Master Gardener Program

Become a Mercer County – Rutgers Master Gardener

The Rutgers Master Gardeners Of Mercer County Volunteer Training Program


The Master Gardener Volunteer Program was created by Cooperative Extension to meet an enormous increase in requests from home gardeners for horticultural information. This increase derives primarily from the urban and transient nature of modern American life. Seventy-plus years ago an Extension agent dealt with the questions of farm families. Since then much of this farmland has been subdivided which has increased the number of families Extension must serve. In addition, many of these families are new to the area and are unfamiliar with the grasses, shrubs, trees, diseases, and insects that populate their new community. They often call Extension for advice.

In 1972 a county agricultural agent started the Master Gardener Program in Washington State. Since then it has spread to 50 states and several countries. Seventeen of New Jersey’s 21 counties now train Master Gardeners. The Mercer County program started in September 1993.

What Is Cooperative Extension?

Rutgers Cooperative Extension (RCE) of Mercer County helps the county’s diverse population improve life through an educational process that uses science-based knowledge. RCE/New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station focuses on issues and needs relating to agriculture and the environment; management of natural resources; food safety, quality, and health; and family stability; economic security; and youth development. Our departments are agriculture, 4-H youth development, and family and community health sciences. The Master Gardener Program is run through the agriculture department.

As an integral part of The School of Environmental and Biological Sciences of Rutgers -The State University of New Jersey, and the New Jersey Agriculture Experiment Station, we provide practical information and educational programs (including the Rutgers Master Gardener Program) to all adults without regard to race, religion, color, age, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability. Rutgers University and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders fund the individual Extension offices throughout New Jersey.

Goals Of The Rutgers Master Gardener Volunteer Program

  • To extend into the community the educational efforts of Rutgers Cooperative Extension by using trained and certified volunteers.
  • To establish educational programs in which Master Gardeners help residents of Mercer County obtain up-to-date recommendations from Rutgers University, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • To assist individual clients, community groups, or other potential audiences by disseminating horticultural, pest control, and related information on the county-supported telephone Helpline and at community outreach events.


  • Basic horticulture
  • Plant diseases
  • Flower gardening
  • Insect identification and control
  • Vegetable and herb gardening
  • Soils and fertilizers
  • House plants and container gardening
  • Environmental responsibility
  • Ornamental trees, shrubs, and vines
  • Lawn care
  • Plant maintenance and pruning
  • Tree and small fruit culture
  • IPM, pesticides, and problem solving
  • Landscaping basics
  • Composting
  • Helpline training
  • Weed identification and control
  • Volunteerism

Training Staff

The teaching staff consists of the Mercer County Horticulturist Barbara J. Bromley, county agricultural agents, Rutgers staff and faculty, and other horticultural experts.

Class Dates

  • The class meets Thursdays from 9:30 AM to 1:00 PM at the Mercer County Extension office.
  • Classes begin in late September and run through mid March of the following year.
  • There will be no class on Thanksgiving,Dec. 24, 25 or 31.
  • Following the last academic class is a required Helpline training session.

Course Requirements

Requirements for certification and graduation as a Mercer County Master Gardener:

  • 80% attendance for class sessions and field trips. Students who miss class are responsible for all work. Applicants who have already planned extended absences that would necessitate missing classes should consider taking the program another year.
  • Satisfactory completion of activities and assigned projects.
  • Satisfactory grade on the take-home open book final exam.
  • Return of a signed copy of the Extension/Master Gardener Volunteer Agreement.
  • Fulfillment of the 60-hour volunteer requirement.
  • Volunteer Commitment

To become a certified Master Gardener one must complete the 21-week academic classwork and Helpline training. As part of the requirement students must contribute 60 hours of volunteer time to Mercer County Extension or related programs. The volunteer commitment includes:

  • A minimum of 30 hours spent supplying information to the public on the Master Gardener Helpline.
  • Five hours using composting skills at the award-winning Mercer Educational Gardens at the Mercer County Equestrian Center on 431A Federal City Road in Pennington.
  • The remaining 25 hours(of the total 60) may be spent on the above options or on other approved Mercer County projects such as Master Gardener program committees, the Mercer County 4-H Fair, other Extension and county programs and Howell Living History Farm.
  • Up to 15 hours (of the total 60) may be donated to horticulture education programs in other not-for-profit agencies in Mercer County.
  • To maintain Master Gardener status:
    • 30 hours (at least 15 on Helpline) must be volunteered in each year thereafter.
    • 10-hour per year continuing education requirement for all graduates.
    • 1000 volunteer hours confers 1000 hour volunteer status as a Mercer County Master Gardener. (Our program currently has over sixty 1000 hour members.)

Application Process

Applications will be mailed out in Summer. (No applications are accepted before July 10.) They are available at the above address or can be requested by calling 609-989-6830. The Master Gardener program is open to all Mercer County residents without regard to race, religion, color, age, national origin, gender, sexual orientation or disability. The deadline for submitting applications is about September 7, or when the class fills.


A $230.00 tuition fee is due with the application . This fee, payable to Rutgers, the State University, covers the cost of the training manual, name badges, class supplies, and speaker fees. Scholarship opportunities may be available. Call for more details.


Up to 30 people will be accepted into the Master Gardeners of Mercer County volunteer training program each year. Mercer County residents are given priority and are admitted on a “first-applied-first-accepted” basis. Acceptances are entered according to the date Extension receives the application and fee. Acceptance letters are mailed after Labor Day or as soon as the class is filled, but applicants may call to find out if they have been accepted. Once the class fills, a waiting list is started in the order applications are received. If a vacancy occurs up to the second week of class the person next in line will be offered the position. Applicants who are wait-listed must reapply, but will be automatically mailed an application for the next year’s class.

Out-Of-County And Out-Of-State Residents

Residents of other New Jersey counties should check with their own county about open slots in their county’s Master Gardener program. (Hunterdon, Middlesex, Burlington, and Monmouth, counties that border Mercer, all have programs.) Out-of-county residents may be accepted after all Mercer vacancies are filled and the applicant’s home county program is filled. Volunteer hours must be served in Mercer County. There are Master Gardener programs in the states bordering New Jersey; therefore the Mercer program is not available to out-of-state residents.

For More Information

For more information, contact Barbara J. Bromley, Mercer County Horticulturist and Master Gardener advisor at 609-989-6830, M-F, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.