NC State Extension Publications


Master Gardener volunteers take on a wide variety of roles. Some of the most common volunteer roles are as phone consultant, horticultural news writer, lecturer, radio or television assistant, and public relations organizer. This section describes some of the duties of these positions and gives tips for performing these responsibilities, and others, effectively.

Photo of vegetable judging at the Burke County fair

NC State MGVs in Burke County judging vegetables at the fair.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

4-H Youth Development Leader

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Volunteers who would like to be 4-H leaders can work with existing 4-H clubs or start a gardening 4-H club; provide scheduled training and supervision of 4-H projects; and establish a recognition program for 4-H youth. The main resources available are the 4-H record book, the Junior Master Gardener Program, and the National Junior Horticultural Association (NJHA) manual. Possible projects include starting a garden contest, training a judging team, and promoting a gardening photography or poster contest. Review the chapter on Community, Youth, and Therapeutic Horticulture for more information.

Photo of master gardener teaching youth in Burke County

An NC State MGV teaches youth in Burke County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

NC State MGVs in Cabarrus County teaching sixth grade students.

NC State MGVs in Cabarrus County teaching sixth grade students.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener working with youth in Nash County

NC State MGVs working with youth in Nash County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Arbor Day Coordinator

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Arbor Day coordinators speak with parent-teacher association presidents, elementary school principals, garden club representatives, and teachers to solicit their involvement in observance of national Arbor Day. They also coordinate with the responsible agent and the representatives from participating schools and help develop programs and gather supplies.

Photo of volunteers planting trees in Davie County

NC State MGVs planting trees in Davie County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Community Garden Volunteer

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Volunteers interested in community gardens have the opportunity to use many strengths and skills. Master Gardener volunteers involved in community gardens are well-trained and may be community savvy. They may have skills in fundraising, property assessment, design, instruction, or consultation. They may be good mentors, advisors, or recruiters.

Community savvy volunteers have knowledge of potential partners, are familiar with community properties, and may be recognized in the community. They may have strengths in fundraising areas such as grant writing, seeking donations, and coordinating diverse resources.

Volunteers skilled in property assessment may be able to identify environmental requirements, proximity to utilities, and terrain constraints or evaluate accessibility and security issues.

Volunteers may recommend the layout of beds, common areas, utility access, storage, and rest areas.

As seasoned gardeners, community garden volunteers may serve as consultants for troubleshooting issues in the garden. They can serve as mentors, providing a personal relationship as the “go-to” person for hands-on demonstration of a gardening practice.

They can also be instructors for one-on-one instruction, small groups, community workshops, or stakeholder seminars.

Volunteers in this role educate others, individuals and groups, on their path to implementing and managing a community garden.

NC State MGVs speak at a community garden in Durham County

NC State MGVs speak at a community garden in Durham County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of community garden meeting in Forsyth County

An NC State MGV welcomes community gardeners in Forsyth County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Demonstration Gardener

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Demonstration gardeners help create and maintain a garden where community residents can see new horticulture practices at work. Job duties include developing a plan for the garden; acquiring seeds and transplants, preparing the soil, and planting the garden; and helping to establish a regular maintenance program, developing signage to highlight key points, conducting tours, and building partnerships. Possible demonstration gardens include—but are not limited to—weed identification gardens, turf plots, vegetable gardens, fruit orchards, rose gardens, and groundcover plots.

Photo of master gardeners giving a tour of a demonstration garde

NC State MGVs providing a tour of a demonstration garden in Moore County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener volunteers in Rutherford County

NC State MGVs in Rutherford County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

EMG Student / Intern Mentor

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The goal of the mentor program is to welcome students in the EMG initial training and coach them from the time they register for the EMG classes until they become well established in the program. The mentor’s role is to familiarize new MGVs with the program, introduce them to MGVs, and help them feel comfortable as they attend training and begin their volunteer service.

Mentors welcome, connect, and lead new recruits by doing the following:

1. Call assigned mentee(s) as soon as possible to welcome them and provide the mentor’s name and phone number or e-mail. Invite them to contact their mentor if they have any questions. Explain how training sessions are structured (handouts, announcements, and breaks), and encourage them to bring paper and pen for note taking. Tell them about newsletters, websites, or announcements they may receive.

2. Meet mentees before or soon after the EMG class begins. Perhaps have lunch together before class or arrange to meet during break.

3. Contact mentees regularly. Discuss the required exams and try to make this portion of the training less intimidating. Review the opportunities available for volunteer service. Explain that mentees will be paired with a veteran MGV during their first few assignments. Continue to encourage them to contact their mentor if they have any questions.

4. Help mentees network with other mentors, mentees, and MGVs. Find out mentees’ garden passions and introduce them to MGVs who share those passions.

5. Contact the program coordinator with serious concerns about mentees, including personality conflicts or other problems. It is not the mentor’s duty to get involved in any major conflict resolution or assist with mentees’ personal problems.

