It’s the time of year again when the harvest is in full swing, kids are back to school and the Extension office is flooded with phone calls from those eagerly inquiring about the upcoming Master Gardener program.

Throughout the year we keep an interest list with names and emails of those who would like to be a part of the program and while we are still a few months away from planning orientation and handing out applications, we thought it was the right time to pass along some information to those who read this blog!


History of the Extension Master Gardener Program

The Master Gardener program is more than a series of extensive horticulture classes for the common gardener; it is a volunteer training program designed to teach individuals about the science of gardening so they may pass reliable and research-based information on to the general public.

The program originated in the State of Washington in the 1970’s as a response to the increasing demand for urban gardening and farming advice. The concept was that well-trained volunteers could assist local Extension personnel in fielding everyday gardening questions, freeing the Extension professionals to deal with more technical and programmatic issues. The program was so successful that it swept the nation and now Master Gardener is a title recognized in nearly every state.

To read more about the history check out:

“Exploring Our Roots – A Short History of Extension and the Master Gardener Program” by Bob Kellam.


Class Description and Areas of Training

In Salt Lake County, Master Gardener course participants attend 14 weeks of college-level lecture and hands on training taught by Utah State University Extension Specialists and Extension Faculty. After completion of the in-class training, USU Master Gardeners become an integral part of the educational community while sharing their research-based knowledge through volunteer service.

The USU Extension Master Gardener volunteer training course lectures are held once a week from late January or early February to early May.  Hands on learning through volunteering occurs from May through October.

pruning 2014 008

The course includes but is not limited to the following topics:

  • Basic Botany
  • Soils
  • Composting
  • Common Insects
  • Integrated Pest Management
  • Beneficial Insects and Pesticide Impacts
  • Plant Pathology
  • Fruits and Vegetables
  • Trees, Shrubs and Flowers
  • Weed Science
  • Turfgrass
  • Waterwise Landscape Design
  • Plant Pest Diagnostics

 Volunteer Component

Volunteering is the heart and soul of the program.  To receive final Master Gardener Certification, participants must complete 40 hours of approved USU service projects.

happy volunteer in the garden

The following are examples of potential volunteer opportunities:

  • Demonstration garden management
  • Public education presentations
  • Guided garden tours
  • Farmer’s markets
  • Plant diagnostic clinics
  • County fairs and gardening festivals
  • Youth horticulture programming and summer camps

volutneers planting trees

How do I become a Master Gardener?

  • Next, you will receive a notification email in late fall (November-December) alerting you to sign up for a mandatory orientation (we usually hold 3-4)
  • You MUST attend an orientation to receive an application for the program. Once you fill out the application you must return it to the Extension office by the deadline given at orientation

Note* Turning in an application does not guarantee you will be accepted to the program, our class sizes vary from year to year and while we want to accept everyone, we sometimes have more demand than we can accommodate. If this happens, we will pick applicants via a lottery type system.

  • After you have been notified that you are accepted to the program you will pay the $200 fee. This fee helps us cover the cost of printed materials and our online volunteer managment software.
  • Classes begin in February and run once a week until May
  • 40 volunteer service hours must be completed by October 1st
  • We hold a graduation dinner and present awards and certificates in the fall!


For more information

Visit the Salt Lake County Master Gardener website at

If you are not located in Salt Lake County you can find out about the Master Gardener Program in your county by visiting your county Extension website.