Becoming a Master Gardener

May 14, 2024

Have you ever wondered how you can learn about plant care, water conservation, botany, tree pruning, soil amendments, lawn alternatives, pollinators, pest management and more while making friends and being part of a mission driven team? Become a Napa County Master Gardener, and you'll see.

The Master Gardener program is offered by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE). Programs vary slightly by county, but all must meet certain UCCE requirements.

Master Gardeners are volunteers whose main purpose is to develop and deliver educational programs to the community, using research-based knowledge and information.

The Master Gardener training is a 12-week commitment. Classes meet weekly for 4-1/2 hours. (Don't worry—there are snacks and breaks.) When you enroll, you pay a nominal fee and receive four excellent books, the foundation for most of the assignments. Homework consists of a lot of reading and highlighting, but there are also interesting videos to watch most weeks, experiments to do, and plant problems to diagnose. You can expect to spend 8 to 10 hours weekly on homework.

A field trip is usually part of the program, along with many interesting class speakers and demonstrations. In one of my favorite classes, a top entomologist from UC Davis educated us about insects, then we looked at specimens through microscopes to learn their distinguishing features.

In another class, other Master Gardeners spoke about aspects of climate change. There was even a scavenger hunt at two local nurseries.

I can't say enough about our instructors. Each class tapped into their collective knowledge and experience, and they were always very supportive of us trainees. There is a final exam, but it is an open-book, take-home test and you have a week to complete it. It's a reflection on the quality of our instructors that every person in our class passed. Once you pass, you are assigned one of your instructors as a mentor, which is helpful as you start investigating and signing up for Master Gardener events.

Master Gardeners serve the community in many different ways. We conduct workshops on the value of composting and vermiculture, on garden design and vegetable planting, on pollinators and plant pests, and on plant types like natives and succulents. We lead educational tree-identification walks and rose-care classes in Fuller Park, and deliver monthly library talks on a variety of gardening subjects.

Master Gardener volunteers maintain a Help Desk at the UCCE office in Napa. We also staff a booth at the Napa and St. Helena farmers markets if you have questions or problems or need research-based advice.

Master Gardeners advise about how to create and maintain a low-water garden, how to be more fire-wise with your landscape, and how to be sure you are putting the right plant in the right place. Check out our website for the schedule of our workshops and events. Many are offered at no charge.

To maintain their certification, Master Gardeners must volunteer a certain number of hours each year and accumulate the required hours of continuing education. These requirements are easy to achieve. You earn volunteer hours every time you help with a workshop or activity, and the hours add up fast. Master Gardeners earn continuing education hours by attending monthly seminars, which are always fun and feature great speakers. So far, every activity I have volunteered for has been a source of personal continuing education.

Last month, I volunteered at the Master Gardener Tomato Festival. It was a cold and rainy Saturday, but what a cohesive team we had. There was no complaining, just camaraderie and a lot of enthusiasm. Every Master Gardener event I have ever participated in has been a model of teamwork and cooperation.

I became a Master Gardener last year, Class of 2023, and I am honored to be a part of this incredible organization. As a long time Master Gardener friend, Carole Kent, told me, "I came for the gardening information and stayed for the people." 

If you are interested in becoming a Master Gardener, you will find information about applying on our website soon. In the meantime, I hope to see you at a few of our workshops. You won't be disappointed.

Workshop: Join the UC Master Gardener of Napa County for a workshop on “Growing Olives” on Saturday, May 11, from 10 am to noon, at a private grove in Napa. Learn about olive varieties and how to plant, fertilize, irrigate, and prune these trees. Olive pests and diseases will also be discussed. Register to receive the workshop location.

Workshop: Join the UC Master Gardener of Napa County for a workshop on “Worm or Backyard Composting” on Saturday, May 18, from 10 am to noon, at Napa Valley College, Upper Valley Campus, 1088 College Avenue, St. Helena. Learn about backyard composting, hot composting, cool composting, and worm composting—choose your own adventure. Attendees may purchase a discounted backyard compost bin for $20 or take a home a free worm compost toolkit, including the worms. Register here.

Help Desk: The Master Gardener Help Desk is available to answer your garden questions on Mondays and Fridays from 10 am until 1 pm at the University of California Cooperative Extension Office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa. Or send your questions to Include your name, address, phone number and a brief description.