Idaho Master Gardener Program Guidelines

University of Idaho Extension's Idaho Master Gardener Training Program Susan M. Bell, Extension Educator, Ada County, Boise

The University of Idaho (UI) Extension's Idaho Master Gardener Program gives gardeners an opportunity not only to improve their horticultural knowledge and skills but also to serve their communities. "Helping people grow" is the motto of the program. University of Idaho Extension (UI Extension) conducts the Idaho Master Gardener Program through participating county offices in Idaho under the direction of UI Extension educators.

I. University of Idaho Extension

UI Extension is an educational resource partnership that extends research and technology to the people of Idaho. UI Extension helps people help themselves by bridging gaps between research and everyday problems.

Mission: The mission of UI Extension is to provide informal educational programs to help Idaho residents improve their economic status and quality of their lives. The UI College of Agricultural and Life Science's mission is to support economic growth and enhance the quality of life for the people of Idaho by: (1) preparing students to be innovative leaders in a global society, (2) helping people improve their lives through research-based education and leadership development focused on issues and needs, and (3) providing new knowledge to support agriculture and enhance the understanding of natural and human resources.

Background: Land-grant universities and UI Extension were developed through three congressional acts:

  • The Morrill Act of 1862 created colleges and universities to provide classical, scientific, agricultural, and engineering education.
  • The Hatch Act of 1887 expanded the educational mandate of the colleges to include research.
  • Chapter 1, The Idaho Master
  • The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established Cooperative Extension to provide educational services in all states.

Cooperative Extension is a national educational network designed to extend technical expertise and university research findings to people, which permits them to improve their homes, families, farms, businesses, and communities. Cooperative Extension is the largest and considered the most successful educational organization in the world, and delivers programs that are modeled and duplicated worldwide.

Funding: The word "Cooperative" in the title results from the three-way funding partnership among local, state, and federal governments. In addition, contributions of time, talent, and supplies from volunteers, businesses, and private organizations enable programs such as Idaho Master Gardener to operate.

Personnel: Over 60 county extension faculty, based in 42 county extension offices and the Fort Hall and Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservations, presently serve Idaho. Backed up by subject matter specialists, researchers, and support personnel at 10 research and extension centers and on the UI campus, UI Extension educators deliver programs throughout the state. These professionals work with the people of Idaho to address agricultural, natural resource, youth, family, and environmental issues. Collaborative relationships with countless agencies, groups, and individuals make possible a vast array of innovative educational programs. Idaho Master Gardeners are the second largest volunteer group (4-H is the largest) with which Cooperative Extension works in Idaho.

Idaho Master Gardener Volunteers: In Idaho more than 1,000 experienced Master Gardeners volunteer their time each year, with about 300 new gar-

Gardener Program Handbook deners trained annually to be Idaho Master Gardeners. In partnership with the University of Idaho's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, credit and certificate courses are available to Idaho Master Gardeners across the state.

Administration: Idaho Master Gardener educational programs in Idaho are guided by UI Extension educators from the University of Idaho as part of its land-grant mission in cooperation with the Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences at the UI's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

All extension programs are administered through four extension districts in Idaho: Northern (I), Southwestern (II), Southcentral (III), and Eastern (IV). Many programs are planned at the district level in collaboration with volunteers.

II. Purpose

The UI's Idaho Master Gardener Program is an educational opportunity designed to meet the gardening information needs of the community. The program's purpose is to provide technical assistance and information in the area of home horticulture to people in the community through qualified volunteers: Idaho Master Gardeners.

Applicants receive basic horticultural training on a variety of topics. To become an Idaho Master Gardener, the applicant must complete a minimum of 30 hours of classes and an additional minimum of 30 hours of practicum/hands-on training. Individuals must receive a satisfactory grade on exams or must demonstrate competency for the course content to the satisfaction of the program coordinator. Returning Idaho Master Gardeners may continue their training annually after certification. Many counties offer Advanced Idaho Master Gardener training.

The UI's Idaho Master Gardener Program is based on a philosophy of shared ownership. UI Extension educators, staff, and volunteers share vision, ideas, and responsibilities for the program. However, the ultimate responsibility for the Idaho Master Gardener Program is with UI Extension educators as they are held legally accountable for operation of the program.

III. Volunteer Commitment

The type of hands-on training chosen is based on a mutual decision of the supervising UI Extension educator and the Idaho Master Gardener trainee. At least part of the volunteer hours of service must be spent at or arranged through the county extension office. Certified Idaho Master Gardeners share their knowledge free with individuals, groups, at schools, or in community service roles but may accept reimbursement for mileage and materials.

