Now that you’ve been reading our “Ask a Master Gardener” column for several months, I know you’re thinking to yourself, “That sounds fun, wonder how I can get involved?” Well, I am so glad you asked!

The Master Gardener Program is much more than just a 15-week gardening class. It is a volunteer training program by which the Alabama Cooperative Extension System extends its outreach mission to the residents of Alabama.

This program represents an effective partnership between Auburn and Alabama A&M universities and motivated volunteers interested in educating their communities with research-based information. This is not just any old commercial gardening program — we’re not selling anything! All of the techniques and information we teach are backed up by research.

The 15-week course covers the A-to-Z of gardening and horticulture, including building healthy soil, landscape design, fruits and vegetables, and much more. We even take a couple of field trips during the course of the class to learn about native plants and get to know other Master Gardeners. I always say it’s like getting a horticulture degree in three months!

(Photo by Alice Marty) Jan Tanner, current Master Gardener president, at a workshop in preparation for the MG Greenery Sale.

(Photo by Alice Marty) Jan Tanner, current Master Gardener president, at a workshop in preparation for the MG Greenery Sale.

The volunteer component of being a Master Gardener is just as important, if not more so, as the classes. We want gardeners who are passionate about sharing information with the citizens of Mobile County in order to improve their quality of life.

To become a certified Master Gardener, you will be asked to complete 50 hours of volunteer service. These hours are earned doing various activities like answering the Helpline phones, working in our DREAM Gardens at the Extension office, and completing class projects.

But don’t sweat it (at least not about the hours!). You have one full calendar year to complete these 50 hours after the class ends in early November. Most interns have no trouble completing the hours within a few months of graduation; and a few go-getters finish their 50 hours before our December awards banquet!

Once you’ve completed the class and the initial 50 volunteer hours, you will be a “certified” Master Gardener, which means you may officially join the Mobile County Master Gardener Association and the Alabama Master Gardener Association, and purchase your green MG apron. Once certified, you will also be able to choose the volunteer activities that suit your interests most.

Perhaps you have a passion for teaching about native plants, or vegetables, or roses, or succulents or, well, anything! If that’s the case, you might be a perfect fit in the speaker’s bureau. Maybe you just like helping people solve problems in their landscapes and gardens; the Helpline is always looking for more help! But we also have lots of opportunities for getting down and dirty in the DREAM Garden and at the Mobile Botanical Gardens, community gardens, school gardens and other places.

Classes meet Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. beginning Aug. 10 and ending Nov. 16. The cost of the 15-week course is $160 and includes a handbook, publications, an extra notebook, one educational field trip and access to a network of professional Extension personnel and other Master Gardeners.

If the price is prohibitive for you, we offer scholarships to interested individuals, but a limited number are available each year. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M and Auburn University) is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity and the diversity of its workforce. Educational programs serve everyone.

When you’re ready to sign up, please call our office at 251-574-8445 to get on the mailing list for applications. Application packets will be sent out in just a couple of weeks, so don’t miss out! You can find out more about the Mobile County Master Gardeners at Application deadline is June 8. We are looking forward to meeting you!

Reserve your spot!

What: 5th annual Farm-to-Table Dinner presented by Alabama Extension System and Mobile County Master Gardeners

When: Monday, June 6, 6-8 p.m.

Where: The white-tablecloth dinner will be held under the pecan trees at Sessions Farm Market, 8971 Grand Bay Wilmer Road in Grand Bay — just off Interstate 10, exit 4.

Cost: $60 per person. Proceeds fund Mobile Master Gardener public education events and a horticulture scholarship for a Mobile student at Auburn University.

Registration: Required by May 27. Mail checks payable to ACES to 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile, AL 36608. Call 251-574-8445 for more information.

The Chefs: Chefs from Bay Gourmet Catering, The House Restaurant and Bar, Isabella’s, Kitchen on George and Red or White will prepare farm-to-table dishes. Derailed Diner and The Little Cake Shop will supply decadent desserts.
Gulf Coast Farmers/Producers: Jeremy Sessions, Brian Keller, Will Mastin, Frank Knippenberger, Bentley Dearmon, Ken Buck and Randall Hastings will provide the farm-fresh produce and protein.

What: Lunch & Learn
When: Monday, May 16, noon to 1 p.m.

Where: Archer Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N.

Topic: Water Features to Set the Mood by Neil Henderson of Pond Elegance

Master Gardener Helpline: Call 1-877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to