WSU Clark County Extension

Photo collage of trees and WSU Master Gardener Plant Sale

Washington State University Master Gardener Volunteer Education Program

What is a Washington State University Master Gardener?

Photo of Rudebeckia flowers
As flowers enrich our gardens, volunteers enrich our lives.

A Washington State certified WSU Master Gardener is a volunteer who has completed 12 weeks of classroom training in all phases of horticulture as related to the management of landscapes and gardens in a science-based, sustainable manner. A WSU Master Gardener has been taught how to address environmental and social priorities which include:

  • expanded public awareness of the value of home and public landscapes,
  • appropriate plant selection,
  • integrated pest management,
  • water conservation,
  • greater use of native plants,
  • water quality protection, and
  • reducing the impact of invasive species

In Southwest Washington, WSU Master Gardeners assist the Extension office at the Clark County Heritage Farm in Hazel Dell, by sharing their knowledge of and enthusiasm for gardening to meet crucial needs within their communities. As para-professionals for Washington State University, WSU Master Gardeners help answer home gardening calls, emails, and in-office client questions that come into the Extension office. They also give public lectures, coordinate tours of public gardens and nurseries and assist the 4-H program in gardening classes to teach children environmental stewardship. Volunteers plan the Master Gardener exhibit at the Clark County Fair, publish a newsletter and staff booths at several area farmers markets. And a whole lot more!

For those volunteers interested in leadership and fund-raising roles a Master Gardener Foundation exists to support the efforts of the WSU Master Gardener Program.

History of the WSU Master Gardener Program

The year 2013 marks the 37nd year anniversary of the first WSU Master Gardener class in Clark County!

We estimate that over 1600 volunteers have completed WSU Master Gardener training in the last 37 years.

The first WSU Master Gardener Program was initiated in the State of Washington in 1973. Area Extension Agents in the Puget Sound region found themselves overwhelmed with questions on horticulture, gardening and plant problems, especially in the urban counties. The objective of the first program was to train a group of skilled volunteers in plant identification and selection, fruit and vegetable gardening, soils, insect and disease control, and lawns. In return for this training class participants were expected to assist local Extension personnel in providing home gardening information to residents of the their communities. With experience and mentoring WSU Master Gardener volunteers became very proficient at answering nearly all of the home gardening calls, thus freeing up Extension staff for program development.

More recently WSU Master Gardening training has evolved into a program stressing sustainable gardening practices involving integrated pest management, natural gardening, water efficient landscaping, and plant selection for the urban environment. Volunteers now spend time in the Extension office as well as working in the community in elementary school gardening programs, neighborhood associations, and in association with local ornamental plant associations.

The early success in Washington led to the formation of Master Gardener Programs all across the United States associated with many of the land-grant universities. Here in Clark County we have other volunteer programs based on the original concept behind WSU Master Gardeners including Watershed Steward Advisors, Master Food Preservers, and Small Farm Advisors.

Fall Training Program

Photo of WSU Master Gardener Senior Project
A happy team of 2005 WSU Master Gardeners delivering their class project at the end of the 12 week Fall Training Program.

WSU Master Gardener volunteers receive 77 hours of college-level, WSU-certified training. Classes are taught by WSU research specialists, some of whom are from WSU Puyallup. Students need to attend each session of the basic training course. Each trainee will complete a class research project and a series of take-home open-book quizzes. The goal is to learn how and where to do home gardening research.

After completing the curriculum section of training, the new trainees are required to dedicate 50 hours of service to the community by assisting the public in solving their home gardening problems and answering questions. Upon completion of the hours, they become Certified WSU Master Gardeners.

WSU Master Gardener Training

Master Gardener Training runs September 4 through November 20, with classes each Wednesday from 8:45 am to 3 pm. The fee – $175 plus an on-line training fee of $70 (total $245) – is payable to WSU. Study materials are included. Limited tuition assistance is available. Class size is limited to 60 students. Training includes full day classroom sessions – live presentations, field trips, and learning labs in addition to 3–5 hours per week of on-line instruction (see list of computer experience and equipment requirements below).

To register for the Master Gardener Program:

The application for 2014 Master Gardener training is now available. Please read the cover page closely for information on the application process. Contact 360-397-6060 x 5738 or email if you have any questions. Thanks!

