NC State Extension Publications

A. Promotion

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Extension advertises for MGV candidates on an ongoing basis through a variety of channels to ensure that a diverse population will have the opportunity to apply.

Application forms are available from the local Extension center and website. Counties may require a supplemental form to be submitted in addition to the state form. Counties that develop a supplemental form must submit a copy to the state EMG coordinator for approval.

Photo of master gardeners at an event in Beaufort County

NC State MGVs at an event in Beaufort County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

B. Application and Fees

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  • Application
    • Step 1: Contact the local Extension center for information on the basic training schedule, fees, and due date for submitting the MGV application.
      Applicants may apply to an EMG program in another county, but first preference is given to residents of the county in which the training is offered. Students may also be required to complete volunteer service in the county in which they are trained. Agents are not required to accept students from other counties.
    • Step 2: Complete the North Carolina MGV application forms:
      • Basic Application Form
      • Background Screening Consent Form: Applicants will be asked to provide their name, date of birth, and driver’s license number. All information is kept confidential and in a secure location.
      • Code of Conduct (appendix C).
      • County EMG program enrollment forms (if required)
      • Step 3: Submit all above-mentioned forms along with the registration fee to the local EMG program coordinator. If the training fees are a financial hardship, include a request for a waiver for part or all of the fees.
  • Fees
    • Training fees vary by county and include both a local and state fee.
    • The local Extension agent will collect state registration fees (payable by check) from each volunteer and forward one check for all state fees to the state EMG coordinator. The checks for all state training fees should be made payable to NC State University and mailed to

EMG State Program Coordinator
Department of Horticultural Science
NC State University
Box 7609
Raleigh, NC 27695-7609

  • The collection of a deposit (to be refunded if volunteer hours are completed) is prohibited.
  • Mandatory collection of county or state EMG Association dues is prohibited.
Photo of master gardener demonstrating gardening techniques

NC State MGV demonstrating gardening techniques in Burke County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

C. Selection

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The United States Supreme Court has ruled that participation in a volunteer program is a privilege and not a guaranteed right.

Local Extension agents are encouraged to form local selection committees to review applications, but Extension agents will make the final selections. The criteria used in the selection process must be applied consistently to every applicant.

Selection should be based solely on the qualifications and availability of the applicant to perform the following tasks:

  • Complete the training, including all quizzes, homework assignments, field trips, and exams.
  • Complete 40 hours of approved volunteer service within one year of graduating.
  • Assist the Extension agent.

The selecting agent should consider the following key factors:

  • previous volunteer experience
  • gardening experience and expertise
  • ability to communicate effectively and diplomatically with the public by phone, in person, and in writing
  • ability and desire to learn
  • interest in helping people
  • personal goals in alignment with the program
  • willingness to represent Extension in a professional manner
  • willingness to work as a team member with the local Extension agent and other MGVs
  • willingness to maintain and report records of volunteer work
  • other skills, such as photography, computer proficiency, carpentry, or art

Applicants may be asked questions regarding their ability to meet attendance requirements and perform volunteer duties.

Information concerning race, color, national origin, age, sex (including pregnancy), disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and veteran status may not be asked about or considered in the application or screening process. This requirement is based on federal civil rights laws. All applications and information obtained during the interviews are confidential.

Selection may be based strictly on the application forms, or at the agent’s discretion, the applicants may be interviewed.

Once an applicant is selected, it is recommended that they be paired with a MGV mentor.

If an applicant is not selected to participate in the program, their fees will be returned.

A master gardener judges vegetables at the Burke County Fair

An NC State MGV judges vegetables at the Burke County Fair.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

D. Basic Training

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1. Curriculum

The North Carolina MGV basic training consists of a minimum of 40 hours of balanced, integrated, practical curriculum in home horticulture. The North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook is the basis for the basic training curriculum and course. The training includes an introduction to plant science; soils and soil amendments; insect, disease, and weed management; sustainable garden management; integrated pest management; pesticide safety; and plant problem diagnosis. These topics are applied to specific plant systems, such as trees, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, fruits, and lawns. Training focuses on preparing students for their volunteer roles. Emphasis is placed on key fundamentals (for each subject area), practical application, and development of problem solving skills.

