To become a “master gardener,” you first must know what one is. He or she is a certified community volunteer educator of the horticultural arts and sciences. Remember those two key words: volunteer and educator. This will help you better grasp the understanding of who would be an ideal master-gardener candidate.
The Master Gardener Program is typically offered, through extension offices, by a state-designated college or university. For the Sunshine State, that is UF/IFAS (the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) extension offices.
Anyone interested in becoming a master gardener would need to apply, go through a vetting interview process, and be accepted. Those accepted are then required to attend intensive training sessions, held weekly, for a 10- to 15-week period. Days and times of classes differ from county to county, but expect to spend well over 50 hours training.
Master-gardener classes are a mixture of lectures and hands-on activities administered and overseen by extension agents, staff members and field professionals.
Starting the journey to master gardener
Apply for the Florida Master Gardeners Program by contacting your local county extension office. I recommend that those interested contact the nearest extension office; keep in mind the commute for training and the locations of the office’s designated service center(s). These service center(s) are the best locations to fulfill your volunteering and continuing-education requirements in order to achieve and maintain your certification. Some extension offices do not offer the Master Gardener Program.
At participating extension offices, enrollment is limited, so competition can be highly competitive. An ideal candidate would be someone who is active in their community, eager to learn, enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with others, and has had gardening experience — either professionally or as a hobbyist.
Remember: As a master gardener, you will need to communicate with diverse groups of people, so the ability to work well with others and to respect differences of opinion is a must.
Once an applicant is accepted, they will be required to pay the Master Gardener Program fee; this differs from county to county and covers your reference materials and books.
The Master Gardener Program was designed and developed to help UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension staff members to reach out and serve more Florida citizens with research-based information regarding gardening, sustainability and other related topics. Extension offices invest a lot of time and energy in training accepted applicants to become knowledgeable environmental stewards in their communities. The training is intensive, and candidates are tested on their knowledge.
After completing training and passing exams, applicants will still be required to complete 75 volunteers hours at their extension office within the first year — then 35 hours each subsequent year — to maintain active Florida master gardener status.
Program helps UF/IFAS expand outreach
The UF/IFAS Florida Master Gardener Program (gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/) defines itself as a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida. The program relies on dedicated volunteers who have an interest in gardening and in giving back to their communities.
Follow along in the upcoming weeks, as I walk you through the Florida Master Gardener program.