What’s New in the Master Gardener World?


MG blog
Seems like most news about Extension Services and their Master Gardener programs is about budgets being slashed and programs being shut down altogether.  But in other news, Master Gardener programs are going online, going digital, and maybe doing more with less.  Please weigh in with more examples that you know of, and discuss the implications (like you always do).

Online training

From Fresh Dirt, we learn that online training is the new big thing, and Oregon‘s is “hugely popular”.  No surprise – it seems like a great answer to the problem of daytime training limiting Master Gardener programs to retirees only. Washington alternates traditional local training in each county with online study, with the online sessions being taught by “the best faculty in the business,” according to Fresh Dirt.  That implies that online training may solve another often-reported problem with Master Gardener – low-quality teaching.  More examples of online training are in Illinois, Texas and one county in Virginia.

Digital textbooks

Again, Washington State has stepped up to offer trainees the chance to save money by purchasing a CD of the textbook for $25, a big savings over the print version – $125!  (Ridiculous, but aren’t all textbooks priced ridiculously?)

The No-Volunteer Option

Oregon now offers trainees the option to pay $100 more for the training (for a total of $490) and become a certified Master Gardener without ever having to do time as a volunteer.  In my casual review of state programs this option appeared surprisingly often.  GRowItEatIt

Blogs and websites

There’s a national Master Gardener blog – anybody reading it?  Its blogroll of state Master Gardener blogs reveals just six but there may be many more because Maryland’s wonderful blog isn’t there.  It’s called Grow It Eat It because it’s all about growing food.

Master Gardeners and the National Arboretum

More news may be in the works, if gossip about the National Arboretum’s new director proves to be correct.  Director Colien Hefferan formerly administered Cooperative Extension Services nationally at the USDA, and I’m hearing that she may create a national center or resource at the Arb for Master Gardeners everywhere.

Meanwhile, in the Nation’s Capital

Long-time readers may remember that back in 2007 I supposedly blew the whistle on the DC Master Gardener program, so it’s time for an update.  Community service credits are still being given for volunteering in private gardens, but now only half the required credits can be gotten that way – and that’s the single improvement I’ve heard about in this sorry excuse for a Master Gardener program.  DC’s Master Gardeners still aren’t allowed to organize and create projects, and it’s the only website-free program in the U.S. (Here’s the full list by state.) The same people are in the same jobs.  And there’s so much need for their services!  It’s really sad.


  1. Here in the KY Appalachians, they are experiementing with “Mountain Mondays” a live streaming video of various Extension classes. Saves me a 4 hour round trip.

    Our Master Gardeners Group just hosted their annual plant swap open to the public. Good turnout considering the uncooperative weather.
    Love being a Master Gardener!

  2. I don’t have any local examples, but I do think that going online makes the information available to more people when it is convenient for them. The younger generation especially, as they develop a taste for gardening, is likely to head first to the computer for information about anything.

    I do see two issues. First, it will be important for this online information to be found easily (the bane of all internet information) and easily searched. Second, I think it is still important to have a human to talk to, in the event that the information you need cannot be found.

    Stan Horst
    Publisher: BetterBenches.com

  3. Retirees are MORE desirable in Master Gardener programs for their ability to continue doing volunteer work beyond what is required.

    Business loves free labor.

    Garden & Be Well, XO TAra

  4. When I was applying for the Master Gardener program in Atlanta, GA (Cobb Co.), I was rejected the first 3 years I applied! They never said why but I suspect the person in charge was very “suspect” that a thirty-something male with hort. credentials seriously wanted to be a MG and would put in the requisite 50 hours of volunteer time required. Little did she know I was self-employed and LOOKING for a volunteer opportunity in gardening! Besides the fact that 95% of the group was retired and no longer able to do the “heavy lifting” that I was happy to do.

    Anyway, after several years of submitting my application and getting rejected, they saw I wasn’t going away and figured they ought to interview me so I finally got in and hit the ground running. I should note that demand was greater than available seats for training so they had to be selective in who they accepted into the flock, but seriously?

    On another note, each state is responsible for their respective MG program but I would like to see a more unified national group. Besides the bi-annual Int’l MG Symposium, it would be nice to have a more collective voice and centrailized organization. Having a single, authoritative source for BEST Practices would be fantastic. From there, regional and local links could drill down to more plant specific information for each zone, etc.

  5. Is EVERYTHING for sale? Paying extra to become Certified is just selling the title and degree. The MG program is not designed for personal enrichmnet, but to train to share knowledge with your community. Volunteering is the fundamental precept of this. Very bad idea!!!

  6. Wow … what is the point of becoming a master gardener without the volunteering aspect? I’m fine with people wanting to expand their knowledge of horticulture and fine with extensions offering that service, but it shouldn’t be called “Master Gardener.”

    I’m proud to be a master gardener not because of the knowledge I’ve gained but because of the community projects we do.

  7. I’d just like to point out an error – Oregon on-line participants who pay extra to not volunteer do NOT become Master Gardeners. They receive a Certificate of Home Horticulture certifying they have successfully completed the on-line course, but they are not certified Master Gardeners. So essentially, they get to pay extra to not volunteer. Both options have proven quite popular and the courses given twice each year fill quite rapidly.

  8. I’ve taken MG training in two states and the one in Ada County (Boise), Idaho has to be one of the best in the country! Things are done a little different here: there’s the basic MG program with the requisite volunteer hours. Then there’s the Advanced MG program that MG’s can take every summer – or not – and do volunteer hours. The MG manual is online for free download.

    There’s room for fifty people in each class and there’s always a waiting list. Having an online course would alleviate this problem and would also be great for a state that’s very rural like Idaho.

    People in the green industry can pay $100 extra and skip the volunteer hours. Because of this policy, most local nurseries – and other green industries – have MG’s on staff.

