What is a Master Gardener and How Do I Join?

AUBURN, Ala. – Do you wish you had a garden that looks like a feature in Southern Living Magazine, but you just don’t have the “green thumb” like your great-grandmother? The good news is that there are qualified people who are able to answer your questions if you reach out – they are called Master Gardeners.

The Master Gardener program was founded in 1972 by the Washington State University Cooperative Extension. The goal of the program is to train volunteers who will give gardening advice to those who seek it. There are organized programs in all 50 states and eight Canadian provinces.

Master Gardener Program in 30 Alabama Counties

Kerry Smith, State MG Program Coordinator

According to State Master Gardener Program Coordinator Kerry Smith, Alabama has Master Gardener programs in about 30 counties. The County Extension offices host the educational MG training classes.

Each Master Gardener group has their own projects. From demonstration gardens to tree plantings, Ask a Master Gardener at various outlets to County Fair booths, Earth Day activities to a Lunch and Learn, their passion is inspiring.

The Lee County MG’s have three demonstration gardens, all intended to teach anyone interested in gardening. The MG garden at Kiesel Park,  in Auburn, is tended most Tuesday mornings during the growing season.

Lee County Master Gardeners of Alabama
Kiesel Park – Photo by Charlot Ritenbaugh

Smith develops the class content and works with local Extension agents who coordinate the county-based programs. “Basically, we cram two years of undergraduate horticulture instruction into 13 classes. It’s quite a commitment,” Smith said. To become a certified Master Gardener, you must complete the classwork and 50 hours of volunteer service in a community project. Many projects, such as a community food garden in Marshall County, are active in each location.

Whether volunteers are teaching gardening techniques or donating 11,000 pounds of produce to local charities, the program is made to serve others. Smith said, “The Master Gardeners help reinforce the land grant mission of Auburn University and validate that Extension is valuable to the state and community.”

Although most MG volunteers are retirees, they welcome community partners to get active and find their place alongside them no matter how much time you have to spend. Gardening is also a way for high school and college students to get active in service opportunities. Partnerships are available through local Master Gardener associations. All of them promote community service and education.

Ways to get involved

To get involved, call your County Extension office, or visit http://www.aces.edu/directory/. From there, you are linked to the proper contacts of a Master Gardener program nearby.

Reach a local Master Gardener with your gardening questions by calling the MG Helpline, 877-252-4769 (877-ALAGROW)

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