Questions about Master Gardener Programs

Judy - 8-TXJune 14, 1999


I was wondering if a few of you master gardeners out there could give me an idea of what the programs are like. I looked on the net and I didn't see an extension service program in my county. There is a master gardener program at Texas A&M but that is probably 2 hours from here by car.

I am looking for a career change (not quite "mid-life") after my youngest starts in kindergarten a couple of years from now. I have been an R.N. for 12 years and don't really want to go back to that stress. Just being a mom is stress enough for me.

I have a forest green thumb and have loved growing plants since my mom and dad let me have a pothos in my room at the age of 8. I didn't kill it believe it or not, a year later it was 6ft. long. I got bitten by the orchid "bug" 3 or 4 years ago and my collection has grown to 80+ plants. Do you specialize in a specific type of plant? Are the programs open to people who just love plants or do you have to have a degree in something plant related? Any other comments would be welcome.

Thanks in advance for your time.

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cactus jack

Hi judy, every county in the U.S. has a cooperative extention office. Look in you tele. book under gov. listings and it should be there. Try they have listings for coop. offices. Cactus Jack

    Bookmark   June 14, 1999 at 8:04PM
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Alice - 7b

Hi, Judy,I just completed the Master Gardener course in South Carolina. The best way I can describe it is that it's a college-level Horticulture 101 course: all the basics, from soil to diseases to culture of various types of plants. It's a good, solid foundation course, and what I especially liked about it is that it is tailored to your state and your particular area of the state (I had to unlearn a lot of stuff from when I gardened up North). In the class I took, I found the interests and backgrounds of the students ranged from true beginners (every lecture seemed to be a revelation) to gardeners with quite a lot of experience and interest in specific areas, such as roses or camellias. You will undoubtedly know more about orchids than anyone in your class but may have a lot to learn in another area, perhaps vegetable gardening or lawn maintenance. In addition to the classes (3 hours a week for 4 months) there is a test to pass and then you must give 40 hours of volunteer work as a Master Gardener. Your extension office can tell you more. The main thing to realize is that the Master Gardener course is only one course--it is not the equivalent of a horticulture degree, nor will it qualify you as a landscape architect. However, it's fun, gives you access to really relevant materials (no need to rely on gardening books from England for those Texas gardening problems!), and it builds a community of people who share a love of gardening. I don't know what it's like in Texas, but here in South Carolina there's a waiting list to get in the class, so call your extension office as soon as you can to get more information!

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 20, 1999 at 8:44PM
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Margaret Sinclair - 9a/b Houston

Hi Judy,
This Wednesday is my last day of class for the spring semester of the Fort Bend County MG class. It's 35 miles from my house. There's no night class in Harris county (Houston), so we (Houstonites) all go out there.

We're also 1.5 hours from A&M, who run the MG courses in Texas. What part of the state do you live in?

If you can, the courses are terrific. We toured the hort dept at A&M and have had great speakers on a wide variety of subjects specific to our area. Like termites, cockroaches, heat, humidity, gumbo soil, hot weather plants, heat stress. It's been a ball.

Here's my impression of the overall program. If the coordinator at the local course isn't good, you'll have a problem. Our class is a night class with working people and we make arrangements to be where we need to be to fulfill our obligations to the program. It seemed that this particular course, for working individuals, wasn't as well coordinated as we needed. We had a class that had no speakers, and have arrived for our designated hours of work with no work to perform. These may be issues with all MG groups, not just ours.

We had the A&M MG coordinator as a speaker one evening and he told us that the program was not designed to give everyone the training. They intended to be somewhat selective in not who, so much, as how many people could attend.

To many of those in my class, the course was somewhat misrepresented. Yes, we get the training and we do volunteer work. What wasn't clear was that the volunteer work had to be in conjunction with the sponsoring extension service. So any work you might want to do for another group, say, the Rose Society or your neighborhood gardening group wasn't accepted. The volunteer hours are to give work back to the sponsoring extenstion service - not specifically to enhance your learning experience, so to speak. That's probably why the course is inexpensive. No, no, it's inexpensive so that no one is left out for financial reasons, that's why.

After the course, one can change MG affiliation to another extension service if you wish. However, each ext serv has particular days and hours which are available for volunteer work. Be sure to verify what those hours are. Continuing to be a MG requires additional volunteer hours each year.

