Purdue Extension Service

Vanderburgh County, Indiana



Permissible Projects Possible

Volunteer Guideline

The primary objective of the Master Gardener program is to educate the general public on proper horticultural practices. Service to the community and improving the environment are also important goals. When coming up with a new project idea, ask yourself first: Will the general gardening public learn anything from my efforts? Will I be improving the beauty and environmental health of my community? Will I be helping someone who can no longer manage a garden by themselves?

The following activities are a partial list of projects that count for volunteer credit for Master Gardeners. Other activities not listed may count for volunteer credit -- check with Extension Office to determine if the activity would be appropriate for volunteer credit. Please note: all new projects need to be approved by the Board of Directors (SWIMGA officers) before the Master Gardener name can be used, and before any funds can be approved.

Approved Projects

Teaching: The primary responsibility of Master Gardeners is to teach -- to share your knowledge with others. We should try to teach with everything we do! But, for specific volunteer credit, you can claim time spent speaking to school groups, Scouts, 4-H'ers, civic organizations, and other garden clubs. Teaching can also be informal, such as at a garden tour, or at Ag Days. Be sure that you are only sharing information recommended by Purdue University.

Booth Displays: Another type of informal teaching. Some of the established programs Master Gardeners will staff a booth at include the Evansville Home Show, County Fairs, and garden symposiums put on by other organizations. Conceivably, holding a plant diagnostic clinic at a mall or garden center could also count -- check with Extension office and Board first.

Demonstration Gardens: There are several demonstration gardens in the area, including the herb garden at USI, the butterfly gardens at Mesker Park Zoo and Wesselman Woods Nature Preserve, and Newburgh Dam. While a beautiful flower bed does improve the aesthetics and environment of your community, only garden beds that are educational in nature will be approved. Signage should be present, to identify the plants. Innovative and new techniques for weed and pest control, or general culture, should be evident. If funds permit, permanent signs might be erected to explain in greater detail what is being shown.

Working in the Extension Office: The Master Gardener program was created in the 70's to help Extension staff answer the flood of gardening questions that come in every spring. The Extension office will provide training in handling garden questions, and provide access to the library of information to identify and solve garden problems. Volunteers are needed during normal business hours (8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday). Also, you may want to volunteer to help out with clerical work (copying and collating publications for Extension programs, filing, etc.).

Teaching by Doing: Helping landscape homes through Habitat for Humanity, community vegetable gardens, and even one-on-one gardening can be educational. Community vegetable garden projects not only teaches the residents how to garden, improve the soil, and control pests, but also directly serves the people living there by providing them fresh fruits and vegetables that they grew themselves. Projects such as "Plant a Row for the Hungry" encourage gardeners to grow extra fruits and vegetables to share with the community's food pantries.

Environmental Improvement: Volunteering to help clean the environment is definitely a Master Gardener duty! Established community programs, such as Tox-Away Day, Holiday (Christmas Tree) Recycling, and Riversweeps, would count for volunteer credit, even though these projects are not technically sponsored by the Master Gardeners, or even educational in nature. Maintenance of adopted spots (highways, etc.) may also be considered for credit.

Working for SWIMGA: The only way your Master Gardener Association can survive is if people volunteer to chair projects, serve as officers, help with fund-raising, even bring in refreshments for meetings! Your efforts to help the Association will help the members learn more, and be more effective volunteers for other community projects, and you can earn credit for this. The time spent planning projects, phoning Master Gardeners, and writing up reports counts for credit. Do not record attendance at SWIMGA meetings as volunteer credit, unless you actually performed volunteer work (setting up, serving as officer, presenting a lesson, etc.).

Working In Your Own Garden: Generally, you may NOT declare any time you spend working in your own yard or garden. There are some exceptions, though: If you are preparing your property for a Garden Tour, then anything above and beyond what you would normally do for routine garden maintenance may be included. You can, of course, declare the entire time of the Garden Tour itself. Also, if you are raising plants for a SWIMGA fund-raiser, I will grant 1 hour of volunteer service for each flat of plants you donate.

"Over the Backyard Fence": This covers any gardening advice you give to neighbors and friends, either in your neighborhood, at work, at parties, etc. Once people know you're a Master Gardener, you will get (hopefully!) get numerous questions. Always remember to quote from Extension bulletins when making any recommendations. Also, remember it's perfectly O.K. to get back to people with the right information, if you don't have your books with you. For record keeping (Extension staff need to report contacts to the State), please record your client's name and address or phone number when you turn in these volunteer hours.

There are other minor projects that count for volunteer credit, such as school projects, taking photos of diseased plants, insects, etc. Check with the Extension Office if you're not sure whether the activity counts for credit or not.

Please note: You may include travel time to and from your volunteer work site, as long as it is an approved volunteer project.

Activities That Don't Count for Credit

Remember that, in general, Master Gardeners may not provide gardening information to commercial clients (garden centers, farmers, etc.). The practices and products discussed in class are home gardener oriented; commercial horticulturists use different products and techniques. Also, the results of an incorrect diagnosis are more serious to professionals than to homeowners (think of the difference between killing 6 tomatoes versus killing 6 acres of tomatoes).

