A few years ago I decided to tackle an item on my personal bucket list – Master Gardener Certification. I’ve now been a Master Gardener for five years. A big part of our role is to educate the community and citizens on gardening best practice and also how to become a Master Gardener.
Today I’m sharing more about the formal training process I underwent to become a Master Gardener, the requirements to maintain this status and what I do as a Master Gardener. My post will focus on what is required to become an Ohio Master Gardener, through Ohio State Agriculture, these requirements may vary from state to state.
Master Gardener Certification
What is a Master Gardener?
What is a Master Gardener? Basically a master gardener is a formally-trained volunteer. Master Gardeners volunteer in many different ways, from working on community gardens, to answering questions in person at events and via phone, to helping children, seniors and developmentally disabled adults learn about gardening. Ongoing training and volunteer work is required to maintain Master Gardener status.
I first learned about Master Gardeners in college. As an newspaper reporting intern in Fostoria, Ohio I remember taking on a few stories where I needed to talk to a plant expert. I called the Ohio State University Extension office near there to talk to an expert – a Master Gardener!
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What Do Master Gardeners Do?
When I took the Master Gardener training in Fall 2014 the program was an 11-week course. Class was held twice a week in the evening for three hours per class. During the training there was homework just like taking a college course. Following the completion of training there was a final exam that required passing. Once passing the exam, I still wasn’t Master Gardening!
Then I had to complete 50 volunteer hours within one year to complete my Master Gardener training requirements. Graduation was held Fall 2015, one year after I started my coursework. I applied and became a Master Gardener right before I had my daughter. It was a bucket list item that I decided to complete sooner rather than later.
A lot of Master Gardeners in my local Master Gardener program are retired or have grown children. I am still one of the youngest members of the organization. I have to be honest, the time commitment was (and still is) pretty intense. Sadly, I missed my fall graduation ceremony because I was home with a two-week old baby. A few months later I attended a Master Gardener event (our annual volunteer meeting) and received my name badge and certificate.
How to Apply
In my area, Master Gardener Certification is done every year with a new class of students. I applied to the program in June 2014. Applying required a formal written application and letters of reference. I interviewed in July 2014 (just like a job interview). I went through the application process, an interview, reference checks, a criminal background check. I also paid a registration fee to participate in the program.
Then in early August I received a formal letter in the mail – I had been accepted into the class of 2014 to obtain Master Gardener Certification. My class started in late August and was similar to attending to night school. My training manual was three inches thick. My class was the first held in the evening and we had a higher turnout because the class times allowed working individuals to participate. We had 36 people in my class.
Master Gardener Program
Master Gardener Training
In Fall 2014 I completed an 11-week training program which constituted approximately 50 hours of education. It was basically a hands-on classroom experience. Topics we covered included:
- soils and fertilizers
- entomology, pesticides and integrated pest management
- plant pathology
- plant propagation
- herbaceous and woody ornamentals
Then in 2015 I completed 50 volunteer hours. One of my favorite experiences was working the Q&A booth at the Crocker Park Farmer’s Market in Westlake, Ohio. I try to work the booth a few times every summer now as a Master Gardener Ohio.
Master Gardener Badge
How to Keep Master Gardener Status
In order to maintain my status as a Master Gardener I will complete at least 20 more volunteer hours each calendar year (this number has now increased to 25 hours per year starting in 2019), along with 10 hours of continuing education (basically more classroom experience). This allows me to give back to the community and continue to stay up-to-date on gardening best practices.
Becoming a Master Gardener was something I always wanted to do, but I never thought I would complete the program at such a young age. It really helped that in 2014 the program was reworked so that class was held in the evening, which was more accommodating for working adults. Having this certification not only helps satisfy my personal goals, but also allows me to keep learning about a topic I also write about professionally.
Master Gardener Volunteer
If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener the best way to learn about how to apply is to “like” the OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers of Cuyahoga County Facebook page, or sign up to receive email notification about future classes.
What program do you volunteer for?
*This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated and republished for accuracy and comprehensiveness.