The other interesting item is that you may only announce, communicate or otherwise admit to being a Master Gardener at an A&M Master Gardening or Extension Service approved event. So no selling your services as an accredited MG person. That certainly makes sense, but not being allowed to say you've attained a certain level of knowledge or attended classes specifically to learn and share is strange to me. I understand that they don't want anyone to make a profit off the MG courses. Maybe I just don't understand being allowed to say that you are one...?

All in all, I'm glad I did it and I've learned a bunch about horticulture for my area. Maybe I'm one of those who...

    Bookmark   June 21, 1999 at 12:24PM
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Pat - 72682

I've been a Master Gardener in Arkansas for the past 5 years. We do not have a real large group, but we meet once a month. We do barrel plantings on the square for those businesses that wish to participate. They pay a small price for plants, fertilizer, etc. We do a couple of flower beds in town on the main street for all to enjoy, and have had a few other projects at public places. We have a new postoffice and started some plantings there this year. We also started a "Yard of the Month" contest in the county this year and it is going well. We do a little column in the local newspaper and receive numerous requests for advice from locals. As a fund raiser we have a spring plant sale with our Master Gardeners furnishing the plants. Usually dividing perennials or houseplant cutting that have been rooted and come up with a really unusual grouping of plants. It has done well for us. We handle the horticulture classes at the fair in August and are in the process of putting a booklet together on showing in these classes. There are many things you can do as a Master Gardener. Since our county is small, our Extension Agent leaves it up to us as to how to better the community gardening wise. It's a lot of fun, but should be taken seriously as far as paying back your time.

    Bookmark   July 13, 1999 at 8:55PM
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Bobbi - 5

I am a Master Gardener in Michigan. I have just (hurray!) finally completed volunteer and educational hours to get my advanced status. I think the programs may vary slightly from state to state, or even county to county.

Here you must apply to take the course, which is very extensive. You must state why you would like to do so on the application. It costs, I think, about $150 dollars, maybe more now. Some of the money is refunded after your volunteer hours are completed. You must put in a certain amount of Extension approved hours to get certified. After that just about any volunteer hours (short of working for an individual) are acceptable to recertify each year. I can work with my local garden club to get these hours. We have many community projects we work on.

One of the things I liked about taking the classes was there were people from so many different backgrounds. Some people came in knowing very little about gardening but had a desire to learn more. And there were professionals there too, such as landscapers.Here in Michigan, the educational hours for an avanced title can be earned at a 3 day class packed event at which you get to pick the classes you want. It's a great program and I highly recommend it.

    Bookmark   July 28, 1999 at 4:40PM
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Kay - 8b

Hi Judy,
Finished my MG course in Hancock County Ext. Agency located on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. The course was extremely rewarding, and I was amazed and the variety of topics covered. The first class was attended by around 150 people, most of whom gradually dropped out. The final class was approximately 50 people (3-county wide). We have monthly meetings which also count toward making up the 40 volunteer hours. We start our first project next week--we're landscaping and planting gardens around the civic center in the small town of Waveland. I would highly recommend trying to get several people interested in starting a class in your county. Good luck,

    Bookmark   July 30, 1999 at 8:20PM
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Delann - 5

Master Gardener programs, entrance criteria, volunteer hour requirements vary from state to state and probably from county to county. I finished master gardener training about 2 years ago and the courses were generally taught by professors from the University of Illinois. It cost me $60 and 60 hours of volunteer work that also gave em access to University of Illinois publications offered through our local unit of the UofI Extension.

I learned a number of things through the trainingbut, in general, I was surprised at how much I already knew. In any area of expertise, you are likely to learn nothing through Master Gardener training. Our training in vegetables and fruits I could have learned by reading the back of a seed package.

You're also going to find that the training is biased from the point of view of the instructor. Of course! I am an organic gardener and the MG's who grow this way were made fun of by some of the the point of trying to humiliate us. This really ticked me off. As a volunteer, I was put into the position of making recommendations about pesticides and herbicides that I would never use. And the university did not provide us with any information on organic pest control I think this was a real oversight because we got plenty of requests for that type of information.

But, overall, I was glad I took the training. I have met a number of other gardeners in my area I probably would not have met. And, I have learned a lot by being connected through the extension volunteer work.

