Become a Master Gardener Volunteer
What is a Master Gardener?
The Illinois Extension Master Gardener program is open to any adult with an interest in plants and a desire to share that with others. Master Gardeners are a dedicated group and many choose to return year after year to share their knowledge with others. The program is for those enthusiastic individuals who have completed training and agree to volunteer at least 40 hours within 2 years to the local University of Illinois Extension office.
What training is required?
Extension Educators and State Specialists with the University of Illinois provide the training for Master Gardeners. Classes are conducted in person or online. Class size may be limited due to space restrictions in some locations. Master Gardener training covers various home horticulture topics including: Vegetable Gardening, Insects, Tree and Small Fruits, Basic Botany, Integrated Pest Management, Turfgrass Care, Plant Diseases, Tree and Shrub Care, Soils and Fertilizer, Flower Gardening
To become a certified Master Gardener, participants are required to volunteer 40 hours of time to their local University of Illinois Extension office. After certification, Master Gardeners volunteer 20 hours each year and attend 10 hours of approved continuing education. Volunteer opportunities include but are not limited to answering telephone or electronic mail questions about gardening; staffing plant clinics or farmers markets; speaking to local organizations; establishing demonstration or community gardens; conducting programs with youth, the elderly or the disabled or writing newspaper articles.
Master Gardeners educate the public on topics such as improving landscapes, choosing plant varieties, water-saving tips for gardens, proper pest identification and management, how to grow their own produce, optimum mulching strategies, and composting.
The only guideline is that the projects be educational and concern horticulture. You will work with the local Extension Unit Leaders to determine how your volunteer time can best be spent.
Is Master Gardener training for you?
- Do I want to learn more about plant care and gardening?
- Do I look forward to sharing my knowledge with people in my community?
- Am I eager to participate in a practical and intensive training program?
- Do I have enough time to attend the training and complete my annual volunteer and continuing education requirements?
- If you answered “yes” to all the questions, the Master Gardener program could be for you.
Master Gardener 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 other formats of training can be offered locally depending on the local county’s needs. Reach out to your local county to inquire about their next training offering. Find your local county on the Local Master Gardener Programs page.
- Online Illinois Gardener training: Designed for any gardener interested in learning more, this fully self-paced online course is offered three times a year. Learn more on the Online Illinois Gardener page. Please note, just because the training is offered three times a year, doesn't necessarily mean your local county will be quite ready to take your application. Visit the Local Master Gardener Programs page to find out your county's current schedule.
- 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.
Volunteering in Your Community
Earning the title of Illinois Extension Master Gardener requires a few additional steps beyond completing training. Volunteering is open to those over the age of 18.
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.
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. A social security number is required for this background check process. 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 Gardener trainings to participate in. 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.
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.
If you are an FFA advisor or Illinois teacher looking for additional information about offering the training to students, please fill out the form below and indicate that interest.
Interested in more information? Fill out the form below and we'll connect you to your local Extension office!