Also, you may not use your Master Gardener status while on the job at a garden center, lawn care company, etc. This also includes such things as horticulture therapy if you're a nurse, or teaching about trees if you're a school teacher. If you are getting paid to do that job, it's not volunteer, so please don't turn it in, or use the Master Gardener name. However, you may certainly use your knowledge on the job -- just not the Master Gardener title.

Master Gardeners are not to be considered "professional weed pullers" or free labor for someone else's garden. We receive numerous requests each year to weed a school or church landscape, etc. Unless the project can be made educational (such as teaching the students to identify weeds), then you will not receive credit for it. Further: the Master Gardener association has had several bad experiences with joining forces with established groups on their garden projects. If a group wishes to secure MG advice or help for one of their projects, the request must first go before the Extension Educator and the Board.

Any organizational work for groups other than SWIMGA (or your county's Master Gardener group). For example, if you want to start the "Evansville Dandelion Lovers Club," all the time spent organizing it, coming up with by-laws, etc., does not count for volunteer credit. However, any teaching you do during the meetings (such as a lecture on how to grow dandelions) counts for credit, and you can teach that using the Master Gardener title.

Purdue University and SWIMGA are equal opportunity organizations. We cannot discriminate against people because of race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, marital status, parental status, sexual orientation, or disability (see by-laws for complete policy). We also cannot volunteer, or use the Master Gardener title, for other organizations that violate this equal opportunity policy. Ask the Extension Office for clarification, if you don't know whether a group you're involved with is compliant.

Don't get involved in anything illegal! Do not offer advice, as a Master Gardener, to people who want to grow illegal plants, or who want to kill their neighbor's tree secretly.

Don't get involved in anything that may cause you to be brought into court as an expert witness! If you tell an insurance adjuster or lawyer that a tree died because of pesticide drift, you are legally claiming to be an expert, even if you don't say it in so many words. These types of situations must be dealt with by the Extension Office or a Purdue specialist.

There are too many other activities that we shouldn't be involved with as Master Gardeners, or that shouldn't be turned in as volunteer credit, to list them all. If in doubt, call the Extension Office.

How to Turn in Volunteer Credit

You must turn in your volunteer hours to the Extension Office on a regular basis. How often depends on how busy you are. If you are doing lots of teaching, or "over the backyard fence" work, you may want to turn in your hours once a month. If you are only doing a couple of activities each month, then turn it in every 3 or 4 months. This keeps the Extension Office updated on your activities, and also prevents you from forgetting projects and time spent on them.

There is a special form the Extension Office has available to help you record your hours.  You can download a copy by clicking here.   However, you don't need to use the Master Gardener Record of Volunteer Work form, as long as you include the proper information. The form looks something like this:


Description of Volunteer Work or Training Attended


Hours Volunteer Work

Hours Adv. Training

Number of Contacts






Under "Date," please put down the date of the activity. If it's an on-going project, you may want to just put the month down. The records kept by the Extension Office break down each project by month, and you make the record keeping easier by recording it this way.

Under "Description of Service," briefly explain what activity you did. For example: "Taught Arbor Day lesson;" "Pulled weeds at demonstration garden;" "Advised neighbor about controlling Japanese beetles;" "Worked MG booth." I don't necessarily need a lengthy, detailed description of the garden or the lesson. However, if it's something really unique, exciting, or troublesome, feel free to write up a short description, and turn that in as a separate page.

If you are recording a training seminar you attended (Master Gardeners must continue to accumulate continuing education each year), record the name of the seminar, and write "Continuing Education" beside it. Record these hours in the "Advanced Training" column. You MAY NOT include travel time for advanced training; the only time you can declare is the actual amount of time in the lesson. If you attended an all-day program that was mostly social, or toured a botanic garden, you can only declare the actual time spent being taught by a presenter.

Under "Location," I need to know where you did this volunteer work. If you ran a booth at the Home Show or the County Fair, then that's all I need to know. List the name of the school or civic group you spoke to. List the full name of the demonstration garden (Sunrise Park, USI Herb Garden, etc.). Don't just say "butterfly garden" -- there's too many!

If your service was "over the backyard fence," this is where you can put your client's name and address/phone. If you can't remember who you spoke to, or if you advised a stranger at the grocery or at a party, don't worry about it. This just helps justify the Extension program to County and State officials.

Under " # Hours Volunteer," record how long you performed this activity. If you spent 1 hours calling members of your committee, then write down 1.5 hours. If you are reporting an ongoing project, record how many hours you spent for that month. You may include travel time to and from the project if you want to. Round off all time to the nearest half-hour. If you are claiming advanced training for your continued education, place that in the column marked "Hours Advanced Training."

The "Contacts" column is very important. We need to demonstrate that Master Gardeners are having an impact on people's lives, and that we're including everyone. If you speak in front of a classroom of 30 kids, write it down. If you did "over the backyard fence" with 1 neighbor, mark it down. At the end of the year, it's important to know how many people benefited from our efforts.

Whether you use the form provided, or notebook paper, please be sure to print your name clearly on top! Do not wait until the end of the year to turn these in; turn in updates at least quarterly.

If you have any questions on volunteer work or recording it, drop me an e-mail at LCaplan@purdue.edu 


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