Question: When is the next Master Gardener class starting and do you need to have professional training to become one?

Answer: If you have an inquisitive nature, love gardening and want to give back to your community then joining the Master Gardener program may be a fun and rewarding experience. You don't have to be a gardening expert. The program is more about interacting with your community through various projects and communicating the most reliable resources of information you have learned through the instructional part of the program.

The Master Gardener program was established to assist cooperative extension in reaching the expanding number of home gardeners. Participants begin with 60 hours of daytime instruction on vegetables, fruits, lawns, diseases, insects, soils, fertilizers, pruning, trees and pesticide safety. Faculty and staff of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, conduct the majority of the classes. In most counties the training is supplemented with a manual which is kept as a reference. Once training is complete the Master Gardener intern is required to complete a specified number of volunteer hours to become a certified Master Gardener.

To complete the volunteer obligation, participants become involved with local projects as well as answering questions from home gardeners through a helpline at the local extension office. Master Gardeners are not expected to know all the answers off the top of their heads but have learned how to find the answers.

Master Gardeners in Atlantic County have volunteered at the Ocean Aquarium in Atlantic City, Forsyth Wildlife Refuge, the Community Garden in Atlantic City and Galloway Township, local school gardens and a demonstration garden at the county extension office. They also have given many talks to civic groups in their community. Volunteer time is selected to meet the specific interests and strengths of the individual volunteer. The programs emphasize practical gardening experience with research based information.

The Master Gardeners have monthly meetings with speakers, take road trips to botanic gardens and coordinate an annual plant sale with emphasis on native and plants suitable to their particular environment. Each year there is an annual conference for all New Jersey Master Gardeners to meet and share ideas.

In Atlantic County training starts Jan. 8 but applications are now being accepted on a first-come first-serve basis. For more information on how to apply online check our website rutgers-atlantic.org. Information on other counties can be obtained by contacting your local cooperative Extension office. Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey provides equal opportunities in its programs and employment.

Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: