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Ron Wolford
Extension Educator, Horticulture
University of Illinois Extension
9415 South Western Avenue, Suite 201
Chicago, IL 60643
Phone: 773-233-2900
FAX: 773-233-9183

Chicago Master Gardeners

Chicago Master Gardeners

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Who We Are

Do you enjoy gardening and would like to learn more? Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge with others? The Chicago Master Gardener Program may be for you. All you need is an interest in gardening, an open mind and a willingness to share your knowledge with others.

The Chicago Master Gardener Program is for residents of the City of Chicago and nearby suburbs. Master Gardeners are required to do the volunteering in the unit that they train with. There are separate Master Gardener Programs for greater Cook County. These are in the North Cook and South Cook units.

The Master Gardener adult volunteer program is nationwide. Master Gardeners are a vital link in getting horticulture information to the public through University of Illinois Extension offices.


The Chicago unit will be offering Master Gardener training on Wednesdays from September 2 - November 18, 2015. The format for this training will be in-person classroom training with limited hands-on opportunities. Applications for the September 2015 training will be available on the right hand column of this page from February 15, 2015 - May 1, 2015. Classes will be twelve consecutive Wednesdays from 9 am - 3:30 pm at various locations in/around Chicago. Locations may include but are not limited to: 

University of Illinois Extension Office, 10244 S Vincennes, Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago

Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside Ave., Chicago, IL 60619

Various Forest Preserve District of Cook County Sites, TBD.

You must be available for all 12 sessions to participate in the Fall 2015 Master Gardener Training.

Since 2010, Extension has been undergoing a multi-year reorganization in an effort to adjust to decreased funding, especially on the state level. As a result, the number of educators available for teaching the "live" training has decreased. Alternating program years will allow the Chicago unit to explore alternative training formats so that we can continue to deliver high quality training despite reductions in staff.

Over the past few years, interest in the Master Gardener program has increased dramatically and we have trained more students every year. Although the number of participants in our "live" training remains limited due to room size, we have had more and more online trainees. Although online training does not require teaching staff, it does require administrative time to acclimate trainees to the volunteer portion of the program. Taking a year off will allow Extension staff to focus on retention of the existing 300+ Master Gardener volunteers, provide advanced training opportunities and development their potential as project leaders.

Thank you for understanding and respecting our position. Comments and/or questions can be addressed to Ron Wolford at


Master Gardeners participate in more than 60 hours of training on botany, vegetables, tree and small fruits, diseases, insects, soils, fertilizers, pruning, trees and flowers and organic gardening. The sessions are taught by University of Illinois specialists and Extension educators and are coordinated by local horticulture extension educators. The emphasis of the information is practical, yet research based. Students must pass a final comprehensive exam (all open book).


Autumn 2015 Chicago Master Gardener Training Schedule (updated 8.4.15)

Sat August 22, 2015

9:30 am - 11:30 am

Manual Pick up, Meet & Greet Co-hort

@ Chicago Public Library, Roosevelt Branch 1101 W Taylor Street, Chicago



September 2, 2015

Orientation, ANCRA

Botany @ Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago


V. Shaughnessy

September 9, 2015

Soils & fertilizers @ Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

Nancy Kreith

September 16, 2015

Vegetables @ Sand Ridge Nature Center, South Holland

Season Extension @ Sand Ridge Nature Center

Ron Wolford

Zack Grant 

September 23, 2015

Integrated Pest Management @ NOrth Park Village Nature Center

Kim Ellson

September 30, 2015

Herbaceous Plants @ Garfield Park Conservatory

Kim Ellson

October 7, 2015

Organics @ Dan Ryan Woods FPDCC

Inquiry Adventure Field Trips

Kirsten Akre

Dr. Susan Gasper

October 14, 2015

Tree Fruits and Small Fruits @ KAMII Congregation, 1100 E Hyde Park Boulevard Chicago, IL 60615

Zack Grant

October 21, 2015

Turfgrass, Natural Lawn Care, Watershed Model

Richard Hentschel

October 28, 2015

Volunteering Opportunities, Administrative, Database

New Invasive Plants at North Park Village Nature Center


Mia Spaid

November 4, 2015

Woody Plants + Pruning @ Location TBD

Nancy Kreith

November 11, 2015

Plant Pathology & Plant Clinic @ Garfield Park Conservatory

Richard Hentschel

November 18, 2015

Entomology, Make an Aspirator

Final Exam, Certificates @ Garfield Park Conservatory

V. Shaughnessy

Sarah Batka

November 25, 2015

Make-Up Day if Needed



The cost of training in 2015 is $400 for the Master Gardener manual, Pest Management for the Home Landscape text, supplemental handouts, administrative expenses, name badge upon graduation and a Chicago Master Gardener t-shirt. A very limited number of partial scholarships may be available.

Hands-on Training During the Internship

In return for the training, Master Gardeners give back at least 60 hours of volunteer time to the Chicago Master Gardener Program within a year. Volunteering can take the form of answering questions from consumers at the Plant Clinic or working on special projects such as The Great Plant Escape, leading school gardens in high need areas of Chicago, providing technical assistance for community gardens, worm composting demonstrations, insect petting zoo, the Growing Connection/Earthboxes, the Lurie Garden, Lincoln Park Zoo and providing information at Farmer's Markets.