Photo of master gardener mentor and intern

NC State MGV mentor and intern in Mecklenburg County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener volunteers in Wilson County

NC State MGVs in Wilson County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Exhibit Designer and Coordinator

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One effective way of presenting information to the public is through an exhibit at a mall, garden show, or county fair. MGVs who have art or writing skills may want to volunteer to help develop an exhibit on a particular subject of interest to local clients. Duties of this position include creating the exhibit or recruiting others to create one; staffing the exhibit or finding volunteers to do so; gathering factual information; working with photographers and graphic artists (or creating the artwork); and helping arrange for transportation, setup, and disassembly of exhibits.

Here are some basic concepts to keep in mind when planning and setting up exhibits:

  • As with other communications media, know the audience. Different kinds of people are attracted by and respond to different kinds of exhibits.
  • Choose one idea that can be explained in a simple, catchy way. Use few printed words on displays and avoid visual clutter.
  • Have a single center of interest to which the eye is drawn.
  • Attract attention with movement, color, light, sound, or a clever title and attractive design but not with all of these elements.
  • Make sure that charts, posters, and other visuals are attractive, neat, clean, and easy to read.
  • Judge the exhibit by asking if it attracts attention, arouses interest, conveys a message, is well constructed, and has a neat and orderly appearance.
  • If the exhibit will be staffed, select people who are well­informed, can meet the public easily, and create a favorable impression.

How to Manage an Effective Exhibit Booth
Jason Botts, EMGV, Wake County, North Carolina

  • Be sure to collect all items before leaving the office (display, table if not provided, handouts, sign-up sheet, and pen).
  • Arrive early to set up to avoid working on the display once event attendees arrive.
  • Approach and greet everyone who enters the booth.
  • Have a relaxed conversation, but stay professional.
  • Ensure attendees that any questions that cannot be addressed will be referred to someone who can provide an answer.

Booth Dos and Don’ts

Booth managers will make a good impression if they are

  • positive
  • interested
  • friendly
  • warm
  • inviting
  • helpful
  • creative
  • fun
  • knowledgeable
  • responsive
  • mindful of hygiene and their appearance
  • smiling and approachable


  • stand with arms folded
  • chew gum
  • congregate in front of the display
  • sit in the booth
  • eat in the booth
  • read in the booth
  • check social media while in the booth

Photo of master gardener exhibit booth

NC State MGVs in Cabarrus County staffing an exhibit booth at a home and garden show.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardeners staffing an exhibit booth

NC State MGVs from Wake and Carteret Counties staff an exhibit.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of exhibit display in Catawba County

Display about the NC State MGV program in Catawba County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Graphic Artist

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Volunteer graphic artists help develop visual aids to be used in presenting Extension programs. They may take photographs and assemble PowerPoint presentations, design posters or flyers, or create advertising material for upcoming Extension programs.

Photo of a Guilford County design display

NC State MGVs in Guilford County use their graphic design skills to create a display.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Horticulture Office Assistant

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Volunteers who choose to be office assistants enable Extension to run more efficiently. Job duties include preparing labels and envelopes for mailings; arranging materials for office display; maintaining and updating horticultural mailing lists; inventorying, labeling, filing, and distributing materials and supplies; organizing, typing, and maintaining materials for office files and notebooks; and assisting with purging and maintenance of horticulture files.

Photo of master gardener volunteering in the Dare County office

An NC State MGV helps out in the Dare County office.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener volunteering in the Wake County office

An NC State MGV helping in the Wake County office.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Horticulture Writer

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MGVs who would like to use their writing talents can prepare timely horticulture articles for local newspapers, Extension newsletters and websites, and help prepare gardening publications for distribution through the local center. Some local travel and interviews may be required for special interest or feature stories. All recommendations must be consistent with current research findings and literature provided by Extension. The local Extension agent will review articles before they are released. All articles will be distributed free of charge to local media with Extension identified as the source.

Horticulture news writers should have the following skills:

  • ability to communicate effectively through writing
  • ability to work independently and accept responsibility
  • willingness to accept supervision and to cooperate with other office staff
  • ability to read and interpret Extension literature and research articles

Before beginning to write, MGVs should ask the following questions: "Who is the audience?" and "Where is this information going?" Tell the readers things that will interest them. Use straight­forward language, action verbs, and organized paragraphs.

A great deal of time and crumpled paper can be saved by starting with a clearly defined purpose and outline. Prepare an outline; even a rough outline is better than none, and its bare­bones structure makes it easy to see the logic of the work that will be created. Also think about the title; a good one sums up what the publication is about. "All About Grapes," for instance, is a title that indicates a great deal of material is going to be covered: history, cultivars, culture, and uses of grapes. If the publication will only be about the culture or the pruning, say so.

After completing the title and outline, begin writing. Address each topic on the outline (or modify the outline), backing up what is written with information from specialists and agents. When struggling over a choice of words, try speaking the thought out loud. The spoken words will probably be the appropriate words to convey the thought in writing. Avoid slang, jargon, and flowery or obscure vocabulary. The goal of good writing is to communicate, not to confuse. If all else fails, put the work aside and work in the garden for a while. A change of scenery can do wonders for clearing the head.

