Section 4.12 Master Gardener and Master Composter Programs

This section clarifies and confirms guidelines for University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Volunteers (MGV). Within the MGV program, there have been questions about whether Master Gardener Volunteers are allowed to give pesticide recommendations when they hold a valid pesticide applicator’s license.

Master Gardener Volunteers

The Master Gardener Volunteers program in Maine existed in the form of independent county-based programs until 1992, when the first step was taken to establish statewide leadership, coordination, and uniformity. That year, participating counties sent their Master Gardener Volunteers classes to Orono for “Orono Day,” which provided a full day of training and helped the trainees see that they were part of a larger effort.

In 1993, the Ornamental Horticulture specialist and her graduate assistant worked with horticulture specialists and county educators to

  • establish a uniform training program across all participating counties, comprised of 10 sessions of 3-hour duration;
  • establish competency levels for Master Gardener Volunteers;
  • develop the Master Gardener Volunteers Manual; and
  • develop a set of guidelines for the Master Gardener Volunteers program.

The Maine Master Gardener Volunteers Manual is electronic and available on the Maine Master Gardener Volunteers Manual page (Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard website).

Many policies were established and refined during the following years to create a truly statewide effort. It is important to note that the program evolved as a collaborative effort of UMaine Extension staff and participants of the Master Gardener Volunteers Program.

Master Gardener Volunteers policy statement

Master Gardener Volunteers is a statewide program. Any county group that uses the name “Master Gardener Volunteers” for its program must comply with the Master Gardener Volunteers guidelines. This does not infringe upon the freedom of an individual county to design its own gardening program; if it does not choose to follow these guidelines, it cannot use the term “Master Gardener Volunteers.” Participant learning and competency levels will be evaluated by means of the standardized quizzes and/or a final examination.

The program includes several basic sessions each year, as well as food crop sessions. A sample schedule might include:

  1. Orientation to UMaine Extension and MGV
  2. Basic botany
  3. Soils, fertilizers, and soil testing
  4. Composting
  5. Home vegetable production (two sessions)
  6. Home small fruit production (two sessions)
  7. Home tree fruit production
  8. Becoming an effective Master Gardener Volunteer: volunteerism
  9. Insect Pests
  10. Plant Diseases
  11. Pesticide Use and Storage

The program leadership team (PLT) for home horticulture will decide which topics are covered in yearly training sessions. However, each county will make the final decision about their respective schedule and class syllabus.

What is Master Gardener Volunteers?

Master Gardener Volunteers is part of Extension. In many counties throughout the country, avid gardeners enroll in a Master Gardener training program, to learn in-depth information about horticulture, the art, and science of growing fruits, vegetables, and ornamental plants. After the classroom phase, Master Gardeners contribute volunteer time to community gardening projects.


Experienced gardeners, landscapers, orchardists, and others interested in studying horticulture and volunteering in community gardening projects may apply to the Master Gardener program in their respective county. Applications are evaluated and successful candidates admitted to the program as space allows. Individuals from another county may apply to a program if it is allowed by the host county.

Evaluation of Learning

Quizzes are given when appropriate, covering the previous session’s topic. The quizzes help assess participants’ level of learning and may serve as a basis for further discussion. A make-up quiz on the printed material may be used for those people who miss a class.


A Master Gardener Volunteers Certificate of completion may be awarded to program participants who attend at least 80% of the training sessions. The title of Master Gardener Volunteer is awarded to participants who successfully complete both the training program and 40 hours of volunteer time within one year.

Title Use

The Master Gardener Volunteer Training Certificate of Attendance and the Master Gardener Volunteer titles may not be used to endorse any product. This information may be used on a resume, on business cards, and for private business purposes

Volunteer Time

The minimum volunteer time donated by a program participant in order to become a Master Gardener is 40 hours, which must be completed within one year after finishing the classroom training. Master Gardener Volunteers are encouraged to continue their volunteer efforts beyond the minimum.

Advanced Training and Meetings

Master Gardener Volunteers who have completed the classroom training and are performing their volunteer service, plus those who have become Master Gardener Volunteers, are encouraged to meet periodically. Where staff are available to coordinate, county groups may meet several times each year to learn about topics not covered in the basic training. These meetings are used to offer, among other things,

  • training sessions in new or advanced topics;
  • field days, tours and workshops;
  • assessment and discussion of volunteer projects; and
  • coordination of the local Master Gardener Volunteers Program and future directions.

County Coordinating Committee (in some counties)

The function of the Master Gardener Volunteer coordinating committee is to determine the resources and logistics of project management. Items to be considered include

  • people, money, tools, vehicles for volunteer projects; and
  • program and administrative procedures for the group.

The coordinating committee is not required for each county-based group, but it is helpful. It is suggested that three to five Master Gardeners serve on the coordinating committee, along with the Extension Educator, Professional, or Community Education Assistant responsible for coordinating the county program.


Master Gardener Volunteers may propose, discuss and determine volunteer projects as a group, although the projects may be pursued individually. All projects must be approved by the Extension representative. Travel time may be counted as part of the volunteer time commitment.

Time Records

Master Gardeners are asked to complete monthly time cards on their participation in the Master Gardener Volunteers Program. This minimal record-keeping process helps the local Extension educator and the coordinating committee monitor the effectiveness of the group’s outreach efforts. Online hours reporting has made this easier in recent years.

Restricted Use Chemical Recommendations

Because Extension is liable for its advice, and because pesticide recommendations change constantly, only Extension personnel may recommend pesticides when representing Extension. Master Gardener Volunteers are encouraged to refer all requests for chemical recommendations (restricted or not) to the UMaine Extension Pest Management Office, 491 College Avenue, Orono, Maine 04473, 1.800.287.0279 (in Maine).

Limited Activities and Use of Media

As representatives of UMaine Extension, Master Gardener Volunteers must respect and follow the “Limited Activities” guidelines established by Extension. These guidelines define limits of political activity, testifying in court, acceptance of gifts, selling of raffle tickets, lobbying, and handling funds and orders. Visit the Section 3.10 Limited Activities page for guidelines.

Extension also adheres to appropriate uses of the media for dissemination of information. Generally, Extension representatives are encouraged to use all media — radio, television, newspapers, digital — to disseminate objective, educational information. Any Extension educator can supply a copy of Extension’s media use guidelines, visit the Working with Media page, though staff act as liaisons between Master Gardener Volunteers and the Extension marketing professional.