The first Master Gardener program began in Washington State in 1972. The Extension agent for horticulture in those counties was overwhelmed by the volume of requests coming into his office for information about home gardening and horticulture. He came up with the idea of trading specialized training in horticulture for a commitment to spend a specified number of hours doing volunteer outreach work. He sought and obtained the help of Extension agents, specialists, and administrators at the state university in planning and testing both a training program for volunteers and a format for plant clinics that would provide accurate and helpful information to the public. The program quickly spread to every state and several foreign countries.
To participate in Master Gardener training, you must register at the County Extension office offering the program. If you are selected for the Master Gardener program, you will receive 50 hours of classroom horticultural training. You will learn about plant growth, insect and disease control, vegetables, fruits, flowers, trees, shrubs, soils, and environmental issues. The learning then continues during a volunteer internship of an additional 50 hours. Upon completion of the internship you will be certified as an Alabama Master Gardener.
The classes are taught by experts from the Departments of Horticulture, Plant Pathology and Entomology at universities in Alabama and by horticulture educators, Extension Agents and other qualified professionals.
Alabama Master Gardener training is coordinated and conducted by Auburn University and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Typically two classes are held per year, January-April and August-November. Because of the shorter days and cooler temps, the January-April class is usually a daytime class, 9:00am – 1:00pm. The summer heat makes it more comfortable to have the August-November class in the evening, 5:00pm – 9:00pm. Classroom training consists of an orientation and 12 weekly classes. A detailed schedule and syllabus are passed out at the orientation.
The fee is $200.00. The value of the instruction and provided training materials far exceeds this fee. Your volunteer time as an intern is considered partial payment for the training received and helps keep the fee low.
Each week there will be a short quiz covering the material presented the previous week.
The primary responsibility of Master Gardeners is to answer questions from area residents about home horticulture, and to recommend environmentally sound solutions to gardening and landscape problems. County Extension Agents and Master Gardeners are available to help and advise as needed. To become certified, you must complete the minimum 50 hours of training and complete at least 50 hours of volunteer service within one year of training. At the completion of all the requirements, you receive an official Master Gardener certificate and name badge.
There are lots of options! Here are some examples, but you’re certainly not limited to these. There are numerous other activities in which to participate, and volunteers may initiate their own approved project.
- Assist clientele that come into the Extension office for information.
- Respond to telephone calls from homeowners.
- Participate in design and operation of horticultural exhibits, displays or demonstrations.
- Staff your local Extension office horticulture hotline.
- Write an article for your Master Gardener newsletter.
- Give a talk at a Master Gardener program on a horticultural topic you know well.
- Make presentations on horticultural topics to 4-H groups, youth organizations, youth clubs, etc.
- Participate and organize school activities such as Arbor Day, Earth Day and horticulture tours.
- Participate in an Arbor Day planting.
- Help plant a special display in a local park garden or other public area.
- Establish drop off sites for produce as part of a Plant-a Row-for-the-Hungry project.
- Assist the staff of a local garden, research station, church, or other site maintain annual and perennial beds.
- Help an environmental preservation group with its annual cleanup of public or private lands.
- Assist in senior gardening programs.
Master Gardeners typically perform volunteer service within their own county, although arrangements can be made to participate in other outside activities. Local associations have many organized activities to participate in. Or you can start your own project.
Some Master Gardeners have a great degree of flexibility as to when they can volunteer. Those with regular job responsibilities can make arrangements to volunteer in the evening or on the weekends. Some tasks that can be done after hours include research, writing, telephone calling, helping with meetings and record keeping.
Either of two ways. There is a paper form used to record time spent on your various activities, or you can access the online database and record your hours electronically via the internet. These reports not only allow for recognition of volunteers for their hard work, but are also valuable for program evaluation and budgeting purposes.
Awards are given yearly to Master Gardeners who have given exceptional service to the program. The Alabama Master Gardener Association Awards Program provides for recognition pins, ribbons and certificates of achievement. The program can be reviewed at the AMG website. However, as with most volunteer programs the greatest recognition and satisfaction received will come from within.
As an Alabama Master Gardener you are a representative of Auburn University, and as such should act in a professional manner and maintain a professional image. You should be knowledgeable, but also know your limitations – know when to say “I don’t know”.