To become a Master Gardener, you must fill out and submit an application by contacting your local county Extension office. After the local coordinator reviews the application, you will be asked for an interview. Acceptance of trainees will be based on an established need for local Master Gardener volunteer activities. Please note that different counties have different periods for accepting applications and applying does not guarantee acceptance, as some units receive more applications than spaces available for training.
Once accepted, all Master Gardener trainees are required to complete and pass a full, confidential background check. This includes completion of the Volunteer Application, an interview, a volunteer agreement form, a DCFS CANTS check, Illinois State Police Conviction Name Check Request for Volunteers, and a name check against the National Sex Offender Website. Trainees must also complete a required Child Protection Course.
Once an applicant is accepted, they will begin the training program. It is up to your local county which type of training format they are planning to offer.
- Face-to-face training: In-person classes are typically held once a week for 11-12 weeks, commonly beginning in January. Attendance of all classes is mandatory. Training dates and locations will vary from county to county. Classes are taught either by live instructors or via live webinar presentations.
- Hybrid training: This training is a combination of in-person hands-on classes held once a week and self-guided online content, Attendance is required on the 11-12 Tuesday mornings when training is offered.
- Online training: For those unable to attend the traditional face-to-face training, an online, self-guided course is available to take from the comfort of home at your own pace.
- The online course is currently offered three times a year in Winter, Summer and Fall. Please note that not every county will be accepting new volunteers each season/year.
- A non-volunteer option is also available for those interested in learning the great content from our training course, but don't intend to become a Master Gardener volunteer. Please note, you may not use the title of Master Gardener after completing this option.
If you change your mind and would like to become a volunteer after the training, that will need to be arranged with your local county Extension staff. Please note you may have to wait until that county’s next application period.
What will you learn? Classes are taught by University of Illinois specialists and Extension educators. Topics include botany, soils, vegetables, fruits, flowers, trees and shrubs, grasses, landscaping, insects, and diseases.
Cost: A fee, which is determined by the local coordinator, is charged for the training and includes a training manual. The cost for the online training program is $300. Additional local fees may apply.
What happens next?
When selecting the volunteer option (with the approval of the local unit), and after successfully completing the training and passing weekly quizzes and final exam, you will become a Master Gardener Intern.
The internship consists of fulfilling volunteer hours approximately equal to the number of hours of classroom training received, 60 hours, within a 2 year period. Certified Master Gardeners are those who have completed their classroom training and internship.
To be an active Master Gardener, you must remain current in annual educational updates (a minimum of 10 hours) and volunteer service hours (a minimum of 30 hours) required by the local program.
Mentors and Advanced Master Gardeners: Some local programs also have Master Gardener mentors and Advanced Master Gardeners. Mentors are experienced active Master Gardeners who are paired with trainees and interns to help guide them through a successful volunteer experience. Advanced Master Gardeners are those who have completed specialized training beyond the core course. Advanced Master Gardeners also remain certified by continuing active volunteer status and meeting the annual educational update requirement.