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What is a Master Gardener?

All over Polk County and Florida there are volunteer groups working in relative obscurity to help people and to make all of our lives better.  One such group is the UF/IFAS Extension Florida Master Gardener program.

Who are the Master Gardeners? What do they do?

Master Gardeners love to garden and to help people in the community. They are trained volunteers who have studied how to grow plants, take care of plants, conserve natural resources, and manage landscape pests.  They are also passionate, life-long learners! Those elements are really the essence of being a Master Gardener; the love of plants, learning about plants, teaching about plants and volunteering to help people.The mission of the Florida Master Gardener program is “to assist Extension Agents in providing research-based horticultural education to the residents of Florida”.  The program in Florida started in 1979 and has more than 4,500 members throughout the state. Close to $10 million dollars of service to the state’s economy comes from Florida Master Gardener volunteers.

You become a Master Gardener by studying a curriculum taught by experts from the University of Florida.  Training takes place in the classroom and consists of 50-70 hours of education on a variety of horticultural topics. After you complete the training and serve your initial 75 hours of volunteer service your first year,  you become an active Florida Master Gardener. Active Master Gardeners are required to give back 50 hours of volunteer service and complete 10 hours of continuing education each year. It is important that you continue to learn and grow as University research changes and evolves.

But be warned: there are side effects to becoming a Master Gardener.  After learning the proper way to prune trees Master Gardeners have been known to wander their neighborhood looking at the trees and cringing at how poorly many of them are pruned.  Once you are known as a Master Gardener in your neighborhood, you may find that you will meet more neighbors who have “heard you are a Master Gardener and have a question for you”. You may also find that you are so passionate about gardening and landscaping that your housework may be neglected. It has also been determined that many Master Gardeners will “rescue” abandoned plants and spouses will notice a growing collection, that will later be called “the home nursery”.  In addition, the back of your luxury vehicle will look like a pick-up truck and pruners will be added as an essential item to carry in your purse.

So, what do Master Gardeners do here in Polk County?  There is something for everyone! Many volunteers staff the Plant Clinic, answering questions from homeowners on their gardening and pest problems.  Other Master Gardeners maintain demonstraton gardens at the UF/IFAS Extension Service in Bartow.  The gardens emphasize the principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping, the cornerstone of all our horticultural outreach. Master Gardeners also develop workshops and classes that are offered to the community, clubs and other organizations. They actively educate youth through various youth gardening projects. Schools, teachers and youth-based clubs are a fun and uplifting way to reach out in the community. There are many projects waiting for you! What can you bring to the Master Gardener group? We can assure you that by volunteering with the Master Gardener Program in Polk County you will make Polk County a more beautiful place to live, make lifelong friends, and gain a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing that you have given back to the community and helped in the preservation and protection of Florida’s natural resources.

If you are interested in joining us for our 2018 Master Gardener Training in Polk County, you have ONE WEEK LEFT TO APPLY! For more information, contact UF/IFAS Extension Polk County at (863) 519-1041 or download the application here .  The Plant Clinic is open Monday-Friday, 9:00 am-4:00 pm to answer your gardening and landscaping questions. Visit us in person, give us a call, or email us at polkmg@ifas.ufl.edu.

Article adapted from “What is a Master Gardener” by Joe Wolf. Joe is a Polk County Master Gardener.

The Florida Master Gardener Program is a volunteer-driven program that benefits UF/IFAS Extension and the citizens of Florida.  The program  extends the vision of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, all the while protecting and sustaining natural resources and environmental systems, enhancing the development of human resources, and improving the quality of human life through the development of knowledge in agricultural, human and natural resources and making that knowledge accessible.

An Equal Opportunity Institution.

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