When producing new materials from already-published work, be certain not to infringe upon a copyright. Written permission must be obtained from the publisher and often from the author or artist as well. This is not necessary when using Extension materials to prepare or adapt them for a new Extension publication, although credit should be given to the original author and publisher.

Keep in mind that people who read printed material distributed from the local Extension center will assume it is the official recommendation of Extension and NC State. To protect credibility and to make sure the material is up-to-date and accurate, the Extension agent should review all printed material. It is also helpful to have another person review the material and to send a copy to the appropriate state Extension specialist for review.

MGV Writing Tips
by Kit Flynn, Professional Garden Writer and EMGV, Durham County, North Carolina

  • Practice, practice, practice. The more you write, the more you learn what works—and more importantly what doesn’t. The more you write, the more you learn what aspect of garden writing interests you. The more you write, the quicker new ideas appear, as if by magic, suddenly popping into your head. Take advantage of writing opportunities, both during and after EMGV training.
  • Be willing to write for free. Volunteer! The important thing is for you to get your name out there. Few people support themselves through garden writing. Even if you don’t get paid for writing a column, it’s amazing how many people comment on your columns. Free public exposure is priceless.
  • Hone in on the aspect of gardening you want to write about: compose essays on the philosophy of gardening, profile a particular plant, or highlight obscure topics, such as mycorrhizal fungi.
  • Get a good editor. Everyone needs an editor. Editors offer fresh eyes and fresh minds. A good proofreader will also do this. Ask a friend for an objective opinion: Does the article work? If not, why not?
  • Write an article and then put it away for at least several days before self-editing. You need to view the article with fresh eyes. You know what you want to say, but it can be hard to recognize whether or not you have gotten your idea across to the reader.
  • Try to instill some humor into the piece, as this is the best way to engage the reader’s attention.
  • Take risks. Not all of your articles will work—and that’s okay. Learn from your mistakes. Write for the EMGV newsletter. This goes back to practice, practice, practice, but it’s a good place to start. Taking risks will help you build a portfolio, and—best of all—the editor is supportive.

The key to becoming an effective garden writer is (1) practice; (2) experiment; (3) take opportunities when they appear, even if they don’t pay; and (4) enjoy.

Photo of master gardener volunteer writing an article

An NC State MGV gathering information for an article in Mecklenberg County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Neighborhood Plant Expert

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Volunteer neighborhood plant experts answer questions relating to ornamental horticulture, vegetable gardening, soil testing, disease, insects, weed control, and houseplants; provide advice based on Extension recommendations; and distribute appropriate publications available from Extension. These volunteers also work with neighborhood associations to devise a schedule and method for making their services available, such as attending monthly meetings or taking phone calls from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm on Saturdays. Volunteers also report to the agent on the types of situations they encountered and recommendations made as well as the names and phone numbers of people whose questions they could not answer. Volunteers log face-to-face contacts in

Photo of master gardener volunteer on the phone

An NC State MGV in Henderson County shares information from the garden guide.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Phone Consultant

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One of the most valuable ways of assisting Extension and the public is by answering phone calls in the Extension center. Volunteers who are uncomfortable taking on the phone alone might sit in with an experienced volunteer for a while, and consult an agent on difficult questions. Answers should be consistent with current Extension recommendations, Extension literature, and reference books at the Extension center. Even with all the knowledge and information available, it's often difficult to make an absolutely certain assessment, so answer questions with phrases like "it sounds like," "it probably is," and "based on what you have told me." Volunteers are not expected to answer questions about commercial horticulture, medicine, law, or household pest problems.

Volunteers may also need to assist walk-in clientele who have horticulture questions and to mail Extension brochures upon request. Please keep the Extension agent informed of current problems and requests.

Some important skills for volunteers serving on phone duty include the following:

  • interest in helping people solve plant problems
  • ability to communicate effectively by phone or in person
  • horticultural experience in a variety of areas
  • willingness to accept supervision and to cooperate with other office staff
  • ability to read and interpret technical information
  • willingness to search for answers when information is not directly at hand

Volunteers should become familiar with the office procedure for telephone use. The Extension agent or someone on staff should be able to tell MGVs how to use the phone and log calls. Keep a record of the number of received phone calls. Record the name, address, and phone number for individuals who need either materials mailed or a return phone call.

Volunteers in the phone consultant position should answer the phone promptly and use the introduction the center has recommended. (Example: "This is ____ (first name only) _____, I am a Master Gardener Volunteer, may I help you.") They should listen carefully so the caller will not have to repeat what is said. Use simple, straightforward language and avoid technical terms and slang. Speak directly into the telephone, pronouncing words clearly. Speak at a moderate rate and volume, but vary tone of voice. Phone consultants should also smile when speaking; it will be reflected in their voices.