Oh, one other thing. The vast majority of people who received master gardener training in my area never bothered to do the volunteer hours and I think that is a shame. They took the training and signed the agreement but didn't fulfill their end of the bargain. I think they need to develop a solution for this. In any case, I can't see any legal way for them to enforce this part of the agreement. As far as I can tell, you don't need to do the volunteer hours if you don't want to. No one is going to knock on your door with an arrest warrant and you aren't going to end up in court with a breach of contract lawsuit.

    Bookmark   November 5, 1999 at 9:39AM
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linda - 5a-No. IL

If you are looking for a career change to the hort. biz, then you would be much better off going to, for example, a community college and getting a 2 yr. degree in hort. (or one of the specialities) or a local arboretum that has a certificate program. The Master Gardener program is only equivalent to a Hort. 101 class at the comm. college level, which is pretty basic. You would have a better chance of finding a job with some type of degree or certificate than trying to find a job by saying you're a "Master Gardener". I know a number of nursery owners who aren't that impressed with "Master Gardeners" and wouldn't hire them.

    Bookmark   November 15, 1999 at 6:43PM
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I would like to take Master Gardener's Training, but all the programs in my area (metro Portland, Oregon) are all one entire weekday for 14 weeks, Jan-Mar. Are there any ones out there by videos etc. or that operate on Saturdays, as a suggestion for the local MGs? I can't afford to quit work for 4 months minimum just for volunteer training...
I garden in a community garden(city of Beaverton) & spend a lot of time informally helping the other gardeners,-by trading ideas,drawing on my extensive background & haunting the resources of local library systems(3 different cards)...but there's always something new to learn.

    Bookmark   December 9, 1999 at 10:58PM
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I have been a Univ Cal Master Gardener for 3 years. All the information we received was university based and when we give information to clients, we give them choices on what they can do. Since I passed the test, I have never stopped learning and have changed many of my garden practices to what I have learned. I also chair the Field Testing committee which is very educational and enjoyable.

Master Gardeners in California may not use their "title" in any business they are involved in.

Our program is 8 weeks long - 1 full day a week. Other counties handle it differently. There are several small counties which do not have extension offices

Napa Valley

    Bookmark   December 16, 1999 at 5:58PM
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linda - 5a-No. IL

I applied to the master gardener program in my county and was accepted, but have decided not to pursue it. Before I get jumped on by other MGs, I have to tell you that I have a hort. cert., am a garden designer, work part time in a nursery, and give seminars and teach on natural landscaping topics. What turned me off about the MG program in my county was the emphasis on volunteering, actual learning was secondary. I DO NOT mean to say that I did not want to volunteer - I looked forward to it, especially sitting in the MG booth at the county fair or helping women prisoners garden at our county jail. What I am saying is that this was the ONLY thing the interviewer was interested in (60 hrs. required) - have I ever volunteered in the past, how many hours, what did I do, where did I do it, etc. etc. When I asked the interviewer whether this is the only criteria that people are judged on for the MG program, then she changed the subject.

The course book in my county costs $100 - I did not see why I should spend that amount of money for the privilege of volunteering, when in reality I and other MG trainees are doing the MG program a favor by being there, not the other way around. For me, that $100 is better spent on a professional seminar or workshop, not on a handbook that covers very basic horticultural topics, at best.

    Bookmark   December 28, 1999 at 11:05AM
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IronBelly Mays - 5a /SS41 - Iowa


I think you make some very valid points. Where I do give your local MG Program a lot of credit is that they let it be known up front that the volunteering was a big part of what they do. I have seen where people can get all the way through the program and then ask, "What do you mean VOLUNTEER hours???" --- I think that is worse.

This entire issue of volunteer hours is often handled pretty poorly around the country. I don't think the extension offices are trying to conceal anything. I just think they are poorly communicating all the facts. They assume the general public has more knowledge about the program than it really does. I think the offices would be much better off to describe the MG Program as a service organization that trades training for volunteer hours.

The training is only Hort 101. However, depending upon the person, it can open up a lot of doors to learning opportunity. It has helped me network with experts I probably would not have had the chance to meet. I think the program can be a great first step --- or something less.

With your training and background, the actual training would probably do you little good. However, like they always say about college; most of the really important stuff you learn after dark. That is an assessment only you can make.

Sadly, the $100 fee comes as a discouragement to people who take the course never to be seen again. From what I can tell of the Illinois Extension Service, they do a lot better job of running their program than some states. Living on the Iowa/Illinois border, I get to rub shoulders with them some. We even try to offer special additional training sessions to each other. I don't think there is as much wrong with your local program as there seems to be with the "packaging".