Training sessions may include a combination of live lectures, hands-on activities, field trips, on-line sessions, and experiential learning methods. The exact teaching format may vary by county, depending on the available resources and instructors. Field trips are encouraged but may not replace more than five hours of the core-training curriculum.

Primarily, local Extension agents and Extension specialists will conduct instruction. Experienced MGVs and local professionals may be invited to supplement the training. Participants in the training program will be referred to as “MGV students.”

Students are expected to participate in all training sessions. The program is intended to familiarize students with reference material and resources available from NC State. Students are not expected to memorize the information; instead they should learn research skills and where to find information. Most local programs have found it best to offer training once a week (three-hour classes) during regular office hours.

In many counties, an experienced MGV mentor will be on hand to help students as needed. Mentors will assist volunteers throughout training and as they begin their MGV duties.

Agents are encouraged to invite other local Extension staff members to make short presentations about their program areas to students to provide volunteers with a more complete view of Extension.

Class participants should be registered on within two weeks after the first class.

2. Examination

Agents are encouraged to give a take-home quiz covering the key concepts of each class. A comprehensive, open book final examination is given, which may be offered as a take-home exam.

One retest may be offered for those who do not make a passing grade on the final exam.

The local agent will provide a "Certificate of Class Completion" and an MGV Intern nametag for each volunteer who completes the course and passes the exam.

Photo of volunteers in training

NC State MGV training in Henderson County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

E. Internship and Certification

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Within one year of completing the core training and passing the final exam, volunteers (now called “MGV interns”) must complete a 40-hour internship. The goal of this internship is to introduce interns to the variety of EMG programs and opportunities in their counties. Local Extension agents or local program coordinators must approve volunteer projects.

Upon completion of the internship, the title of “Master Gardener volunteer” will be awarded along with a certificate and nametag.

Photo of master gardener volunteers in New Hanover County

NC State MGVs in New Hanover County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

F. Annual Recertification

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MGV certification expires on December 31st of the year issued and must be renewed annually. There are several ways active MGVs make a commitment for continued participation in the program:

  • complete recertification forms: Code of Conduct, (appendix D)
  • volunteer a minimum of 20 hours of approved service
  • acquire a minimum of 10 hours of approved continuing education credits
  • enter volunteer time reports each month

Local Extension program coordinators may require more than 20 hours of volunteer service, 10 hours of continuing education, or both to remain active in the program. Volunteers who have performed within the guidelines may be invited to renew their volunteer commitment for another year. Anyone not renewing his or her commitment will no longer be considered an MGV and instead will be referred to as an alumnus of the EMG program.

Photo of master gardeners in Rutherford County training

NC State MGVs in Rutherford County training.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

G. Additional Training Opportunities

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One of the many rewards MGVs enjoy is the opportunity to continue expanding their knowledge of home horticulture. The minimum 10 hours of additional training credits may be achieved through self-paced learning, NC State sponsored educational events, or local Extension programs (contingent upon available resources.) Regional and statewide seminars, conferences, and workshops are offered to help MGVs stay abreast of current recommendations. Volunteers are encouraged to read office reference material, publications, magazines, videotapes, websites, and computer programs. Plants, Pests, and Pathogens, a statewide web-based training conducted by Extension specialists, is available online every other month. Check the EMG Intranet calendar for approved continuing education opportunities. Check with the local Extension agent prior to an event to determine whether it will count toward required continuing education.

Photo of master gardeners at pruning workshop in Iredell County

NC State MGVs at a pruning workshop in Iredell County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Photo of master gardeners on a study tour in Rutherford County

NC State MGVs on a study tour in Rutherford County.

N.C. Cooperative Extension

Advanced master gardener training in propagation in Rowan County

Advanced NC State MGV training in propagation in Rowan 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

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by NC State University or N.C. A&T State University nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your local N.C. Cooperative Extension county center.

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