When leaving the line to obtain information for the caller, it is courteous to ask, "Can you hold while I check our reference materials?" Should it take longer than expected to gather material, return to the line to assure the caller their request is being addressed. When the information is obtained, thank the caller for waiting. Transfer a call only when necessary, and explain the call is being transferred to someone else.

When answering for others, MGV phone consultants should be tactful. Comments such as "He hasn't come in yet" or "She's just stepped out" can give the wrong impression. It's better to say "Mr. Jones is away from his desk right now." When taking a message, be sure to write down the caller’s name, time, date, and telephone number. Don't hesitate to ask callers to spell their name or repeat their number.

Diagnosing plant problems by phone with only a verbal description can be difficult. Listen carefully and ask questions. The client may not know that details such as the color of the leaf edges or the fact that the plant was recently transplanted are important clues to the plant's problem. By thinking of all the possible symptoms and conditions that might match with the described ailing plant, volunteers can pose questions that should yield enough information to find the solution. When volunteers are unsure of a diagnosis, suggest that the caller bring the sample to the office (or to an upcoming plant clinic).

Volunteers should find out what the office policy is on mailing publications and how conservative they need to be in their distribution (many offices limit an individual to a single copy of five different publications per request or visit). All materials mailed should be educational and include an agent mailing slip. Do not make photocopies from garden magazines or books. Not only could it damage the reference material, but it is illegal to photo­copy copyrighted materials. Instead suggest callers obtain a copy of the article themselves.

Sample Phone Scenarios

Situation #1:

MGV: "Hello, may l help you?"

Improper introduction—EMGVs should identify themselves as Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.

Caller: "Is this the county agent?"

MGV: "The agent is unavailable right now. If you'll describe the problem, I may be able to help you."


Caller: "My azaleas have little dark spots on the leaves, and I want to know what I should spray them with."

MGV: "It's probably a leaf spot fungus. You'll need to spray with a fungicide."

Hasty diagnosis—there could be other problems. Gather more information. Ask about the severity of the problem: How many plants are affected? What types of plants? When did it start? Has it progressed? Provide a variety of Integrated Pest Management solutions and best time of treatment.

Caller: "You mean like 2,4-D or something?"

MGV: "Are you crazy?!! That's a weed killer!"

Never insult the caller. Avoid strong language.

Caller: "Well then, what do you recommend?"

MGV: "Hold please, and I'll check the North Carolina Ag Chem Manual for recommendations.

(Consults North Carolina Agricultural Chemicals Manual and other references as needed.)

"Thank you for waiting, you may want to write this down ... (names the listed fungicides). The manual is available online so you can obtain more detailed information whenever you like.”

Correct! Provide sources and encourage caller to write down recommendations.

Caller: "Do you know where I can buy those materials?"

MGV: "K-Mart had (names fungicide) for sale last week. Try there."

Do not promote one business over another.

Caller: "One last question. I've got a bottle of Roundup in the garage that I use to spray for weeds in my yard. The label's just about worn off the bottle, so I can't tell how much to use. Do you know?"

MGV: "Roundup is sold in different strengths and under several different labels. I'm sorry; I can't recommend a mixing rate without knowing what the label says. You may want to look the label up online to find the specific directions for the product you have."

Correct! Always stick to label recommendations.

Caller: "Okay, well thanks, goodbye."

Situation #2:

MGV: "Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, may I help you?"


Caller: "My lawn is turning brown. Can you tell me what's wrong with it?"

MGV: "What kind of grass do you have?"

Correct! Proper identification of the plant is a good place to start.

Caller: "St. Augustine grass."

MGV: "Have you kept your lawn on a good fertilization and watering program?"

The caller may not know what a “good program” is. Instead, prompt with specific questions such as, “When and how do you water and fertilize?”

Caller: "Yes, we've fertilized, sprayed, and watered it the way we're supposed to but it just keeps going downhill."

MGV: "Could you bring a sample to the Extension office for a more accurate diagnosis?"

Need to explain the type of sample needed.

Situation #3:

MGV: "This is Extension Master Gardener Volunteer _____, may I help you?"

Caller: "Can you tell me which days of this month I can plant root crops? I always plant by the moon."

MGV: "Hold on and I'll check the almanac. Let's see, the dates for root crops are the 6th, 7th, and 8th of this month."

The Almanac is not a university publication. Do not argue that they are wrong to plant by the moon. Suggest planting based on soil temperature and frost dates.

Caller: "Do you have any information on companion planting in a vegetable garden?"

MGV: "We don't have anything I can mail you. I have always found planting beans and garlic together works well."

Do not make recommendations or suggestions based strictly on personal preferences.