IV. Trade-Related Professionals

Industry professionals are welcome to extend or supplement their knowledge and credentials through UI training programs. However, professionals must consider carefully the volunteer commitment to the program. If volunteering is not feasible, reimbursement for training and materials, or in-kind support of the program may be negotiated. Since these are volunteer programs, only a limited number of trade applicants are accepted in any one training session.

It is inappropriate to solicit by any means for personal business or gain at or during University of Idaho Extension volunteer meetings, training sessions, or other functions.

V. Certification and Recertification

The applicant will receive certification upon successful completion of the Idaho Master Gardener classroom instruction, examinations, and hands-on training. Certificates and identification badges that verify program status and satisfactory program completion are provided at the discretion of each county Master Gardener Program. Certification as an Idaho Master Gardener is valid for only one year. When appropriate, recertification for additional years is encouraged through the Advanced Idaho Master Gardener course.

Individuals who completed Master Gardener training in other states and choose to become an Idaho Master Gardener must provide a letter of recommendation from their previous county or state Master Gardener Program coordinator. In addition, they must schedule an entrance interview with the UI Extension educator or program coordinator responsible for the Idaho Master Gardener Program in their county. In the interview they will mutually agree to the necessary training to be certified in an Idaho Master Gardener Program.

VI. Use of Title

The title "Master Gardener" is to be used only and exclusively with University of Idaho Extension's Idaho Master Gardener Program and not for commercial purposes. Persons are expected to iden tify themselves as participants in the Idaho Master Gardener Program only when performing volunteer work affiliated with the program. The training, experience, and certification gained in the Idaho Master Gardener Program may be used and listed as qualifications when seeking employment.

VII. Position Description/Application

Each Idaho Master Gardener must complete and sign an Idaho Master Gardener application and opportunity contract (see pages 1-9 and 1-11) before any volunteer work is begun. Read the position description as it outlines the requirements of the position and the methods of supervision.

VIII. Fees

A nominal fee is charged to cover the cost of resource materials and other literature received during Idaho Master Gardener training. Fees may vary from one county to another.

IX. Training Dates and Locations

Contact your local University of Idaho Extension office for specific time, dates, and location for Idaho Master Gardener training.

X. College Credit

This is a certificate program of the University of Idaho. Applicants accepted into the Idaho Master Gardener Program may, for an additional fee, obtain Continuing Education Units (undergraduate or graduate credit) from the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Contact the Department of Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences academic unit through your UI Extension office for more information about this opportunity.

Extra classwork and/or practicum work may be required for a satisfactory grade. Ask your county's Idaho Master Gardener Program coordinator.

XI. Impact and Accountability

UI Extension needs to know what you have done as an Idaho Master Gardener in order to give you credit for your volunteer service and measure the effectiveness of the program. Use the Volunteer Activity Record (see page 1-13) to keep track on an ongoing basis of your volunteer contribution of hours, activities, and contacts. "Hours" is the total number of volunteer hours you have spent on Idaho Master Gardener activities. "Contacts" refers to the number of people you assist as a volunteer.

XII. Liability Insurance

Only authorized volunteers are entitled to the protection of the University of Idaho's liability insurance program. Authorized volunteers are persons who have been asked to perform a specific function by a UI employee with the authority to recruit assistance. The volunteer is then protected only while acting within the scope and course of this authorized volunteer service.

To ensure that the liability insurance program will respond to a claim against an alleged volunteer, it is absolutely essential that the university be able to document that the person was, in fact, appropriately authorized and acting within the scope and course of the requested service. To ensure documentation of all bonafide authorized volunteers, please follow these procedures:

  1. Make sure a job description is on file for each Idaho Master Gardener volunteer; the job description should include whether the volunteer will be driving UI vehicles while performing job duties. Identify the person to which each volunteer position reports, and identify whether the individual in that position is a UI employee or another volunteer.
  2. Volunteers, other than Idaho Master Gardeners, recruited individually by a UI volunteer or employee for specific individual tasks must have an individual agreement or letter of authorization from the UI employee to be covered by liability protection.
  3. Keep a list of names and positions for authorized volunteers recruited, individually or in a group, by another volunteer authorized to recruit. Have both the volunteers who recruited them, as well as the UI employee in charge of the project, sign the list. Be sure that the job descriptions for any volunteers authorized to recruit others indicate that authority.

The purpose of all this is to have a clearly docu-mentable chain identifying who was recruited, by whom they were recruited, and what they were recruited to do.

XIII. Workers' Compensation Insurance

Workers' compensation insurance is provided by the Idaho State Insurance Fund for authorized volunteers in public employment.

