Becoming a Master Gardener

As I begin my 15th year writing this Potting Shed column for the Camden Community News, I am also completing 19 years serving as a Hennepin County Master Gardener, and the Hennepin County program celebrates nearly 40 years. Since I began, both my children have graduated from high school and college, gotten married and now I am even a grandma!

Through all of these life changes, gardening has remained a constant in my life. When I began writing this column, I wasn’t sure that I knew enough to write every month for very long. I soon learned that there was a wide variety of topics to explore and a plethora of questions to answer, and even if I didn’t have all the answers there was ample opportunity and resources to learn and pass the information on. All of these years later I find that there are many interesting topics yet unexplored and others that bear repeating. One of those is an explanation of the Master Garden Program.

The Master Gardener Program in Minnesota is an educational outreach program of the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Its mission is to provide trained volunteers who are committed to providing the highest quality research-based information and educational activities that enhance our community’s environment and quality of life.

Master Gardeners are paraprofessionals who represent the U of M Extension Service and teach horticulture. They make a difference by connecting community needs and U of M resources. There are Master Gardener Programs all across the U.S. and in three Canadian provinces. In 2014, there were 2,355 U of M Extension Master Gardener volunteers. They gave a total of 137,891 hours of service to their communities. That is an average of 58.6 hours per volunteer and a public value worth more than $2.9 million. These enthusiastic, university-trained volunteers help Minnesotans solve problems and make their communities more sustainable, beautiful, knowledgeable and fun!

To become a Master Gardener you must apply by October 1 and be selected for an interview by your county extension service. No horticultural background is required but you must have an active interest in gardening and a willingness to share this interest with others. Once you are accepted into the program you must register for the Core Course and pay the $305 fee by December 1.

The Core Course is 48 hours of home horticulture education taught by extension educators and faculty at the U of M Landscape Arboretum (offered annually from January through April). There is also an on-line option for the general content delivery but all students must complete online quizzes for each topic module, so you are required to have an active email address and reliable Internet access. Topics included in the Core Course are: Extension & the Master Gardener program, critical thinking and navigating culture, soils, entomology, botany, diagnostics, trees and shrubs, herbaceous plants, lawn care, plant pathology, weeds, wildlife, integrated pest management, vegetables and fruits.

Those who complete the Core Course are then interns for one year. Interns must complete 50 volunteer hours and 12 hours of continuing education to become certified Master Gardeners. To remain certified in the following years Master Gardeners must complete 25 volunteer hours and 12 hours of continuing education each year.

Master Gardeners are engaged in a broad spectrum of horticultural opportunities. They make presentations to garden clubs, businesses and civic organizations. They teach horticultural classes, plant care seminars and workshops through various programs such as community education and at the Hennepin County Libraries, retirement homes, nursing homes and hospitals. You will find Master Gardeners guiding and supervising community plantings and school gardens, teaching and judging 4-H horticultural projects and exhibits, staffing county and state fair information booths, and writing horticultural newsletters and columns in newspapers (such as this one). They answer questions at the information desk at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. Master Gardeners are involved in community and civic projects that connect people of all ages with horticulture.

If you have a passion for gardening, are interested in the latest news, tips and research about gardening and you enjoy sharing your knowledge and experience with others, then the Hennepin County Extension Master Gardener Program may be the place for you to volunteer. There will be an information session about the Master Gardener Program on September 10 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Brookdale Library, 6125 Shingle Creek Parkway. You can just show up or let them know you are coming at 612-501-3761 or

And then the fun begins!