Photo of master gardeners answering the phones

NC State MGVs answering the information line in Guilford County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardener answering the phone

NC State MGV answering questions over the phone in Dare County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension


Skip to Photographer

Chris Alberti, EMGV, Johnson County, North Carolina
Cynthia Wagoner, EMGV, Gates County, North Carolina

Bring the following items to the photo shoot:

  • a fully charged camera battery camera and an extra battery if the shoot will be lengthy
  • an extra memory card to handle extended shoots
  • a gallon zip lock bag ready in case of rain
  • a UV filter to protect the lens and reduce haze from bright light if using a 35 millimeter camera
  • a few sheets of white and black paper to place behind subjects for good contrast
  • a tripod to handle low light situations
  • a pen and notebook to record the subjects
  • a kneeling pad for protection from hard, dirty, or damp surfaces

Use the following techniques for close-ups in nature:

  • Fill the frame of the viewfinder with the subject.
  • Be aware of the background for the subject; the subject may be enhanced by blurring the background through changing the depth of field.
  • Avoid pointing the camera into the sun.
  • Use the camera’s flash to fill in shadows and brighten the subject.
  • Take multiple shots with different camera settings to help ensure the best shot.
  • Use a fast shutter speed for animals to lessen blurring.
  • For birds, butterflies, or other fast moving subjects, set the camera up on a tripod, turn it on, focus, and wait for a good shot.
  • Keep your own shadow out of the picture.

Use the following tips for taking pictures for identification / diagnostic purposes:

  • If the image will be used to identify a plant, document the leaf pattern (alternate, opposite), leaf margins, bark, and flowers or fruits, if present.
  • If the image will be used to identify an insect, look for both mature and immature forms. Close ups of legs and antennae can be helpful. Images of damage they have caused, frass, or casings can also help with identification.
  • If the images will be used to diagnose a problem, be sure to capture healthy parts of the plant as well as parts that are damaged. Include an image of the entire landscape, the entire plant, as well as close-up images of the problem area and an image that shows both the problem area and healthy tissue if possible.

When taking photographs of people:

  • get close and seek balance between the size of the subject and information provided by the environment;
  • include context (garden, tool, food, sense of place);
  • capture the moment when a person sparkles; and
  • tell a story.
Photo of master gardener display with many photos

NC State MGVs in Wilson County rely heavily on photographs of their demonstration garden for their display.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Plant Clinic Staff

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MGVs who would like to work at plant clinics help examine plant specimens brought in by the public, diagnose problems, and make recommendations in compliance with Extension recommendations and approved practices. Possible sites for these clinics are libraries, recreation centers, shopping centers, Extension centers, and farmers markets. Other duties of plant clinic staff include the following:

  • Work with Extension agents to establish sites and hours of operation for plant clinics.
  • Work with Extension agents and MGV graphic artists to create plant clinic promotional materials.
  • Keep records of clients seen, problems diagnosed, and recommendations given.
  • Forward to Extension agents any problems that could not be diagnosed.
  • Help set up, staff, and disassemble the plant clinics.
Photo of ask a master gardener booth in Pender County

Ask a master gardener in Pender County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Plant Sale Manager

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Shirley Waggoner-Eisenman, EMGV, Brunswick County, North Carolina
Tom Woods, EMGV Coordinator, Brunswick County, North Carolina

Many EMG organizations across the state rely on plant sales both to raise funds and to provide an educational opportunity for the public. Plant sales are complicated and present many logistical challenges. The chart below provides a list of possible tasks and the corresponding assignment of responsibilities for a typical NC State EMG organization. Because the chart is not comprehensive and each plant sale is unique, use the chart as a starting point for planning a plant sale.

Tasks Hort. Agent EMG Coord Plant Sale Chair MGVs
Set Dates for Plant Sale


Select Chairperson 6 months in advance of sale X X

Create master calendar of events / work for plant sale


Determine acceptable payment methods X


Select Suppliers/sources of plants


If propagating plants:

determine grow schedule and potting/re-potting work days

obtain needed supplies (pots, potting soil, trays, fertilizer etc.)


Select suppliers / sources of plants


Identify plants to purchase from each supplier


Contact potential suppliers to check availability


Set dates for plant pickup / delivery


Input pickup schedule on master calendar


Submit orders to nurseries


Update master plant list of items to be sold

Set workday schedules


Input workday schedule


Generate flyers

Distribute flyers

Generate newspaper advertising


Send ads to newspapers


Email to all students, garden clubs and newcomers


Determine how many volunteers will be needed for each task


Receive / pickup plants

Label all unlabeled / unpriced plants

Prepare plant sale site and setup payment process

Locate signage advertising sale

Conduct sale

Deposit the money


Evaluate and make plans for next year X X X X
Photo of volunteers managing a plant sale in Alamance County

An NC State MGV managing a plant sale in Alamance County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Public Relations Organizer

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Too often, well-prepared programs fail to reach a large audience for lack of adequate advertising. MGVs can play a vital role in promoting upcoming events by telling their friends and neighbors. Sometimes, however, word of mouth is not sufficient, and a more planned approach to public relations may be needed.

Public events can be announced in newsletters, newspaper feature articles or regular columns, radio or television public service announcements, and on posters displayed in appropriate locations. Volunteers can assist in planning and preparing promotional materials. MGVs with skills in advertising, marketing, or public relations, should talk to their agent and see how they can help promote the EMG program.