    In July, 2009, an association was formed to raise funds for equipment and projects that the regular Master Gardener program can’t do. At the time the association was formed, we were all wondering whether the MG program was going to survive the budget cuts. The association discussed taking over training if the program was cut. Our website is http://www.idahomga.org and one of our MG’s created the website for us. We’re a very talented group.

    While other newspapers are cutting the gardening sections, the Idaho Statesman started an online gardening newsletter three years ago and it includes a weekly MG column. See http://www.idahostatesman.com/gardening.

  9. Thanks for pointing out the error, Erin. As Erin noted, the folks who pay extra in the Oregon on-line training do not earn a Master Gardener badge. They instead earn a Certificate of Home Horticulture. This allows folks who want to participate in the coursework portion of the Master Gardener training to better their knowledge of sustainable gardening. But, Oregon doesn’t get the benefit of these folks formally passing on knowledge gained to their fellow Oregonians. Hence – the price difference between the volunteer and non-volunteer options – both of which fill quickly after registrations are opened.

  10. Hey Susan, thanks for the plug. Grow It Eat It is on Facebook and Twitter too, so we are with the times and not just mired in the turn of the century with the blog.

    I just heard of yet another Extension program closing, in my mom’s neck of the woods in NH. It does seem to be one of the first things cut when budgets are tight, despite providing a lot of services for relatively little money. Perhaps we’ll all just end up existing in cyberspace (I prefer dirt under my fingernails to pixels).

  11. Unfortunately, the counties around me have not caught up with the times. Where I live, MG classes take place about an hour from my home and while I’m at work. We’re heavy on retirees, stay-home Moms, & home-based businesses so it probably makes sense. But without a self-study or online option, gardeners with 40-hour/week jobs are left out. I looked into taking the courses in the county in which I work (again, daytime classes only, but only 20 minutes from the office), but then I’d have to take half of every Wednesday off between January & May. Much as I want to be a Master gardener, my schedule simply cannot guarantee such rigid compliance. I’ve got kids, meetings, sick parents in another state …

    You would think Northern California would be on the cusp (at the very least) with merging tech & training. Alas, it just isn’t so !

  12. When UMass Extension cut the Master Gardener training program in 1989, the alumni formed a group and since 1995 have trained 40-50 new master gardeners every other year. Trainees pay $300 for the 13-week course and must complete 50 hours of volunteer work to be “certified.” We have almost twice as many applicants as accepted trainees. The training program from January to April is held on a weekday for six hours. Many applicants are retirees but others use personal time from their employers in order to participate. We serve four counties in western Massachusetts doing soil testing, holding plant clinics, answering questions by email and phone and giving workshops in schools and community centers as well as helping to maintain a variety of public gardens. Our program is alive and well!
    sherry wilson, master gardener since 1986

  13. Erica- Where are you in northern Cal? I am interested in your comments, as I do believe online training would be something to consider, although I believe it all has to come through UC.

  14. When I took MG training in 1989, the only option was day classes at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. There were no classes closer, and no evening classes. I waited for years before my schedule would permit it.

    I was told then that the purpose for having day classes was to ensure that people could volunteer in the office – the primary reason for the training. When I became advanced training coordinator, UGA still held to that. It has moderated a bit, but even distance learning classes are mostly held in the daytime, at local colleges and libraries.

    Good or bad? I don’t know. A lot of folks took training only for their own knowledge, and for that, the home hort certificates at least provides a level of honesty, since many who took training never completed their volunteer work. Most of them don’t need the level of training provided for the MG classes, though. It seems like a waste of resources, especially in a tight budget era. Georgia also provides several levels of commercial certification.

    Our local MG group now has 168 active participants. While the number doesn’t approach the number of MGs trained over the years, it’s not too shabby, and I’m proud of the training and MGs that I helped to instigate in our county just shy of 20 years ago.

  15. I would love to take a master gardener class but right now its just impossible with work and family. I really hope I dont have to wait until I’m retired to be able to do so.

  16. There is a MG on the west coast doing videos saying it is OK to eat castor beans, a video showing her transplanting a “camelia” when it is a gardenis she is holding, as well she is showing how to plant an amaryllis and she is holding a daffodil


  17. Please note that the Master Gardeners in various Texas counties also provide some great education for people who just want to learn how to garden. Part of our volunteer time is spent teaching others what we have learned via our Community Gardens, workshops, seminars and speakers at our regular meetings. Take the training to certify if you have the time and are motivated to volunteer. But for those of you who can’t, watch your local newspaper, the website for your county Master Gardener organization, and take advantage of what we have to offer. We also partner with the local nurseries and the botanical centers, gardens, etc., to provide seminars at their locations. Yes, this sounds like an advertisement but I’m very proud to be an active member of the Guadalupe County Master Gardeners here in Texas and we will continue to provide good education for both the public and anyone who wants to take the Master Gardener training. We have a great AgriLife Extension Agent and the support of our County Commissioners and a wonderful membership who put in an incredible number of volunteer hours. With all that going for us, we can work with budget constraints and continue to do what we do best – provide public education to help people succeed and enjoy gardening.

  18. I’m taking the Master Gardener course THROUGH the USDA. They offered the course for free to 120 USDA employees this year. We do online training for half the courses and “labs” where go into the “field” for the other half. The online training are facilitated through Webinars, Powerpoint presentations given by experts from all over the country (mostly from Land-Grant Universities). The labs take place in the USDA People’s Garden. An organic community garden located on the front lawn of the USDA Headquarters in Washington DC (across from the Capital Mall). All the food from the People’s Garden is given to a local soup kitchen.

    I’m not sure what the USDA is doing generally to promote Master Gardener training, however, they’re making a big effor to get their own employees involved with the local community in the DC Metro area.

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