The definition of a volunteer for purposes of workers' compensation insurance is an authorized

Gardener Program Handbook person approved by a UI department head who is under the direction and control of that UI person in the performance of volunteer duties. A roster of volunteer person's names, including dates and hours of volunteer work, must be maintained by the UI department in order for workers' compensation insurance to be in effect.

XIV. Information Is Important

Whether through phone calls, home visits, plant clinics, presentations, newsletters, emails, websites, or other efforts, the information given out by Idaho Master Gardener volunteers must be unbiased and research-based; it must be accurate, current, and when possible taken from University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences publications and research. Our mandated focus and emphasis is to extend the information being developed at the University of Idaho or other land-grant universities to the people of Idaho.

Use the UI horticultural publications listed in this manual. They are available from your county's UI Extension office, or write Publications, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho 83844-2240, call (208) 885-7982, fax (208) 885-4648, or email [email protected]. You can also check, and in some cases download, the online publication and video catalog on the UI Educational Communications website (

XV. Recommendations

Idaho Master Gardeners are asked to use tact and give constructive advice when advising home gardeners. Best results come from guiding people in their decisions. In each case please give biological, cultural, and chemical options for pest management. Then encourage the clientele to choose the best option for themselves. Often there is more than one solution to a pest problem.

Because we are the research-based division of the university, it is sometimes necessary for Idaho Master Gardeners to do the research on specific pest concerns. Always check a minimum of three sources that agree before giving out advice. Be sure of your recommendation before you give it!

UI Extension's Idaho Master Gardeners make recommendations only in the areas of home horticulture, home vegetable and fruit culture, ornamentals, turf, and tree and landscape care. They are not expected to make recommendations in areas for which they are not qualified. Questions concerning the commercial green industry or commercial farm crops should be referred to the county's UI Extension educator.

When it is necessary to make recommendations that include the use of chemicals (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides), Idaho Master Gardeners should follow published product labels and/or UI recommendations. Cultural problems not specifically covered by UI recommendations may be handled by suggesting treatments that an experienced Idaho Master Gardener considers appropriate. Refer questions about commercial pest control to the county's UI Extension educator.

XVI. Volunteer Service Opportunities

Idaho Master Gardeners assist in many areas of the community through demonstration gardens, horticulture classes, landscape design, information booths, and at the UI Extension office. Below is a sample list of some practicum opportunities in which Idaho Master Gardeners are involved.

  • Presenting educational programs/demonstrations on gardening to adults.
  • Helping at gardening education events: workshops, clinics, trade shows.
  • Presenting gardening classes to school youth.
  • Working at 4-H plant science events or training sessions.
  • Staffing information booths at fairs, field days, and horticultural education events.
  • Helping teach Idaho Master Gardener classes.
  • Reading gardening articles and summarizing them for Idaho Master Gardeners and faculty.
  • Writing newsletters and information sheets on gardening.
  • Maintaining a website for the county's Idaho Master Gardener Program.
  • Organizing Idaho Master Gardener plant clinics.
  • Making garden or landscape site visits.
  • Organizing community service projects related to gardening, including landscape design and maintenance.
  • Organizing an Idaho Master Gardener mentoring program for your county.
  • Filing, helping with bulk mailings, and working at the UI Extension office.
  • Answering garden calls at your home or at your county's UI Extension office.

XVII. Volunteer Guidelines

Idaho Master Gardeners represent the University of Idaho. Accurate and quality work is expected. These guidelines are basic for any professional, whether volunteer or paid.

  1. Be punctual, trustworthy, and reliable! Follow through with your commitments and responsibilities. Call if you will be delayed or cannot be there.
  2. Maintain a friendly, warm, courteous attitude toward the public.
  3. Communicate effectively with clients, staff, fellow volunteers, and faculty. Be a capable and positive team member.
  4. Be cooperative with the volunteers of other Extension volunteer programs. We are all on the same team.
  5. If you have not received enough information about your volunteer assignment, take the time to ask more questions before beginning a task.
  6. Accuracy is important and greatly appreciated.
  7. Dress appropriately for the volunteer activity in which you are involved.
  8. Be sure to make your child care arrangements for the time you have committed to work as a volunteer. In some cases, it is not appropriate for safety or security reasons to bring children to certain events or activities.
  9. Follow UI Extension affirmative action policies, which forbid discrimination against anyone because of their race, color, gender, national origin, religion, age, or disability.
  10. Enjoy your volunteer time. Volunteering is rewarding and satisfying.
  11. Termination of Volunteer Services

You are a representative of University of Idaho Extension and as such have agreed to abide by its policies and expectations. If your behavior is not acceptable or not in the best interests of UI Extension, the volunteer program, or our clientele you may be reprimanded or asked to leave the program.