The WSU Clark County Master Gardener Program is a volunteer program for people with a passion for plants, a drive to learn, and a commitment to serve. Candidates for the program may have very little experience or knowledge about horticulture or they may have a lot, but all have a desire to learn. By signing up to join the program, you are committing to serving the community as a gardening/horticulture educator.

The process to becoming a Master Gardener starts with an intensive 12-week training. During that time and combined with a year of on-the-job training, trainees develop the skills and knowledge to become effective community educators on plants, plant communities and the pests and problems which plague them.

Master Gardener Training in 2014 runs September 3 through November 19, with classes each Wednesday from 8:45 am to 3 pm. The fee – $175 plus an on-line training fee of $70 (total $245) – is payable to WSU. Study materials are included. Limited tuition assistance is available. Class size is limited to 60 students. Training includes full day classroom sessions – live presentations, field trips, and learning labs in addition to 3–5 hours per week of on-line instruction (see list of computer experience and equipment requirements below).

Students commit to weekly homework which includes reading 25 chapters, completing chapter quizzes, viewing on-line videos, and completing a final exam, as well as other short take-home assignments. In order to certify as a Master Gardener, trainees must pass the quizzes and exam with a 70% or higher grade.

Upon successful completion of training, volunteers begin a one year internship in which they are required to serve a total of at least 50 volunteer hours, on projects such as the Extension office answer clinic, tabling at the Home & Garden Idea Fair, Clark County Fair and other events, serving as a part of the newsletter team, or helping at a school, senior, or community garden - to name a few of the many opportunities.

In subsequent years, veteran Master Gardeners serve a total of at least 35 volunteer hours each year, including 10 hours of continuing education, in order to retain certified status.

If you have any questions about the application process, contact Erika Johnson, WSU Master Gardener Program Coordinator at 360-397-6060 ext. 5738 or

Computer Experience and Equipment Requirements

Trainees should have at least some previous computer experience and feel comfortable navigating the Internet and using email. They also need access to a computer for extended periods.

MG Online Training can be accessed with a 56 kbps dial-up modem (using a phone line). However, a high-speed connection such as cable broadband or DSL is recommended for faster downloading and navigation.

Hardware System Requirements

  Microsoft Windows Apple Macintosh
Operating System XP Vista Mac 10.3 Mac 10.4 Mac 10.5
Processor Speed/Type Intel Pentium/ Celeron family; AMD K6/Athlon/ Duron 1 GHz 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor Power PC G3, G4, G5; some models of iMac & iBook; Powerbook G3 & G4 Power PC G3, G4, or G5 Intel, Power PC G5, Power PC G4
CPU Memory (minimum) 128 MB RAM 1 GB RAM 128 MB RAM 256 MB RAM 512 MB RAM
Monitor Resolution 1024 x 768 1024 x 768 1024 x 768 1024 x 768 1024 x 768
Free Hard Disk Space (minimum) 1.5 GB free disk space 40 GB hard drive with min. 15 GB free space 1.5 GB free disk space 3 GB free disk space 9 GB free disk space

When to Apply

Applications are available each year, starting on April 1 online (see above) or at the Extension office at the Clark County Heritage Farm (Tuesday through Friday – note our office hours.) The course occurs once per year and usually fills quickly, so the sooner you register, the more likely you are to get a spot in this year’s class.

Payback Responsibilities

After completion of training program volunteers are known as “Interns”. During the first calendar year, Interns serve a total of at least 50 volunteer hours, including at least 20 hours in the Extension office Answer Clinic helping to answer gardening questions from the public. The other 30 hours are in an outreach setting or other approved activity, as listed below. In the following years, “Veterans” serve a total of at least 35 volunteer hours, including at least 5 hours in the Extension office Answer Clinic, 10 hours of continuing education, and another 20 hours in an outreach setting or other approved activity, which include:

  • Speakers bureau
  • Tabling at the Home and Garden Idea Fair
  • Serving as newsletter contributor
  • Working with 4-H youth program in gardening
  • Developing and running our Clark County Fair exhibit

Years of Service

It is not unusual for volunteers to serve for more than five years after completing the initial training and the two years of required payback. There are even WSU Master Gardener volunteers who have remained with the program for as many as twenty years! Although this lengthy commitment is not a requirement for the program many volunteers enjoy the camaraderie, social opportunities, and educational enrichment that are the rewards of being an experienced and sought-after volunteer

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WSU Clark County Extension, 1919 NE 78th St, Vancouver, WA 98665, 360-397-6060, Contact Us