course as with anything else each person brings their own degree of interest and dedication. By and large the folks I've met through MG have been professional, curious, intelligent and extremely generous with their support and enthusiasm. The obvious other part of the equation is that what you put out there is what you attract : )
I think you will love the program and may be surprised by the new and interesting things that will capture your interest. It's a solid launching point, and you choose your own trajectory. You'll be glad you did it!

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 3:38PM
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Oh, and BTW, somewhere on here someone wrote that MGs may not take on private jobs. That is incorrect. You are free to do whatever you want on your own time. I think the point was that when you are putting in your county extension or community hours you are answering questions or doing outreach on a volunteer basis. It seems like there is an awful lot of misinformation being posted. Check out the MG website for the best answers, and keep an open mind. Good luck and have fun : )

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 3:50PM
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You must be writer...you have a way with words:)

Thank You Again,

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 4:11PM
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Oh, and BTW, somewhere on here someone wrote that MGs may not take on private jobs. That is incorrect.

That was me and if you reread what I wrote you will see I very clearly indicated that they were prohibited from taking on private jobs under that title.

Washington state was where this now international program originated and I am very familiar with it.....in fact, I've taught more than a few MG classes. Although by-laws may vary a bit from state to state, there have always been very strict rules as to how the title can be used. MG's cannot use the title to endorse or promote any sort of product or business, including their own. They may however use their experience and training as qualification when applying for a job although they may not use that title at that place of employment. It is an honorific to be used only when actively volunteering.

So yes, you can certainly hire someone who is a master gardener that has a garden-related business......you just cannot hire a Master Gardener :-) Do you get the distinction?

    Bookmark   September 11, 2013 at 5:46PM
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Hi all! I am looking to hire an EXPERIENCED gardener, whether it be a master gardener of a self taught plant/flower guru. I have exhausted every resource to hire someone new. The current gardener wants $80/hr tax free PLUS all materials (bags, chemicals, etc...)
I do not want to under value someone's services but this seems VERY steep! I am located in Northville, MI. Can anyone make suggestions? I have already called high end nurseries, local garden clubs, the Mich. State Univ. MG program!!!
Thank you all

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 8:19PM
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What do you mean "tax free"? Unless you're hiring them as a W-2 employee and putting them on payroll, their taxes are their problem and frankly none of your business, unless they've said something like "I need paid in cash and/or gift cards because I don't pay taxes." In which case, eff 'em.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2014 at 10:38PM
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Hi, demikaz,

$80.00 an hour for a gardener's time may seem high, but it depends on a lot of factors. Namely, how much experience the gardener has, what his target market is (high end residential, commercial, etc.), and how much he values his time, if he's doing all the work himself, etc. I have some container gardener friends who charge up to $100.00 for their design and install time, plus mark ups on plants and materials.

Shop around. If you're just looking for advice, paying for an hour of a garden coaches time might be a good investment.

Or ask a Master Gardener to come give you a consult. That wouldn't cost you anything.

The Master Gardener program is a great place to get a basic education in plant culture, physiology, ecology, and other areas, from disease and pest identification and treatment to design to pruning, etc. It is basic knowledge and not meant to be a degree program, but many Master Gardeners love plants and gardens and have been doing it all their lives. Others are retired and want to learn more about gardening so they can start and better care for their own gardens.

I'm a registered landscape architect, a garden designer and coach, and a garden writer, and have taken supplemental horticulture courses as well as our area's Master Gardener program. As a landscape architect, most of my career I focused on site design. When I switched to specializing in garden design, I figured the more I could learn about the cultural aspects of plants and gardens, the better designer I would be. The MG program was one such resource to take advantage of (and now I'm looking at becoming a certified plant professional - the learning never ends!). :)

Some MG are garden designers by profession. We're just not allowed to advertise the fact that we're MG for commercial gain.

Usually, the MGs who've been in it for a while are the most knowledgeable. A 10 year veteran would be a good bet for a consult.

Our program allows residential consulting is one way we get our volunteer hours in. Yours might, too. Call your local extension office and ask for someone to come out to you place.

But from your post it seems you want someone to take care of your grounds. Have you called landscape maintenance companies?

    Bookmark   July 9, 2014 at 12:37PM
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