Montana State University

Extension Master Gardener program sees changes for 2010

November 24, 2009 -- MSU News Service

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The Montana State University Extension Master Gardener program has undergone some changes for 2010 to better serve both beginning and experienced gardeners throughout Montana. Previously, the Extension Master Gardener program was a 12-week advanced gardening program in which students had to attend 24 hours of class time, pass a comprehensive test and perform 20 hours of volunteer commitment to earn the Montana Master Gardener designation.

"As an Extension agent in Silver Bow County for the last two seasons, I taught the previous Master Gardener curriculum and found that many people in the class wanted to learn basic gardening, while others were much more advanced," said Toby Day, MSU Extension horticulture associate, who oversees the statewide Extension Master Gardener Program. "It made it difficult to keep it interesting for all those who signed up. While the previous Master Gardener program was successful, we've decided to go forward with a three-level Master Gardener program for Montana to better serve our clientele."

The three-level Master Gardener Program will start with an eight-week Level 1 (beginning level) course that will cover basic fertility and soils, plant growth and development, growing food and flowers, lawn installation and maintenance, irrigation, yard and garden maintenance, composting, introduction to integrated pest management, and how to select, install and maintain trees, shrubs and vines.

"This class is specifically designed for those who want to learn more about gardening, how to install a garden and how to take proper care of their property," Day said. "The class will run eight weeks, will have an open book test and will require 20 hours of a volunteer commitment."

The volunteer commitment component of the Master Gardener program is an opportunity for the Master Gardeners to give back to the community by answering horticulture questions at their local Extension office, staffing booths at fairs and farmers markets, writing articles and helping design, install and maintain community flower and vegetable gardens.

The proposed date for the program to be available to the county Extension agents is January 15.

Following the Level 1 Extension Master Gardener class, the Level 2 Master Gardener program will be available in mid-March. The Level 2 class will be an advanced class for those that have basic experience and/or knowledge about gardening and want more technical training. It will require a closed-book test and 30 hours of volunteer commitment.

In the summer of 2011, the Level 3 Extension Master Gardener course will be offered as a three day intensive gardening and volunteer training offered on the campus of Montana State University. Details about the training are still being developed.

Every county Extension agent in Montana will have the opportunity to administer the Extension Master Gardener program. However, the individual county Extension agents will determine whether there is a need in their community. According to Day, it is up to the agents if they want to hold a Master Gardener class.

"The classes can take some time away from other Extension programs, so we have left it up to the agents to decide if, through their needs assessment, the class will benefit their program area," said Day.

Times, dates and locations of the Extension Master Gardener series are determined by the county Extension agents that participate in the program in their individual service area. To find out more about the Extension Master Gardener program, contact your local Extension office at http://www.msuextension.org/Directory/field.asp or visit the Extension Master Gardener website at http://gardenguide.montana.edu/mgardener/mgardenerindex.asp

Toby Day (406) 994-6523 or tday@montana.edu