Photo of MGVs in Burke County sharing information

NC State MGVs in Burke County share information.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Public Speaker

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Beth Leonard, MGV, Buncombe County, North Carolina

MGVs are often called upon to share their horticultural knowledge and interests with the public by giving talks to garden clubs and civic groups, providing workshops, and leading demonstrations or tours. Volunteers interested in this type of activity should investigate whether their county has an EMG speakers bureau that can alert them to public speaking opportunities.

Good presentations don’t just happen. They occur because the speaker plans, prepares, and practices. The following guidelines will help speakers create and deliver presentations that engage the audience, inspire interest in the topic, and build the speaker’s personal expertise.

Take the following steps before you begin:

  • Identify the audience. The audience size and demographics, such as age, careers, gardening experience, and time living in the area, make important planning tools. What is the extent of the audience’s knowledge of the subject? Why are they interested? What do they want to learn and what actions will they take with the new information? Always keep in mind an unspoken question from every audience member: “What’s in this for me and why should I care?”
  • Identify the venue. It is important to know in advance as much as possible about the venue where the presentation will take place. Is the location an office conference room, an auditorium, a home, or outdoors? How large is the room? How will the seating and tables be arranged? What is the lighting and how do you control it? Is equipment provided (microphone, laptop, projector, screen, whiteboard, flip chart) or will you bring your own? Is there an easel with paper or a whiteboard with pens? Is an internet connection available? Is a technical resource available to help if equipment malfunctions? Can the location accommodate demonstrations, and how easy is it to bring in props? Answers to these questions affect planning for and delivery of the presentation—the choice of visual aids, the ability to move around the room and even to rely on note cards, audience involvement, and formality of the talk.
  • Identify the timing. What time will the presentation start? What time should it end? How much time should be allotted for questions? What else is on the program?


Draw on personal experiences and interests, and research the topic using Extension resources. Distill the most important points into an outline for the presentation and prepare to answer questions from the audience. Thorough preparation will boost self-confidence and enthusiasm.

Outline the topic. First define the theme or key message. Then list the main points—the highest level of information that covers the topic. Now fill in explanatory details, facts, statistics, examples, and illustrations about each main point. Two common ways to organize points are in order of importance (most to least) or in order of timing (first, second, third). Create the outline using key words and phrases. Manage the length of the content to fit the allotted time slot. It is likely that there will be more information to share than time available. It may be necessary to narrow the theme, reduce the main points, or eliminate some explanatory detail. Strive for a succinct, focused presentation to keep the content moving forward and to hold the audience’s attention.

Develop the end-to-end talk. Good presentations have four components: title, introduction, body, and summary. The title should be short, interest-catching, and descriptive of the topic. The introduction elaborates on the goal and content of the talk. It may also include an agenda and the speaker’s background. Use the introduction to capture the interest of the audience and draw them into the presentation from the beginning. Suggestions for openers include

  • a story or problem from personal experience;
  • a question or scenario that arouses curiosity;
  • an interesting fact or statistic; or
  • a prop or visual aid.

The body of the presentation contains the substance of the talk as it has been outlined. Choose the main points to cover and provide support for each. Anticipate points or concepts that the audience may not understand or agree with, and provide supporting data including facts, statistics, examples, comparisons, expert testimony, illustrations, and other visuals. During the presentation, work to build and sustain a rapport with the audience by maintaining eye contact, listening, asking questions, and conveying enthusiasm. Finally, conclude the presentation with a short, clear summary that reminds the audience of what they’ve learned. The summary should highlight a memorable takeaway and end the presentation on a high note. If questions are difficult to hear or understand, repeat them slowly and clearly, and then answer to the best of your ability.


Practice, practice, practice. A well-prepared and enthusiastic speaker will capture the attention of the audience and guide them through a tightly organized outline of key points illustrated with specific examples. Speakers should rehearse the speech until they know it inside-out, but this does not mean memorizing each word. Practice standing up, using visuals and props, and speaking out loud as if in front of the audience. Time the practice session—content, examples, and use of visuals—and make adjustments if the presentation runs too short or too long. By following these tips, speakers will be confident and ready when the day comes to give the presentation.

Pay attention to speaking style. Voice, tone, pace, movement, show of enthusiasm, and dress all influence how the audience reacts. Pay attention to the following tips for a winning delivery style:

  • Speak in a clear, audible voice loud enough to be heard in the back row. Be careful not to talk too fast.
  • Convey enthusiasm for the topic and the audience. Be yourself.
  • Modulate your voice inflection and vary your rate of speech. Pause for a few seconds. Change your sentence structure with statements, questions, single words, or phrases. Insert humor where appropriate.
  • Don’t be afraid to move around the room. It causes the audience to pay attention.
  • Make frequent eye contact with your audience.
  • Do not read your speech or turn your back on your audience.
  • Eliminate distracting habits such as rattling keys and using filler words such as “and uh.”
  • Dress neatly and appropriately for the audience.
  • Adhere strictly to your time limit and leave time for questions. When responding to questions, repeat the question for the audience, take a moment to compose your thoughts, and then answer politely, good-humoredly, and briefly.

