Become a Master Gardener Volunteer

Interested in becoming a Certified Illinois Extension Master Gardener Volunteer or just simply bettering your own gardening knowledge? Our online training program may be for you. Please read carefully through the details below. Timing of training availability may vary from county to county.

Online Illinois Gardener Training

Our online, self-guided Illinois Gardener training course is available to take from the comfort of your home at your own pace. This online course is currently offered three times a year in Winter, Summer and Fall. Registration for the next Fall session will be open from August 7-September 11, 2023 and the course kicks off on October 2. Join our interest list to be contacted about future registrations.

What will you learn: Classes are taught by University of Illinois specialists and Extension educators. Information is science-based and specific to Illinois’ unique climate, soil, environment, insects, wildlife, and plants. Topics include botany, soils, vegetables, fruits, flowers, trees and shrubs, grasses, landscaping, insects, and diseases. The training includes videos, a manual, reading materials, and quizzes. The course can be completed in approximately 14 weeks with four hours of weekly work or additional time can be taken. A computer and strong internet connection is highly recommended.

Cost: The cost for the online training program is $300 and includes a training manual shipped to your address. Additional local fees may apply if local hands-on sessions are being offered in your county.

Following the Course: Upon completion of the course, you’ll receive an Illinois Gardener Training Certificate of Completion. You’ll then be given the choice to stop there and simply utilize your new gardening knowledge in your own garden- or choose to move on to the next steps of the process to becoming a Certified Illinois Extension Master Gardener volunteer.

Because there is no subsequent volunteer commitment to just taking the online course, participants do not automatically become Illinois Master Gardeners and may not use the title of Master Gardener at this point. The title of ‘Master Gardener’ is a registered service mark and only to be used for Illinois Extension events and purposes.

Volunteering in Your Community

Earning the title of Illinois Extension Master Gardener requires a few additional steps. 


After completing the online training program, you may fill out and submit an application to your local county Extension office when they are taking applications next. 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 new volunteers. There may be some waiting period (possibly up to a year or two) between finishing the online training and being able to apply with your local county.

After the local coordinator reviews the application and you’re chosen to move onto the next steps, you will be asked for an interview. Acceptance of trainees will be based on an established need for local Master Gardener volunteer activities.

Volunteer Screening

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. 


After completion of training and being accepted as an Extension volunteer, you will become a Master Gardener Intern. The internship consists of fulfilling 40 volunteer hours within a 2 year period. The volunteer projects these hours are completed with must be pre-approved by the local Extension staff.

Once those 40 hours are fulfilled, Interns become Certified Master Gardeners and receive their official name badge.

To be an active Certified Master Gardener on a yearly basis, you must remain current in annual educational updates (a minimum of 10 hours) and volunteer service hours (a minimum of 20 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.

Other Training Options

It is up to your local county which type of training format they are planning to offer in their offices. The Illinois Gardener online training program is run statewide and will always be offered three times a year, but there are other formats of training that can be offered locally depending on the local county’s needs. Reach out to your local county to inquire about their next training offering.

  • 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.

Fee Waivers

We do not currently offer fee waivers for the statewide online Illinois Gardener training. Local counties may offer a limited number of fee-waivers for local trainings of those interested in becoming Master Gardener volunteers.

Interested in more information? Fill out the form below and we'll connect you to your local Extension office!


Master Gardener Form

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