We regularly receive calls and emails to the extension office from clients asking how to become a Master Volunteer Gardener (MGV). Many of these people contact us because they simply love gardening, but do you need to have gardening experience to be an MGV? The truth is that anyone over the age of 18 can really become an MGV, as long as they have the desire and the will to learn. The question really should be, is the MGV program for me? In order to answer this question, we must first understand what the MGV program is and how it came about.
In 1972, a horticultural extension worker named Dr. David Gibby from Washington State was struggling to meet all the horticultural needs of constituents in his county. He came up with the idea of recruiting and training ordinary people in gardening so that they could volunteer in his program to help provide horticultural education and gardening advice to the many people who sought him out. In doing so, he organized an annual training and the Master Gardener program was born. The program has since expanded to every state in the country, with nearly every county having an MGV program.
Today, the MGV program is stronger than ever, with more than 85,000 volunteers across the country and providing more than $140 million in service in the United States. To be clear, this dollar amount is based on the value of their hourly wage. This does not include the community impacts they have every day.
So, is the Master Gardener Volunteer Program for me? As mentioned above, the main objective of the MGV program is not simply to have the title of “master gardener“, but to serve the community as a volunteer helping the local horticultural officer to provide education based on looking to county voters. The best way to do this is to be available to volunteer during extension office working hours, which is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
In Marion County, our MGVs are very active and there is something for everyone! Want to learn how to propagate plants? You can volunteer in our Propagation/Greenhouse area, where we grow and sell plants. Do you like getting your hands dirty? Volunteer in our demonstration gardens, where there are always weeds to pull, new vegetables or herbs to plant, and new materials and educational signs to make and maintain. Do you like helping people? Our MGVs answer phone calls, emails and customer questions in person at the Extension Office Plant Clinic and at several county plant satellite clinics. We also have MGVs who work with our speakers bureau to deliver educational programs to the public, coordinate special events, or hold tables in public places. Other opportunities include conducting Florida-friendly landscape garden assessments, testing soil pH, working with youth in school gardens, and more!
To become an MGV, you must apply, interview, and be accepted to participate in a 13-week training, meeting once a week from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. MGV training takes place every fall. At the end of the 13-week course, you must pass the final exam. The MGV program requires participants to have 75 hours in designated areas within one year of completing MGV training. This year is known as your internship. After the internship, you officially become an MGV and must maintain 50 hours per year to remain active.
As you can see, MGV training is comprehensive, as we want to ensure that we truly provide reliable, accurate and research-based horticultural education to our residents. Each year, people from many professional backgrounds join the program. You don’t have to have horticulture experience to become an MGV as long as you are willing to learn and have the time to commit each year.
Our MGVs devote countless hours to helping the community, and they love doing it! In addition to having the title of “volunteer master gardener”, they also have many opportunities to attend educational trainings and field trips throughout the state, and most of the time they are free. But perhaps the biggest benefit of being an MGV is the group of friends and family you form in the program and knowing that you are making a positive difference in your community.
If you are interested in becoming MGV or would like more information, please join us at 1 p.m. on May 24 at the Marion County Extension Auditorium. We will have a free MGV information meeting for the public. If you would like to attend the event, please register and reserve your spot at bit.ly/mgv22a. If you are not a Marion County resident, contact your local horticultural extension agent to see how you can become an MGV.
April to-do list
Annuals: Many varieties of coleus are available now at many local garden centers. Coleus can do well in sun, shade, or both, and provide beautiful coloring that will last through late summer and well into fall. Coleus flowers tend to attract many pollinators.
Bulbs: This is the perfect time to plant irises, water lilies, cannas or caladiums. Golden Canna is a great option if you are specifically looking for a beautiful native. Also consider adding varieties of daylilies. Early, mid and late blooming varieties will ensure brightly colored blooms all season long.
Herbs: It’s time to bring out the heat-loving herbs. This includes Mexican tarragon, basil, sage, oregano, and rosemary. Not good for growing herbs? Try starting with something simple, like rosemary. Rosemary is a plant that does well when it is “neglected”. It doesn’t like a lot of water and should be placed in well-drained soil. When it comes to basil, there are many varieties to choose from, but pollinators really like African blue basil and, unlike many species of basil, it’s a perennial. Have you tried Capucines? Every part of the Nasturtium plant is edible and has a nice peppery taste. They are excellent in salads or stir-fries and are very easy to grow from seed.
Vegetables: Continue planting warm season crops throughout the spring. Pay close attention to your plants as they grow and give them only the amount of water they need for their size. For example, a tomato plant will not need as much water as a six-foot-tall tomato plant that produces a lot. Too much water can promote root rot and fungal diseases.
Central Florida Landscape
Perennials and bulbs: Now is a great time to start splitting oversized ornamental grasses or bulbs and planting them elsewhere.
Shrubs: If you’re looking to add some new shrubs to the landscape, now is a good time. Check out your local nurseries and garden centers for many great options. Keep Florida-friendly principles in mind when choosing your shrubs. Make sure it’s the ‘right plant’ for the ‘right place’. Consider shrub growth habits, preferred soil conditions and irrigation needs. For more information on the Florida Friendly Landscape Principles, see ffl.ifas.ufl.edu/about-ffl/9-principles.
Lawns: If you want to add fertilizer to your lawn, do it right after new growth begins, usually in early April. Don’t use ‘weeds and seeds’ as they are generally not effective and can cause more damage than good. Look for a low phosphorus or no phosphorus fertilizer unless your soil test indicates it is needed. Fertilizers containing controlled release nitrogen will provide you with longer lasting favorable results.
Mulch: When weeds start to appear, mulching is a great way to prevent them. Not only does mulching beautify the landscape, it also helps maintain moisture in the soil and creates a barrier for weed growth. Many mulch options are available. The Marion County Extension UF/IFAS office sells melaleuca mulch to the public for just $3.50 per 2 cubic foot bag.
Upcoming Programs at Marion County Extension UF/IFAS Office: 8 a.m. to noon May 7 – Master Gardener Volunteer Spring Plant Sale; 1:00 p.m. May 24 — Volunteer Master Gardener Information Session (registration is now open at bit.ly/mgv22a).
For more information or to register for programs, call 671-8400 or email [email protected]
– Jeremy Rhoden is the Urban and Residential Horticulture Extension Officer and Senior Gardener Coordinator at the UF/IFAS Marion County Extension. For more information, contact the office at 671-8400. The extension service is located at 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL 34470.