Extension Agent Rick Gibson teaches would-be Master Gardeners at the Maricopa Agricultural Center. Submitted

By Misty Newman

Master Gardener certification through the Maricopa Agriculture Center (MAC) will help you get the green thumb you’ve always wanted.

The Pinal County Master Gardeners provide research-based, home horticultural information through educational programs and projects.

What it takes

To earn and maintain Master Gardener certification, one must complete a specialized, 15-week training on gardening in the low desert, meet volunteer requirements and obtain the required number of hours in continuing education every year.

Horticultural experts teach the classes, which include botany, pest management, landscape design, cacti and pest management.

During the winter, trainings are held in Casa Grande and Apache Junction. In the fall, trainings are in Maricopa, San Tan Valley and Saddlebrook. The three-hour classes are held weekly for 15 weeks.

Certified Master Gardener Julie Olson says the Maricopa Agricultural Center (MAC) has a greenhouse, demo garden and fruit orchard, allowing students to get hands-on training on site.

“We’ve been lucky to have between 15-20 students every year,” Olson says.

Tomatoes are grown in the demonstration garden at the MAC. Submitted
Tomatoes are grown in the demonstration garden at the MAC. Submitted

The Master Gardener program is reaching into schools as well. This is the first year for one teacher to be selected to get the Master Gardener certification.

“We’ve set up a scholarship for teachers to go through the program and take the information back to their kids,” says MAC Master Gardener Bob Wurth.

To remain a certified Master Gardener the first year, 50 hours of volunteer service and 12 hours of continuing education are required. During the second year, 25 volunteer-hours and six hours of continuing education are necessary. The cost of the entire program is $120.

Benefits of Master Gardener certification

Master Gardeners assist with presenting to local groups, educating children, organizing conferences and programs, and giving garden demonstrations.

Master Gardeners also advise homeowners on their gardens. A Master Gardener is available by phone 9 a.m. to noon Mondays through Fridays to take calls from community members seeking landscaping or gardening advice.

One of the Master Gardener graduates delivered a gardening workshop through the Maricopa Library. According to Wurth, the Master Gardeners work a lot with people who have moved to Arizona from other parts of the country.

“We are trying to teach people how to grow in the desert,” he says. “We often have people tell us that they can’t grow anything. Arizona has desert soil and has a high pH, which is a totally different gardening concept for people. In the Midwest, they plant in the spring and the crops freeze in the fall. In Arizona there are two different seasons. We also help people to set up the right irrigation.”

Once you have received your Master Gardener certification, you will also receive materials for ongoing education. These include a monthly Master Gardener newsletter, bi-monthly Journal on Horticulture, specialized training on advanced topics and attending an annual conference.



Misty Newman grew up in Idaho and was raised in the outdoors. She loves to go camping, hiking, fishing, & rafting. In her past life, two of her favorite recreational activities included bungee jumping and rock climbing. She was a ranger for a state park, a Recreation Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club, and the photo editor at the College of Southern Idaho. She moved from Idaho in 2007 and has lived in Maricopa since. She now enjoys exploring AZ with her two beautiful children. Visit http://www.maricopaoutdooradventures.com/

See her previous InMaricopa Outdoors stories:

Gun-safety tips from Maricopa Shooting Service

Avid adventurer changes life, now helping others

Hang gliding over Maricopa

Pacana Park remains in the heart of Maricopa

Introduction to InMaricopa Outdoors

This story appeared in the Winter Edition of InMaricopa the Magazine.