    Bookmark   December 29, 1999 at 9:57AM
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Carol the Weedlady

Came across an interesting thread in the Professional Gardener forum. I am working on my 2 cents worth to add. Those who have read/are reading this thread may want to go to the link below.

Like anything else, I think, one gets out of the program as much as one wants to put in. And there are certainly some MGs who are much more knowledgeable than others, and some who (most unfortunately) stick their noses up in the air just because they have that certificate. These are often the very ones who know a great deal less than many experienced, self-taught gardeners who don't happen to have that piece of paper.

To this thread I will add that the cost of taking the MG course in PA (in Indiana County, at least) was only $35 three years ago when I took it (don't know about now). I feel it was worth every cent for the big manual I received, not to mention the in-person instruction from experts in the field, including many Penn State profs, the on-going association with other gardeners, and the opportunity to continue learning. I look forward eagerly to the annual 2-day in-service and am thankful I have the luxury of having the time to do the volunteer work. It is made very clear at the beginning that the whole raison d'etre of Master Gardening is for us to give voluntarily of our time to share our knowledge and love of gardening with others, and to act as a liason between the public and the university ag dept. Most of the MGs in my county give a lot more than the required number of hours, too.

Persons who have not the time or inclination to give those hours, but who are looking for enough knowledge to get a job in horticulture would be much better advised to take actual university courses. Only 3 hours are given to each topic in MG training, which is certainly merely scratching the surface; therefore I feel it cannot even be said to be the equivalent of a Hort 101 course. Although MGs are required to maintain or expand their expertise by adding another 8 hours of instruction annually, there are many quite effortless (and certainly cost-free) ways of doing that.

The Master Gardener programs are open to anyone/everyone. I have read some comments from folks who say no one ever flunks the course, but again, because there is such an unfortunate disparity from one state to another, some exams are evidently more difficult than others. Over the past 3 years that I have been involved with MGs, each year a few people fail the course. It is not a shoo-in, particularly if one has not much gardening knowledge to begin with.

One need not have any sort of degree to take the course; there are no pre-requisites of any kind in that regard. Anyone who has not had a varied gardening experience (for example, has only grown orchids indoors), will find the course a much greater challenge. I had been mostly vegetable gardening for about 25 years or so (in 3 states and Europe, by turns) when I took the course. One reason I wanted to take it was that I was acutely aware...

    Bookmark   January 2, 2000 at 9:19PM
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Ram Martinez - Philippines

Hi, Judy,
I have been trying to find an international master gardener program for years. I did find the Longwood Gardens in Philly but unfortunately, they turned me down because I am a college instructor in my country. During summer break, I do teach to a few interested adult students of horticulture. I feel I am very inadequate still, so the reason for a master gardener program. Can you help me? Thank you.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2000 at 8:14AM
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Michelle - 5

HI everyone,
I am looking into master gardening but it sounds pretty basic. Does anyone know of a trade school or something to that effect that i could attend?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2000 at 4:51PM
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jean(Zone 7/TN)


You don't need to take off work for 4 months, this because the training is only one day a week. Thus, folks in this year's sessions (folks who had a full-time job) took their day-off on the same day they attended class.

If you think you'll be interested in the 2001 program, call the Multnomah County Extension to place your name on the list to receive an application. (Applications aren't mailed until November.)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2000 at 12:42AM
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Laura - 8/WA

Do you think it is realistic for someone to take off one day a week from work, every week, for 12 weeks? I would be fired after the third absence.


    Bookmark   October 8, 2000 at 1:34AM
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weze - 4a

