Master Gardeners, Who they are, What they do

Since being certified as a Master Gardener in 1997 I’ve met hundreds of gardeners, many of them Master Gardeners so I think I have a pretty good idea of what exactly makes these folks “tick”.

Here on DG and elsewhere I’ve heard folks refer to Master Gardeners as “know it alls”, “uppity”, “they talk down to me”, “ they think they are better than me”, and so forth. I want to proclaim that these statements couldn’t be farther from the truth. Needless to say as in any national organization there are a few bad apples. The majority of Master Gardeners are friendly, generous, helpful and passionate about gardening.

We never stop learning, and believe me we don’t think we know more than anyone else about horticulture.

I want to familiarize you with the program and what a MG does to receive that title and how they use the knowledge gleaned to aid their community.

The Master Gardener program was started back in the 1970’s; it was established to aid the local extension offices to serve the public in the area of horticulture.

All of the 50 states have Master Gardener programs and they are organized by county. The requirements vary slightly from state to state, but the majority of programs are very similar. Most of the information that I’m providing is based on the Michigan program under the auspices of Michigan State University.

In my county there are 2 Master Gardener classes held each year. Each is 14 weeks long and each session lasts for 3 hours. The subjects covered are Soil Science, Plant Science, Lawn Care, Flowers, Woody Ornamentals, Small Fruit culture, Indoor Plants, Tree Fruit culture, Vegetable culture, Integrated Pest Management, Household Insects, Diagnostics, Composting, Volunteering and Community Service. The classes are taught by Extension agents, college professors or Advanced Master Gardeners who are proficient in a particular area. Each student is provided with a handbook (which weighs about 20 pounds). There is a weekly quiz where a grade of 70% or better is required to pass. At the end of the course a final exam is given, again a grade of 70% or better is required.

Upon completion each student must complete 40 hours of community service within 1 year in order to be certified as a Master Gardener. After the first year each Master Gardener must complete 15 hours of community service and 5 hours of education hours in order to remain certified.

The education hours consist of programs, lectures or horticultural classes held by various organizations.

There is also an Advanced Master Gardener designation which consists of a MG completing 65 hours of community service and 30 educational hours within 5 years of completing the initial training.

I think most MG’s think of the community service as a fun event rather than a chore. At our county Master Gardener banquet this year I received my 2500 hour service pin. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every single hour of my volunteer time.

Probably the most rewarding community service programs consist of working with kids. Schools, Junior Master Gardener programs and 4-H groups are just a few examples.
We answer questions at State and County fairs, Farmer’s Markets, and various flower and garden shows.

Most counties have a horticultural hot line where residents can call in with their home and garden questions. These calls are answered by MG’s. If the problem can’t be resolved over the phone diagnostic services are available. Gardeners bring in a plant or insect sample and MG’s will diagnose the problem. They have a ton of reference books and data bases from which to search for an answer. If the problem can’t be resolved locally the sample is sent to the state university where a solution will be sent to the homeowner in a week or 2.

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