Master Gardeners are individuals who have an interest in horticulture, have taken the Master Gardener training offered by the extension service, and share their time and expertise with other gardeners. It is the acquisition of knowledge, the skill in gardening, and giving back to the community that distinguishes a Master Gardener from other gardeners.
The purpose of the Iowa Master Gardener Program is to provide sound horticultural information to the citizens of Iowa through the volunteer effects of Master Gardeners. Master Gardeners are residents of a community who take an active interest in horticulture. They receive training in horticulture through the Iowa State University Extension Service. In return for their training, Master Gardeners volunteer in extension horticulture programs and projects which enhance the community.
The first Master Gardener Program was initiated in Washington State in 1972. In response to overwhelming requests for horticulture information, the extension agent 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 for extension. The Iowa Master Gardener program was piloted in Scott County in 1979. To date, over nine thousand Iowans have been trained in the program.
The requirements to become a Master Gardener include a $125.00 fee to cover the cost of educational materials and a commitment to do 40 hours of extension service. Individuals receive instruction in a wide range of horticulture and related areas: houseplants, flowers, turfgrass, vegetables, woody landscape plants, plant propagation, fruits, soils, wildlife management, pesticide safety/ integrated pest management, plant pathology and entomology. The training is offered in locations listed below throughout the state in the fall and winter months. The training sessions last for three hours and are usually held twice a week. The instructors are state and local extension specialists as well as knowledgeable, local gardeners. After completion of the training program, individuals become Master Gardener Interns. They are promoted to the title of Master Gardener upon completion of their 40-hour service commitment. Master Gardeners can remain active members in following years by attending six or more hours of in-service education and contributing 6 hours or more of volunteer community service.
Master Gardeners provide many services to the Iowa State University Extension Service and their communities. They use their knowledge, talents, and skills on various projects and activities, such as: answering horticultural questions and phone calls at their local county extension office, sponsoring lawn and garden shows, developing educational displays, and giving horticultural presentations. Master Gardeners also assist with youth gardening programs, help manage farmers' markets and community gardens, plant demonstration and city beautification gardens, assist at public gardens, conduct horticulture therapy programs at nursing homes, write newspaper columns, participate in radio call-in programs, and assist with the coordination and management of the local Master Gardener program.
Besides the educational and community service aspect of the Master Gardener program, gardeners get to know others with similar interests. They share their gardening experiences and, occasionally, their plants. If you are interested in becoming an Iowa Master Gardener, contact your local county extension office for the nearest training location. September 2 is the cut-off date for registering for the fall sessions.
Links to this article are strongly encouraged, and this article may be republished without further permission if published as written and if credit is given to the author, Horticulture and Home Pest News, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. If this article is to be used in any other manner, permission from the author is required. This article was originally published on May 21, 2008. The information contained within may not be the most current and accurate depending on when it is accessed.