Much has changed since the early days of the MSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer program.

For the first time in its history, MSU Extension in 2020 began providing the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program in an online format.

In 1978, Michigan’s first Extension Master Gardener Program began in a Wayne County Extension office, when a County Extension Agent, Don Juchartz, brought the program to Michigan. That year’s MSU Extension Master Gardener Training Program had 25 participants and the training manual was just a stack of Extension Bulletins less than an inch thick.

Today, the MSU Extension Master Gardener Training Manual is more than 1,000 pages long and 4 inches thick. Master Gardener Volunteer Training Program participants now take part in a 14-week intensive training program, learning the latest in gardening research coming from our land-grant universities.

They are trained to grow fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants that bring color to our landscapes year-round. They are also trained in how to protect the water quality and soil health of our Great Lakes region. And they are trained to manage pests without causing harm to people, pets or our environment.

Registration is now open for an online Extension Master Gardener Training beginning this August. Harnessing the vast educational resources of Michigan State University, this year’s interactive online training is offered via the Desire2Learn education platform.

The online availability of Extension Master Gardener Training opens access to this training to a wider geographic area within Northwest Lower Michigan. The training will meet weekly via Zoom on Thursdays from 1 to 5 pm beginning Aug. 18 and ending on Nov. 18.

The training is based in Leelanau County and lessons will address the unique soil and climate challenges of the Grand Traverse Region, but will be taught by MSU Extension Educators and Specialists from across the state. The subjects covered in the training program include Plant Science, Soil Science, Integrated Pest Management, Annual and Perennial Flowers, Woody Ornamentals, Backyard Fruit, Lawn Care, Household and Nuisance Pests, Indoor Plants, Vegetables, Plant Diagnostics and Gardening Practices to Protect Water Quality.

Classroom training is only the beginning of the process to becoming an MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer. Next, volunteer trainees are paired with local partner organizations so they can begin to complete their initial 40-hour volunteer requirement.

In order to become a certified MSU Extension Master Gardener, all trainees must complete 40 hours of volunteer service to the community within their first year. This volunteer work must be applied toward a horticultural project benefitting the public and freely accessible to all.

MSU Extension Master Gardener projects also must include some form of educational component, which can span a range of focus areas such as: Youth Gardening, Environmental Stewardship, Improving Community, and Increasing Food Security.

Following their first year of volunteering, MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteers must continue to maintain their certification by completing 20 hours of volunteer service annually.

In 2020, MSU Extension Master Gardeners volunteered in Leelanau, Benzie, and Grand Traverse County for more than 3,000 hours, a contribution to local communities valued at more than $85,000 (according to Independent Sector).

If you are interested in becoming an MSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, or have an idea for a volunteer project, contact Nate Walton with MSU Extension at or (231) 256 9888.

Registration for the August MSU Extension Master Gardener Training Program based in Leelanau County can be found at:

Nate Walton Walton is an entomologist, MSU Extension Program Instructor, and Master Gardener Coordinator based in Leelanau County.

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