The following behaviors observed at or on the premises of any program or function, or while you are acting as a UI Extension volunteer, will not be tolerated:

  • Criminal acts
  • Profanity
  • Illegal or inappropriate use of mind-altering substances (alcohol or drugs)
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Abuse of any kind toward a fellow human

The above actions may constitute cause for disciplinary action or immediate dismissal.

XIX. Master Gardeners in Other Counties, States, and Countries

The Idaho Master Gardener Program is now operating in over 20 Idaho counties. Some counties accept and train Master Gardeners from other counties. Those Master Gardeners who are trained in Idaho return their time in the counties where they are trained or by arrangement with the UI Extension educator in the county where they reside. Before out-of-county applicants are accepted into an Idaho Master Gardener Program, the UI Extension office in your resident county is contacted and arrangements are made concerning the administration of your volunteer activities. It is important to recognize that each county program is different and has different resources available to implement the program.

As an Idaho Master Gardener you will be on the county's Idaho Master Gardener mailing list and will receive all the mailings for one year after completion of your training. You will continue to receive these mailings as long as you recertify and remain active. You are invited to all functions, activities, and educational programs as well.

Every two years there is an International Master Gardener Conference. You are eligible to join the national and international Master Gardener organizations as a certified Idaho Master Gardener. Usually in even years a Western Regional Master Gardener Conference is held, which is a source of great ideas to bring back to your communities. Take advantage of these opportunities and ask at your UI Extension office for conference information.

XX. Volunteer Benefits

As a UI Extension Idaho Master Gardener volunteer, you have many benefits. One major benefit is becoming part of a national volunteer network. Whether you live in Idaho or in another part of the country, you are part of UI Extension as a volunteer. You have use of the resources of the system and can be a resource to others.

This networking benefit includes your fellow Idaho Master Gardeners and the faculty and research facilities at the University of Idaho. You are welcome on campus. Tours of plant science facilities and all the research and extension centers can be arranged.

This networking benefit also includes other volunteers such as 4-H Leaders, Master Food Preservers, Master Clothing Teachers, and commodity groups. Another benefit is reduced prices or free admittance to seminars, classes, and workshops that need volunteer help.

Idaho Master Gardener volunteers benefit by increasing leadership, organizational, decision making, and problem solving skills. Experienced volunteers report that they have made lasting friendships, increased their public relation skills, become more effective at work or home, and have been well prepared for new employment or other volunteer opportunities.

UI Extension faculty and staff benefit by acquiring fresh, new ideas and gaining satisfaction from reaching more people through volunteer efforts. They gain an increased understanding of the community and clientele, while achieving greater influence and increasing their own confidence in programs such as the Idaho Master Gardener training.

And, last but not least, there are certain tax benefits to volunteers who itemize state and federal income tax returns. Since these may change annually, you will need to update what kinds of expenses are deductible and what are not.

XXI. You Are Important

Each volunteer is vital to the success of our program—no matter what kind of volunteer work you do. There is no such thing as a small or unimportant job. You bring skills that are unique and special, that really add to the educational effort in your area. You are a valuable part of our team.

Each year counties try to recognize the special things you do. Your name badge is recognition of your educational accomplishment. Wear it with pride. You are important to us!


  1. Kropf, J. 1994. Building the Ideal Master Gardener. Western Regional Master Gardener Conference, WSU Cooperative Extension, Cowlitz County, Kelso, WA 98626.
  2. McNeilan J., R. McNeilan, and J. Orr. 1996. Metro Area Master Gardener Program Information Handbook. OSU Multnomah County Extension Office, 211 SE 80th Ave., Portland, OR 97215-1597.
  3. McNeilan, R. 1995. The Oregon Master Gardener Handbook, EM 8442. Extension Service, Oregon State University, Corvallis.
  4. Park, S., and M. Hackett. 1993. WSU Snohomish County Livestock Master Program Packet. 600 128th St., SE, Everett, WA 98208.
  5. Patton, D. 1995. Policy and Procedure for Johnson County Extension Master Gardeners. KSU Johnson County Extension Office, 1205 Olathe, KS 66061.
  6. Rausch, N., and J. Kropf. 1994. Master Gardener Volunteer Handbook: A Guide to Being a WSU Cooperative Extension Volunteer. WSU Cooperative Extension System, Cowlitz County, Kelso, WA 98626.

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    How do you join master gardeners of moscow idaho?
    8 years ago

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