Visual Aids

Well-designed and well-used visuals can dramatically enhance any presentation. They help the audience visualize the speaker’s words, understand complicated concepts, focus attention, and simply make the presentation more interesting. Consider adding one or more of the following visual aids to your talk, but be sure the venue will accommodate your selection:

  • PowerPoint™ slides
  • video or audio
  • photographs or drawings to pass around, post on walls, or display on tables
  • flipcharts and white boards prepared in advance or written on during the presentation
  • props for show-and-tell (sample plants, gardening tools, and materials)
  • handouts, such as a presentation outline, reference materials, glossary of terms, and brochures

PowerPoint Presentations

Beth Leonard, MGV, Buncombe County, North Carolina

Today many speakers supplement their presentations using Microsoft Office PowerPoint™ or similar software. Check with the local Extension agents to see what equipment is available (lap top, projector, portable screen). If the Extension center does not have the necessary equipment, see if the host group can provide it. A well-designed PowerPoint™ presentation not only focuses the audience on the key messages of the talk, but it can also serve as speaking notes for the presenter. A badly designed PowerPoint™ presentation can achieve just the opposite. Too much text, bad graphics, and too many slides can distract or, worse, irritate the audience. Use the tips below to create a winning PowerPoint™ presentation.

Begin by writing an outline or script and then figure out how to visualize it. Never start by creating the slides.

Design or select a slide style. Style refers to the slide layout or background. It includes color, font face and size, text and image alignment on the page, headers, and footers. Check to see if the EMG speakers bureau or Extension office uses a specific PowerPoint™ style template or use the EMG logo Powerpoint template available from NC State Extension. You may also choose one from Microsoft’s predefined style templates or design a new one. The keys to good PowerPoint™ style design are (1) keep it very basic and simple, and (2) be consistent across all slides in use of color, fonts, frames, and positioning. Preferable styles have white backgrounds, sans serif fonts (such as Arial or Tahoma), black or dark lettering, and limited page decoration using frames and background graphics.

Create each slide. Each individual slide should visually represent the topic being presented at that moment. The slide must be simple enough that the audience can absorb it entirely at-a-glance. The audience should be encouraged to focus on the speaker and not have to struggle to read or interpret a busy, complicated slide. Basic rules for slide creation are as follows:

  • Focus each slide on one point or concept at a time. The slide title can state the main point, and the slide bullets provide explanatory back-up. Use the presentation outline as a guide to the flow and content of each slide.
  • Use keywords and concise phrases only. Do not use sentences and never use paragraphs. A good rule of thumb is no more than six bullets per slide and no more than six words per bullet.
  • Images are key elements of every PowerPoint™ presentation. They help the audience actually “see” what they are hearing. Include pictures, images, or graphics that illustrate and reinforce the point. Just be sure they are clear, simple, and easily understood. It is usually best to include only one image per slide along with text bullets. Two related images might be used on a slide without bullets. More images create an overly busy slide and become harder to see at a distance.
  • Be aware that clipart on a slide has become an overused cliché that is best avoided. If clipart is used, try to locate an image that is fresh and new.
  • Use color carefully to highlight the message. Too many mismatched colors with too much contrast or brightness are distracting.
  • Resist the temptation to decorate slides with visual flashing text, fades, swipes, and sound effects. Unless there is a straightforward reason to highlight a point with visual flashes, these effects can be more annoying than interesting to the audience.

Manage size and quantity. Be sure the slides can be read from the back of the room. This means slides that are uncluttered, contain lots of white space, and use a font size that is usually no smaller than 24 pt. Plan on displaying and talking about a single slide for no more than three minutes and most slides for around one and a half minutes. For a 30-minute presentation, plan for no less than ten to fifteen slides. These are just guidelines and the length of time spent on a particular slide will vary with the complexity of the image. The main objective is to keep the audience visually stimulated.

Practice, practice, practice. Use the slides while practicing the presentation to become comfortable with the projection equipment and the mechanics of changing slides. Anticipate each slide as it appears and synchronize comments to the changing slide. Know the slides well enough to avoid turning away from the audience and reading the slides. Have a pointer available to call attention to certain images or words on a slide that are important for the audience to focus on.

For more information and resources on speaking effectively and preparing PowerPoint™ presentations, search the Internet for “how to make an effective speech” or “how to develop a good PowerPoint™ presentation.”

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NC State MGV giving a presentation in Wake County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Radio and Television Presenter

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Extension agents have been presenting educational radio and television programs for years. MGVs who are interested or experienced in this area might want to volunteer to develop a program or to work on the production of a program. Before producing a radio or television program, remember that reaching a large audience with one presentation will also increase the demand for information from Extension. Be prepared to handle the additional requests, and refer the audience to online resources. Whatever the media format, the message should be clear and concise. Keep in mind the following basic tips when developing a radio or television program:

  • Use common English and simple sentence structure.
  • Keep stories or examples to a minimum; use them only to emphasize or clarify a point.
  • Address only one topic in short (30 seconds to 3 minutes) time slots.
  • Deliver radio presentations in a somewhat conversational manner.
  • Ad-libbing from a carefully prepared set of notes comes across better than reading from a script.
  • Speak clearly and slowly, emphasizing important points.
  • Repeat or summarize main points at the end of the message.
  • Refer the audience to Extension resources and events for additional information.

