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The Master Gardener Program:
What is a Master Gardener exactly?

What is the Master Gardener program?

The Master Gardener program is an educational outreach program administered by the University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service. First initiated in Washington state in 1972, it is found throughout the United States and Canada. The Master Gardener program is not a gardening class; it is a certification program which is recognized nationwide. Master gardeners take a course which includes botany, pest and disease analysis, and cultivation of plants and then volunteer their time helping to educate the public. Generally speaking, Master Gardeners who move to Hawaii from another state where they have completed the course and become certified must take the complete course here in Hawaii and become re-certified. The reason for this becomes obvious as you start gardening in Hawaii and realize that almost everything is different from what you are used to. Not only are the pests and diseases new to you, but basic practices of cultivation can be quite different in the subtropical climate we live in.

Mission Statement

The mission of the University of Hawaii Master Gardener program is to “provide the public with unbiased, research based information and sustainable management practices in tropical horticulture suitable for home gardens, local landscapes, urban environments and the community.”

What does this mean for you, the Master Gardener?

First of all, we should clarify that Master Gardeners are here to provide answers for the public. We do not work with commercial growers; if you are getting questions that give you the impression that the caller is growing crops with the intention to sell or that he/she is currently selling the crop, simply explain that Master Gardeners assist home gardeners and that you will refer him to an extension agent. Most commercial growers are aware of this, but new gardeners moving here from the mainland may be unaware of extension policies as they explore cultivation of cash crops.

What does it mean to be unbiased?

Master gardeners provide science based answers to gardening questions. For the most part, if a response is based on research, it is unbiased. You may encounter people who want to argue with you when you provide them with answers to their questions Try to use the art of gentle persuasion to convince gardeners that the science based methods we recommend are better for plants specifically and the landscape in general. If that doesn’t work, move on.

What is research based information?

You will find research based information on university web sites and supplied by our extension agents and university resource personnel. Good examples of acceptable sources are the CTAHR web site, University of Florida, and University of California – Davis. A web site which ends with “edu” is a good bet for your research. E might be an excellent site for other purposes, but for Master Gardeners, it is not the place to look for science based answers. Sites like Dave’s Garden, though packed with useful information, must be used with care because much of the information may not apply to gardening in Hawaii.

Why is it so important to provide research based information?

Can’t I just search the web using key words and give the client whatever information comes up?  It is important to give only science based information to clients because the Master Gardener program is part of the University of Hawaii and it is part of our mission to give accurate answers. You may have noticed that when you do a general search for a topic, you produce hundreds if not thousands of internet hits, and it can be difficult to tell whether or not the article you find is factual. We do not want to give misinformation to the public as this hurts our credibility.

What does sustainable mean?

In the Master Gardeners program, we try to educate the public in gardening methods which protect the surrounding environment, do no harm, and promote the best growth and production in ornamental and food crops. Master Gardeners educate the public in best planting practices, watering, fertilization, pest and disease control so that problems are addressed and managed without harming the environment.

Who can become a Master Gardener Volunteer?

Master Gardeners are people who love to garden, want to learn and to share knowledge with others in our community. Master Gardeners are dedicated volunteers trained in horticulture by University educators, specialists and researchers. Trained Master Gardener volunteers help Cooperative Extension agents meet the demand for research based gardening information.

Potential Master Gardeners must have some gardening experience, preferably in Hawaii. Those who have recently moved to Hawaii from the mainland may be asked to reapply next year after they’ve had some experience gardening in the subtropics. It is helpful if future Master Gardeners have had some successful contact with the public as so much of our mission is in the form of educational outreach to the public. People who are uncomfortable talking with strangers or who freeze when talking on the phone, may find it difficult to complete the requirements on the Helpline. Future Master Gardeners do not have to be computer savvy though it certainly helps as so much of our research is done on computers. You should be curious, interested in learning, and prepared to learn how to do research to track down the answers to clients questions. If you don’t really want to do the volunteer part of Master gardeners including the things I’ve mentioned, maybe a gardening class would be better for you.

Submitted by Kendal Lyon, Hawaii Island Master Gardeners