Master Gardeners

Who Are Master Gardeners?

Master Gardeners are a vital link to getting research-based horticultural information to the public through University of Illinois Extension offices. They are volunteers who are passionate about gardening, plants, community, teaching, and the environment. Delivering horticultural education is what they’re all about! Master Gardeners have no products or services to sell, so they can provide unbiased, research-based information from the University of Illinois to the public. They serve youth and adults of all ages and backgrounds through free or low-cost public programming.

Their mission is Helping Others Learn to Grow. Master Gardeners involve people in improving their quality of life by helping them find sound management practices for home and urban natural resources, by creating aesthetically pleasing environments, by promoting well-being through people-plant interactions, and by contributing to a safe, abundant food supply through home fruit and vegetable production.

There are three Master Gardener Programs for Cook County. These are Cook Chicago (within city limits), Cook North Suburban (north of Roosevelt Road), and Cook South Suburban (south of Roosevelt Road) units. Additionally, Chicago Botanic Garden runs a Master Gardener program. Master Gardeners must complete volunteering in the unit they apply.


What Do Master Gardeners Do?

To continue being certified active volunteers, MGs are required to volunteer a minimum of 20 hours each year and complete 10 hours of approved continuing education annually. Volunteers work in their communities teaching the public about horticulture topics. Please see the program request forms below to request programming!

Volunteers also run a year-round answer desk where you can ask your gardening questions.

Have a Gardening Question? Email our Master Gardeners!

Email questions to

Share your love of gardening

Become a Master Gardener

  • Registration is closed for the Cook County Master Gardener Coursework and Volunteer Application.
  • Due to current staff vacancies, Cook County will not be accepting Master Gardener volunteers in 2024. Please join our interest list to be notified the next time we will open volunteer applications.



Structure of the MG Program


  • 12-module asynchronous virtual horticulture training course.
  • People who take this training either
    • want to learn about horticulture for their own personal knowledge.
    • want to learn about horticulture AND share that knowledge with their communities as Master Gardener (MG) volunteers. 
  • You may register for the state online classes covering MG coursework without applying to be a volunteer.
  • $300 fee for course administered through the Illinois Extension State MG Program.
  • Application for Cook County MG volunteer program are currently closed. 
  • In conjunction with the state online training, Extension in Cook County offers five two-hour virtual workshops via Zoom. Topics may include: 
    • Landscape Design
    • Season Extension
    • Native Plants and Conservation@Home
    • School and Community Garden Management
    • Researching Plant Questions


Applying to be a Master Gardener volunteer in Cook County

If you are interested in sharing your horticulture knowledge as a MG volunteer, you must

  • Successfully complete the 12-module asynchronous virtual horticulture training course.
  • Attend the five two-hour virtual workshops offered by Cook County.
  • Apply to be interviewed.

Due to the large population of Cook County, the MG program is divided into three geographic areas: South Suburban, Chicago, and North Suburban. You are encouraged to apply in the area where you live. We receive more applications than volunteer spots available, applying does not guarantee acceptance into the volunteer program. The application process includes an interview and background checks.

If you are selected for the MG volunteer program, you have two years to complete 40 hours of volunteer work as an intern at pre-approved sites determined by your local coordinator. To remain an active MG volunteer, 20 hours of volunteer work and 10 hours of Continuing Education are required yearly.


Reasonable Accommodations

If you need reasonable accommodations to participate in this program or for more information, please e-mail

Request Our Help

To request assistance for your program, please click the link for your location and program needs:

School Garden Support: Cook County Extension offers support to schools looking to improve upon or implement gardening programs.

Community Garden Support: Cook County Extension assists community gardeners looking to improve upon or implement a neighborhood garden. 

Speakers Bureau: Cook County Extension provides speakers on a wide range of gardening topics through our Master Gardener program. 

Youth Horticulture Programs: Cook County Extension provides presenters that will engage students in hands-on learning experiences. 

We are here to help!