To become a Master Gardener, you must fill out and submit an application to your local Extension Unit. After the local coordinator reviews the application, you will be asked for an interview. Acceptance of trainees will be based on an established need for local Master Gardener volunteer activities. All Master Gardener trainees who have been accepted into the program are required to complete full background checks as part of the volunteer selection process. This includes completion of the Volunteer Application; an interview; a volunteer agreement form; a DCFS CANTS check; Illinois State Police Conviction Name Check Request for Volunteers and a name check against the National Sex Offender Website. Trainees must also complete a required Child Protection Course. The University will treat this information as confidential.
Once an applicant passes the volunteer screening procedure and is accepted in the program they will begin the training program. Face-to-face training classes are taught once a week for 11 weeks, usually beginning in mid to late January. Attendance for all 11 classes is mandatory. There is also an online option for training. Classes are taught by University of Illinois specialists and extension educators. Class topics include botany, soils, vegetables, fruits, flowers, trees and shrubs, grasses, landscaping, insects, and diseases. A fee, which is determined by the local coordinator, is charged for the training and includes a training manual. Upon successful completion of the classroom training units and passing the final exam, you will become a Master Gardener Intern. The internship consists of fulfilling volunteer hours approximately equal to the number of hours of classroom training received (60 hours). Certified Master Gardeners are those who have completed their classroom training and internship. To be an active Master Gardener, you must remain current in annual educational updates (a minimum of 10 hours) and volunteer service hours (a minimum of 30 hours) required by the local program.
Some local Master Gardener programs also have Master Gardener mentors and Advanced Master Gardeners. Mentors are experienced active Master Gardeners who are paired with trainees and interns to help guide them through a successful volunteer experience. Advanced Master Gardeners are those who have completed specialized training beyond the core course. Advanced Master Gardeners also remain certified by continuing active volunteer status and meeting the annual educational update requirement.