The Master Gardener program is a great way to learn more about gardening, meet new friends, and get involved in civic projects. Conducted throughout the United States, the program usually is managed on a county level through state/county extension agents. Usually the fee is the cost of the manual and there is a commitment to volunteer in the community. Interested gardeners receive training from horticulturists and experts in the field. In return, they assist the community by staffing plant clinic booths, answering phones, teaching, gardening in community areas, helping youth or elderly with gardening, etc. The program was initiated as a means of extending horticultural and pest management expertise of the state extension office to the general public. Most programs require continuing education but also provide many opportunities to do so.
Below is information for the Washington DC metropolitan area. More detail is given for Virginia to illustrate the difference in commitment and schedules across counties. Maryland and Washington DC are similar. All have fees, a registration process, and deadlines.
The Virginia Tech University manages the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) program which has extension agents at every county. The extension agent manages the county Master Gardener program. The following is a snapshot of five Master Gardener programs in Northern Virginia to give an idea of the application deadlines, times/days programs are offered, cost, and the commitment in terms of hours. For example, if one works full time in an office and can only attend evening classes one may find a program that offers evening classes and does not limit registration to county residents. Or some programs have one class a week instead of two thus extending the education over a longer time but making it more manageable.
In Fairfax county, there are two Master Gardener programs due to the high level of interest. Green Spring Gardens, part of the Fairfax county park system, manages a 13-week Master Gardener program that starts in September and ends in November. Green Spring Gardens hosts the classroom training on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:00 to 4:00 pm and labs on Saturdays. When the trainees complete the classroom part, they graduate to become Master Gardener interns. They have to complete 50 volunteer hours within one year including 15 hours working at the Master Gardener Help Desk. They retain their certification by completing 20 hours of volunteer service hours and 8 hours of continuing education in horticulture per year. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring/master-gardeners
The other Fairfax county Master Gardener program has classes at Merrifield Garden Center at Fair Oaks. The classes are January through March, one day a week for 3 hours, during the day or evening. To become a certified Master Gardener, one has to complete 30 hours of classroom education per year for 3 years, and 24 hours of community service per year for 3 years. Once a person becomes a certified Master Gardener, one has to complete 8 hours of continuing education and 24 hours of volunteer work per year. http://www.fairfaxgardening.org/join-us/
In Arlington county, classes start in the beginning of September and are on Tuesday evenings and Saturdays. Classes are held at the Fairlington Community Center in Arlington and other local garden venues. There is no application deadline and acceptances into the program are determined by mid-August. Residents of Alexandria City and Arlington receive preference and all training and internship hours must be completed in Arlington/Alexandria. After 66 hours of classroom training, the trainees must complete a 60-hour internship to hone their skills in core Master Gardener educational projects within one year of training. Once the classroom program, internship, and student project are completed participants become certified Master Gardeners. To maintain certification, they must volunteer a minimum of 20 hours and attend 8 hours of continuing education programs per year. http://www.mgnv.org/become-a-master-gardener/
In Loudoun county, classes are twice a week for 10 weeks, from January through mid-April, at 750 Miller Drive, Leesburg. The Master Gardener program requires 60 hours of classroom education and 75 hours of the internship. Certified Master Gardeners must complete 25 volunteer hours and 8 hours of continuing education per year. http://loudouncountymastergardeners.org/become-a-master-gardener/training-requirements
In Prince William county, the program runs from September through December and requires 75 hours of classroom education and 50 hours of internship. To maintain certification, Master Gardeners must volunteer 20 hours and complete 8 hours of continuing education per year. http://www.mgpw.org
The University of Maryland Extension (UME) administers the Master Gardener Program. Each county has a coordinator and its own schedule of classes. For more information on basic training dates/times, visit UME’s home page at http://www.extension.umd.edu/mg. For a table of county/city coordinators’ contact information, see http://extension.umd.edu/mg/about-program/ume-master-gardener-countycity-coordinators.
The University of the District of Columbia, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW, manages the Master Gardener program. The program is held once a year, from the first Tuesday in February through the last Thursday in March, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, 6:30 to 9:00 pm, for 8 weeks. After completing the program, interns must complete 50 hours of volunteer service. For more information contact Patricia Bon, DC Master Gardener Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (202) 941-7923
Written and produced by Peggy Riccio and pegplant.com, posted January 2015; updated August 2018