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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.

Thank you for your interest in the University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener program.

 2016 Updates

The Chicago program is not planning on offering training in 2016, either online or in class.

The North and the South suburban Cook County units will be offering classroom training in Fall of 2016.  

 South Suburban Cook Co. will train

Thursdays Early September through mid-November, 2016 from 9:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. 

Locations include but are not limited to:

Orland Park Cultural Center, Orland Park

Sand Ridge Nature Center, South Holland

Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens, Palos Heights

You can apply online at

For questions about the South Suburban program, please contact:

Margaret Burns Westmeyer
Program Coordinator, Horticulture
University of Illinois Extension
4747 Lincoln Mall Drive, Suite 601
Matteson, IL 60443
Phone: 708-679-6889


North Cook will train on Tuesdays from 9:00 to 4:00, September 6 through November 22, 2016  

Most of the classes will be held at the Friendship Park Conservatory located at 395 West Algonquin Road, Des Plaines 60018.

You can apply online at

 For questions about the North Suburban program, please contact:

Holly Petersen
Extra Help - Program Staff
University of Illinois Extension
3rd District Court House
2121 West Euclid, Room 251
Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
Phone: 847-818-2902

No units in IL will be offering online training Jan – May 2016.

Please keep in mind that you are required to volunteer in the unit that you trained in. The respective coordinators can inform you about approved volunteer opportunities within their units.

 If you have additional questions about the Chicago Master Gardener program, which will return in 2017, please contact Sarah Batka,
No phone service yet at new location.

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).


Sample Chicago Master Gardener Training Schedule (Autumn 2015)

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 was $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.