Do you have an interest in plants and serving your community? If yes, you might consider becoming a Florida Master Gardener volunteer. Classes are gearing up in northeast Florida with most starting in July or August.
Master Gardener is a title given to individuals who receive in-depth horticultural training from County Extension Agents and in return give 75 hours of volunteer service helping their local county extension office. The program is under the direction of the University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS).
Master Gardeners join the program for a variety of reasons. Some are passionate about growing plants and want to share their knowledge; others want to volunteer in an area where they will be challenged.
There are many health benefits to gardening and being part of a group that shares your enthusiasm for plants. If you have ever worked in the landscape or garden, you know there are obvious health benefits because it involves physical exercise that helps prevent illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that individuals who garden for 2 ½ hours each week are less likely than inactive people to have problems with high blood pressure, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke, depression, colon cancer and premature death. Whatever the reason, there is a common bond among gardeners and they are an eager, nurturing group that love to share information and plants.
The County Extension Offices in several northeast Florida counties train Master Gardeners in late summer and fall. If you are a resident of Duval, Clay, Bradford, Nassau, St. Johns, Putnam or Baker counties, the classes coming up are open to you.
Most Master Gardener training sessions will be held on Wednesdays beginning in early August and ending in October. In Duval and Nassau County, training sessions begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 3:30 p.m. each Wednesday. The cost to attend the program varies so check with your local County Extension Office.
Training will include topics such as basic plant science, plant propagation, entomology (insects), plant pathology (diseases), nematology, vegetable gardening, fruit culture, woody ornamentals, turf management, animal pest control, Florida-Friendly Landscaping, irrigation basics and planting/care of common landscape plants. The Master Gardener training is the most comprehensive horticultural program offered in our area.
After the trainee obtains the required 75 hours of volunteer service, they are awarded Master Gardener status. To remain active in the program, the Master Gardeners agree to 35 hours of volunteer service each year and are required to obtain ten hours of training each year to maintain active status. They continue to learn as information is constantly changing based on research conducted by the UF/IFAS specialists.
Master Gardeners give their volunteer hours to County Extension Offices in various ways. Many Duval County Master Gardeners help residents by answering plant related telephone calls coming into the Extension Office. In addition they trouble-shoot plant problems brought into the office, test soil for pH, conduct plant clinics, teach 4H youth about plants, plant and maintain demonstration gardens, teach groups about landscape techniques to protect the environment, provide assistance on school garden projects, help clients at the Canning/Nutrition Center, write articles for local newspapers and magazines and assist with city beautification projects.
Applications for a limited number of openings are now being taken in area County Extension Offices for upcoming classes. Anyone may apply for the program regardless of race, creed, color, sex, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, political opinions, marital status or disability.
Terry Brite DelValle is a horticulture extension agent with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.