San Diego Master Gardeners
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San Diego Master Gardeners

One of the least-known treasure troves of information in San Diego County is that over two hundred Master Gardeners provide home gardening and pest control information throughout the county, FREE to the public.

Master Gardeners are volunteers trained and supervised by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE).

The mission of the UCCE is to conduct research on new pests and issues affecting the county, and to provide research based information to the public. The county of San Diego provides support for the local UCCE office which is known as the Farm and Home Advisor Department.


Like many local government offices, UCCE offices usually have too much work and too few people to do it. It was from this need that the concept for training of Master Gardeners was born. One day in 1972, an overworked extension advisor in the state of Washington hit upon an idea: since many of the questions he fielded daily were basic in nature, why not train a group of volunteers to answer the most commonly asked questions about home horticulture and pest management?

Once he had successfully implemented his idea, the extension advisor found he could help more people, and could also conduct the research required by his job. For the volunteers, the program offered the chance to get expert training in horticulture and pest management, along with the opportunity to help others. The Master Gardener program was created.

Extension advisors across the country soon were abuzz with news of the program's success, and the idea soon spread across the nation. In 1980, UC Cooperative Extension initiated its Master Gardener Program in two counties, Riverside and Sacramento. By 2009, there were Master Gardener Programs in 41 counties throughout California. San Diego’s  MG Program was initiated in 1983.

The program tends to attract volunteers who have a passion for gardening, and it is the extension advisor's responsibility to make sure these trainees are given accurate, up-to-date information on home horticulture issues and taught how to properly research and respond to questions they get on that subject from local residents.


In San Diego, the Master Gardener training course is popular - and usually only given once every two years. Our next tentatively scheduled training would be in January, 2018. Each class has a limit of 45 students and there are often 2-3 times as many applicants.  

Not every qualified applicant is accepted for a training class but persistence does pay off. Several of the current members of the local Master Gardeners group had to apply more than once before they were accepted.

For a nominal fee to cover the cost of text books and other class materials.  Master Gardeners in Training embark on a 50-hour program of 16 classes over a five-month period. Each training class is taught by a specialist in that field to ensure that MG’s receive top-quality, expert instruction. Students are certified as a UCCE Master Gardener after they successfully complete the training course and pass the final exam. After graduation, each new MG must volunteer at least 50 hours of time in public education activities during the first year,  helping to educate the public and answering questions on home gardening and pest management.

Once certified, it's not unusual for Master Gardener volunteers to stay in the program for several years, fulfilling the required number of volunteer and education hours they need for recertification each year. MGs can meet their volunteer requirements in numerous ways, including staffing educational exhibits and the Master Gardener hotline (858-822-6910). Public inquiries on home horticulture are answered between 9 a.m. and 3p.m. Monday through Friday. .

Inherent in the title "Master Gardener" lies the challenge to continue learning and to help other gardeners grow. It's a challenge that everyone who has graduated from the Master Gardener program is committed to meeting.