Online Master Gardener training program offers pair of options

By Ken Keenan for Chronicle Media

The online Master Gardener series introduce participants to in-depth horticulture content through 13 modules, including soils and fertilizers, plant diseases, entomology, pest management, organic gardening and more.

Once again, University of Illinois Extension is offering central Illinois residents an opportunity to take their love of gardening to the next level through an online Master Gardener training program.

The program features two online options: Self-paced or hybrid with live, in-person sessions (including Zoom). Both options are available to be taken remotely on a desktop, laptop or tablet. This marks the third consecutive year that University of Illinois Extension is offering two options.

“We’ve had a full online program since 2018, and that helped with COVID when we had to go fully online,” said Extension State Master Gardener Candice Anderson. “So, we thought, why can’t we use online resources and have that in-person component as well? Not everybody learns in the same way, so the hybrid idea was a way to bridge the two together.”

The hybrid training course begins Sept. 12 and includes 12 weeks of hybrid online materials and in-person sessions from 9-10:30 a.m. on Tuesday mornings (followed by hands-on group activities). The live sessions may be accessed remotely or in person at a University of Illinois Extension office, depending on local requirements. Registration is open until Sept. 1; the cost is set by the county providing the training.

The self-paced course starts Oct. 2 and can be completed in 14 weeks with four to six hours of weekly work. The cost is $300; registration is open until Sept. 11.

Participants will be introduced to in-depth horticulture content through 13 modules, including soils and fertilizers, plant diseases, entomology, pest management, organic gardening and more. The training includes videos, a manual, reading materials and quizzes.

“Hitting the different learning styles was the idea, and accommodating different schedules as well,” Anderson said. “Our main audience is retired folks. Now we have flexibility to hit a larger audience. The program is mainly online, and people can create their own schedule. Hybrid has the online component, plus live Zoom sessions with different topics each week. The combination of online, self-paced, Zoom and in-person, hands-on activities makes it more flexible.”

After completing the training, volunteers will have a chance to participate in educational programs in their communities. Those opportunities may include speaking at garden clubs, civic groups or schools, as well as answering calls or emails at garden help desks, establishing demonstration gardens as educational tools, and educating residents on how to establish community gardens.

Anderson said that University of Illinois Extension counts about 2,500 Master Gardeners in the state, and trains 300 to 400 new volunteers each year.

“Everything we do has an educational focus, so the more volunteers we have, the better,” she said. “Our mission is to help others learn to grow, and the more people we can teach, the more we can send people out to the community to help others. With the training program, folks interested in becoming Master Gardeners can take that next step. If we make it more accessible, it helps spread gardening education to the world.”

For more information or to fill out an application form, visit Training options, dates and availability may vary by county.

In addition, anyone needing reasonable accommodation to participate in Extension programming can contact Anderson at 217-935-5764 or via email at Early requests are strongly encouraged to allow sufficient time for meeting participants’ needs.