I, too, have been a nurse (for 23 years) and am acutely aware of the stress of the career. I took a MG course in '92 (one day a week for 6 wks). We didn't have to apply for the course, just sign up. We recieved a very large binder with all the information that was taught to us during the course for our own use and reference guide. We did hands-on things outside so we could do these on our own after the course was over. We did not have to take a test after it was over, and we had to return 50 hours of volunteer time within 2 years to the extension office. That was easy, because they weren't too picky about what we could do. As long as you were helping someone in need with a gardening problem, it was OK. I usually go to an inservice every fall that they have in different areas of the state because I want to, not because I have to. I always go home learning something new every year. We do have to return a few hours back to the ext office every year, but it's not a great deal of time. I enjoy hearing other's problems and solutions. I have met and gotten to know many people from across the state and it's been wonderful to see them every year. Yes, it is basic for people that have a degree in hort or other landscaping areas. But, if you are going into it just for the joy of gardening, then do it. It's great. I judge for the achievement days that we have every year for 4-H and you find some very young kids that really enjoy the challenge of gardening from year to year. No, you can't get a job in landscaping or design after taking this class, but it sure helps if you're trying to do your own yard (like I have been for the last few years). If you're doing it for your own self-worth and to get a little R-and-R, it's worth it.
Our state usually has 3 sites in different areas of the state that you can attend, whichever is closer to you (usually one in the west, middle and east part of the state) Here, you can call the ext agent and request that one of the classes be in your area. (It's not guaranteed that it will be there that year, but it is there eventually.)For me, it was worth the trouble of taking the class. It's help me grow as a person and as a gardener!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2000 at 7:01PM
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Linda - 7

I took the Master Gardening Course in Washington State 22 years ago. I have not changed professions - I am in the health profession and did change a part time job so that I could spend more time gardening. I continue to volunteer in projects related to gardening and have taught classes about organic gardening in a state that did not have a Master Gardener program. I was impressed with the knowlege of the people who taught the classes as well as those who attended. You will most likely find retired "scientists" (these are individuals who have been extremely interested in their work, intelligent, curious people) who are ready to put a lot of energy onto a new focus. Some of the people I took the class with all those years ago have become experts in a small area of gardening - dahlias, pears, water gardens, pruning and have worked professionally without a college degree in horticulture. These people had degrees in engineering, teaching, therapy,law before they took the Master Gardening classes. They are ba

    Bookmark   November 18, 2000 at 12:56AM
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I tok the Master Gardener course at Mercer Arboretum In Spring, Texas. I can't say enough about this course. The course was one day (8 hours) a week from March thru May. The course is taught under the guidance of Texas A&M university and the county extension office. It is taught by PHD's and other experts. The level of instruction is just as good if not better than college level. We have classroom and hands on instruction. The class is made up of people from all walks of life who have a passion for gardening. We are taught that a flower is just not a pretty thing. We are taught about disease, insects, fertilization, pesticides, etc. By the end of the course some of us were able to diagnose disease and insect damage and pinpoint treatments. Because we were not the extension office, we did not have to volunteer on the phones. We could volunteer a few hours a week in the green house propagating, on the arboretun grounds, gardening or on a number of other projects. Because it is an arboretum, we are always surrounded by beautiful gardens! You must complete 60 hours of volunteer time in one year before you are rewarded with your certification. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial for Mercer Arboretum, I must say they really appreciate their volunteers and show it in many different ways.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2002 at 12:57PM
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As a Master Gardener coordinator and an adjunct Hort instructor. I will say that Master Gardener Training in my county is actually a bit more practical and useful than Principles of Horticulture. We cover most of the same information, but it is more indepth and more practical. Hort 101 is also just an introduction to horticulture. One area where Hort 101 is better is the hands on experience that is gained in the lab portion of the training. MG training is theory, not hands on. I will say that I am more comfortable asking a MG for help find and answer to a question than I would be asking one of my students from Hort 101.


    Bookmark   October 16, 2002 at 11:31AM
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Interesting topic!

Anyone know if such is available in Mississippi and if they
accept handicapped individuals?

    Bookmark   April 19, 2003 at 4:58PM
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Aya_Amauta(9 CA)

Hello my dear Brothers and Sisters of the verdant fields, remember that to be a Master Gardener on this outside 3D world always reflects the Master Gardener that we are on the inner spiritual worlds and beyond where our true desire is to co-create health and beauty for ourselves and all others. To heal the Earth is to heal yourself.

I encourage you to look into the Master Gardener Programs at the Cooperative Extension departments that are offered at your local University. These programs only cost a fraction of what is normaly charged for just one semister. For example, here in Fresno California the M.G. Program is about $103 dollars, whereas one semister at the University of Fresno is around $640 dollars, a big difference!

Here is a link that might be useful: GardenWeb

    Bookmark   May 8, 2003 at 10:51PM
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You seem to be ready to extend yourself with such a stress relief as hort. therapy. I would look into an adult center with/without a program and if you have invite your child and get started. I think righ now you don't have to be cert. and with your nursing, sounds like right up your alley. The MG is great but you seem ready for something more.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2003 at 6:53PM
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