Master Gardener Program









About the Master Gardener Program

The Master Gardener program is a volunteer service program whereby adults are given advanced training in horticulture in exchange for volunteer service to the community. The mission of the Master Gardener Program is to provide current, research-based, home horticulture information and education to the residents of Iowa through ISU Extension programs and projects. Through their participation in educational activities, Master Gardeners also increase their own personal knowledge in horticulture. 

Master Gardener volunteers are passionate about serving their communities and sharing gardening best practices. Master Gardener volunteers are individuals who have completed the Master Gardener training and share their time and expertise as volunteers in community gardens, city beautification projects, and farmers markets, to name a few projects.  

Fall 2024 Program

The next offering in Polk County for Master Gardener training will be Fall of 2024. Applications open July 22, 2024. Fall classes will run September 3 - November 8, 2024. Join Master Gardeners in Polk County at their next event by visiting the PCMG website!

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Contact us

Stephanie Harrington
Natural Resources Program Coordinator


Become a Master Gardener

The Master Gardener program trains garden enthusiasts to learn, grow, and teach others about plants and gardening in the home landscape. Forty hours of training are held both in-person and online. The online material will be supplemented with additional experiences with the Polk County cohort to facilitate connections among class-members and provide hands-on learning experiences. 

Within 12 months of completing the coursework, the Master Gardener "intern" will need to report 40 hours of volunteer time on approved projects before receiving their Master Gardener Certificate. To maintain active status, Master Gardeners must attend at least 10 hours of county approved continuing education and volunteer at least 20 hours of service on county approved projects. 

Class Topics

Class topics include: 

  • Soils and Soil Fertility
  • Composting, Vermicomposting and Mulch 
  • Botany
  • Plant Pathology
  • Entomology
  • Landscape Trees and Shrubs
  • Home Landscape Design
  • Fruit Culture
  • Turfgrass Management
  • Weed Science
  • Integrated Pest Management
  • Animal Ecology
  • Vegetables and Herbs
  • Houseplants and  Plant Propagation
  • Herbaceous Ornamentals

Master Gardener Training 

What you can expect from Master Gardener Training: 

  • 10 weeks of hybrid instruction, including
    • video lectures
    • reading assignments
    • quizzes
    • discussion forums
    • in-person classes hosted at the local Extension and Outreach office (4 in-person sessions required)
  • A broad overview of 17 horticulture topics that will help students establish a diverse base of horticulture knowledge.
  • Links to additional resources that allow students to dive deeper into topics of specific interest. 
  • Opportunities to meet new people, network, and share ideas and information with fellow students and active Master Gardeners. 
  • Learn more about volunteer opportunities in your community and connect with ISU Extension and Outreach staff at your local office, who will help you get connected with volunteer opportunities matched to your skills and interest. 
Frequently Asked Questions 

What sets a Master Gardener apart from a home gardener?

Master Gardeners are enthusiastic, willing to learn, and have the ability to communicate and share their knowledge with diverse groups of people.

Is prior gardening experience or training necessary to become a Master Gardener? 

No. Prior experience or education is not required to become a Master Gardener.  After acquiring the Master Gardener Certificate, volunteers must complete a minimum of 10 hours of educational training and provide 20 hours of volunteer service annually.

What is the cost for the program?

There are two tracks for training.

Master Gardener Trainee: $150

This track is recommended for the garden enthusiast who wants to learn, grow, and teach others about plants and gardening in the home landscape. Through educational activities and Master Gardener projects, participants also increase their own personal knowledge in horticulture while serving the Polk County community. This fee includes materials for the core class, and the Master Gardener Resource Guide but is offered at a lower rate due to the volunteer component. Scholarships are available if there is a need. To express the need for scholarship, contact the MG program coordinator at

ProHort Trainee: $550

The second track is a ProHort trainee. ProHort participants receive a certificate upon completion of the training. Completion of the online course as well as 4 in-person sessions are required. This track is the preferred option for those who are looking for horticulture training or continuing education but do not wish to do the volunteer service. 

What is the requirement to complete the training?

Requirements for MG Volunteer Trainees:

  • Complete online course materials and participate in 4 in-person sessions. 
  • Take pre- and post-assessment to gauge knowledge change. 
  • Complete 40 volunteer hours as a MG intern in Polk County by the end of the next calendar year. 

Master Gardeners complete 20 volunteer and 10 continuing education hours each year to maintain active status. 

Requirements for ProHort Trainees:

  • Complete online materials and participate in 4 in-person sessions.
  • Take pre- and post-assessment to gauge knowledge change.



master gardener and tomato plant

People in gardens

Polk County Master Gardener Projects

The Polk County Master Gardeners maintain three learning gardens throughout the county, as well as plan and host a number of educational events and opportunities throughout the year! 

Visit one of our three educational gardens; the Demonstration Garden in Urbandale, the Discovery Garden at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, or the Enabling Garden in Altoona. Or check out our signature events, and other educational programs!

Learn more on our Polk County Master Gardeners site!

Demonstration Garden

The Demonstration Garden is the oldest ISU Extension, Polk County Master Gardener project. It is a cooperative arrangement between Polk County Extension, Urbandale Community School District, and the City of Urbandale. The mature fruit tree orchard and many deciduous bushes and shrubs are also a learning lab where Master Gardener trainees receive hands-on experience in proper pruning techniques each spring. View information about Demonstration Garden events, history, and other information by viewing the Demonstration Garden Webpage.

Discovery Garden

The Discovery Garden is a cooperative effort between ISU Extension and Outreach Polk County Master Gardeners and the Iowa State Fair. The Discovery Garden is located on the Iowa State Fairgrounds on the south side of the Agriculture Building. Master Gardeners provide education to the public each year during the Iowa State Fair. Read more about the Discovery Garden here.

Enabling Garden

The Enabling Garden in Altoona started in 2002 as a collaborative effort between Polk County Master Gardeners and the City of Altoona, The Enabling Garden provides an area that illustrates gardening for individuals with physical impairments by demonstrating the construction of barrier-free gardening. Through the use of design concepts such as raised beds and vertical wall gardens, visitors learn how gardens can be adapted to accommodate any gardener regardless of age or ability. Read more about the Enabling Garden. 

Visit the Enabling Garden at 1050 1st Avenue South in Altoona, 50009.

Garden Tour

Join us on July 9th, 2022 for the Polk County Master Gardeners' Garden Tour! View extraordinary gardens created by ordinary people across the county, and participate in educational experiences. Read more about it and purchase your ticket!

Ask a Master Gardener

Got a gardening question on your mind? Ask a Master Gardener! Visit us at the Downtown Farmers' Market or Beaverdale Farmers' Market during the growing season. Find more info and the schedule on this site. 

Bus Trips
Join our upcoming bus trip for great educational experiences and a chance to explore nearby gardens in Central Iowa and the Midwest. Read more info here. 


Gardening Resources

Looking for gardening information? ISU Extension and Outreach has got you covered! Check out resources on our Horticulture and Home Pest News webpage for timely tips, troubleshooting any gardening issues, and so much more! 

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The Master Gardener Program trains garden enthusiasts to learn, grow, and teach others about plants and gardening in the home landscape. Participants receive 40 hours of training via webcasting, face-to-face, and hands-on workshops, while interacting with others of similar interests. After completing their training, Master Gardener Interns volunteer 40 hours of service in county approved projects related to gardening education to become active Master Gardeners. To maintain active status, Master Gardeners must attend at least 10 hours of county approved continuing education and volunteer at least 20 hours of service on county approved projects.