Television broadcasts need to be well prepared in advance. Although they take additional time to prepare, demonstrations and visual examples are good for television. Television is a great way to show how a healthy plant looks compared to a diseased plant or what the characteristic markings on insects look like. Find out ahead of time if the station can use PowerPoints, photographs, or video.

Before arriving at the studio, outline the material in a script. It does not have to be a word-for­word account, but it should be in logical order and contain all the necessary points. Approach script-writing as a story­telling experience by relaying an interesting and informative talk without slang or jargon. Evaluate artwork and props to make sure only the visuals that will help tell the story are used. Avoid extensive detail in graphs and charts. Mark on the script where images and graphics should appear; be ready to make changes for the director. Prepare parts of the demonstration ahead of time if necessary.

Rehearse in front of a mirror, check timing, and eliminate any bad habits such as head bobbing, frowning, or fidgeting. Also watch out for verbal tics (using ah's, um's, or ok's) and eliminate them.

A relaxed appearance is best, so wear appropriate but comfortable clothing. Avoid white, black, red, plaids, stripes, checks, herringbone, bright colors, shiny fabrics, and bold patterns. Noisy or shiny jewelry can distract viewers from the material being presented. Do not use logos other than those for the EMG program, Extension, or NC State.

During the filming, speak in a natural tone. Relax; imagine talking to a person just a few feet away. Maintain eye contact with the camera, unless advised otherwise. If an error is made, correct it naturally and without fuss. Tell the viewers how to obtain additional information on the subject.

Photo of an MGV hosting a radio show

NC State MGV in Durham County hosts a radio show.

School Garden Consultant

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Volunteers help teachers and students plan and carry out gardening projects and impart students with the skills to garden in their own at home. Job duties of school garden coordinators include setting up a time and date to meet with teachers and students to work on a project; taking project materials to class; conducting at least one follow-up visit to offer further help if needed; and making an end-of-project visit to recognize the students' work. Possible projects include outdoor and container vegetable gardening, window sill herb gardening, butterfly gardening, and sprouting seeds.

Photo of master gardener with students in Buncombe County

NC State MGV gardening with students in Buncombe County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Social Media Manager

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Connie Schultz, EMGV, Johnston County, North Carolina

Social media is a way for people to connect, find information, and be engaged. Smart phones, GPSs, Google, QR codes, apps, tablets, and mobile devices open a whole new world of communication. Unlike traditional websites with a mission of delivering information, social media is a dialog, connecting people, information, and images promoting dynamic exchange. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and other social media platforms allow volunteers, staff, and clients to interact remotely. MGVs may become involved at the county, state, and national level.

Post daily or at least three to four times per week.

Use the following ideas to craft relevant and engaging posts:

  • events
  • photos (people, plants, insects, disease, and designs)
  • questions
  • pest/weather alerts
  • gardening tips
  • links to recommended resources
  • frequently asked questions and their answers
  • descriptions and links to Extension resources and blogs

There are many wonderful opportunities to be engaged remotely:

  1. Answer questions via email or the “Ask an Expert” system.
  2. Assist with as a “Page Editor” or a “SuperAdmin.”
  3. Help manage the Plant database (upload images, proof descriptions, add new plants).
  4. Contribute to online calendars.
  5. Contribute to social media by managing the local EMGV or one of the state EMGV or Extension Gardener Facebook pages. “Like” and “share” Extension and EMGV posts on Facebook.

Remote opportunities also exist for continuing education:

  1. The Plants, Pests and Pathogens webinar is held bimonthly.
  2. See the calendar on both the county page and the “Statewide” page of
  3. Check out the “Advanced Training” opportunities on the statewide section of
Screenshot of the master gardener Facebook page

NC State MGV Facebook page.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Therapeutic Horticulture Coordinator

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MGVs who enjoy working with people who have special needs can provide instruction in the culture of indoor plants, floral design, or container and raised-bed gardening to groups of senior citizens or other groups with special needs. Extension agents will help volunteers establish an appropriate curriculum for their audience. Review the chapter on Community, Youth, and Therapeutic Horticulture for more information.

Photo of master gardener working with children

NC State MGVs working with children in Haywood county.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Volunteer Coordinator

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Volunteer coordinators meet with the supervising agent on a regular basis to discuss current needs and to plan and evaluate volunteer management activities. Other duties include recruiting new volunteers, interviewing prospective volunteers, discussing volunteer placement with the agent, maintaining volunteer records, and assisting in preparing reports of volunteer involvement.

Photo of group of master gardeners in Transylvania County

NC State MGVs in Transylvania County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension


Extension Urban Horticulture Specialist
Horticultural Science

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: May 29, 2019

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