Colorado Master Gardener Program | Training

Colorado Master Gardener Program
Colorado Gardener Certificate Training

Enrollment Options

Students may enroll in the CMG/CGC Training under one of three options, as follows:

  • Colorado Master Gardener Volunteer - CMG Volunteers assist CSU Extension staff in delivering research-based information about home gardening to foster successful gardening. Entrance to the program is by application. Refer to Becoming a CMG Volunteer for details on the application process.

    The title "Colorado Master Gardener” is a registered service mark of Colorado State University Extension. It is used to identify volunteers serving in official CSU Extension activities. It may not be used to infer credentials or otherwise imply endorsement of a private business. It may not be used on marketing materials of a business.

  • Colorado Gardener Certificate Student - Individuals interested in the CMG/CGC Training without a volunteer commitment may enroll for the coursework under the Colorado Gardener Certificate, CGC, enrollment option.  The course work is available for a higher fee in-lieu-of the return service.  Individuals who were not selected as CMG volunteers, may also enroll as Colorado Gardener Certificate students.

    Upon completion of the course, CGC students receive the Colorado Gardener Certificate. However, without the volunteer commitment, participants do not become Colorado Master Gardeners.

    The Colorado Gardener Certificate may be displayed in a place of business and used in business marketing.  The Colorado Gardener Certificate is also given to CMG volunteers upon completion of the class and 50 hours minimum volunteer service.

    Tuition and Fees - Cost for the 2016 Colorado Gardener Certificate training is $530 tuition plus reference materials. This course is comparable to a 4 credit class. In comparison, tuition for a four-credit class is $1,808.

    CGC Enrollment - To enroll in the CMG/CGC Training as a Colorado Gardener student (non-volunteer), send in the Colorado Gardener Certificate Enrollment Form with the tuition. Space is limited and on a first come (paying) basis. Contact your local CSU Extension Office for class details and application forms.

  • CSU Staff Inservice - With approval of their supervisor, county based staff of CSU Extension may take the CMG/CGC Training as staff inservice training. State fees apply and would be paid by county funds, the individual, or from other sources.

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2016 Training Schedules

Contact your county office of Colorado State University Extension for additional class information.

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Basic Curriculum

Basic CMG/CGC training generally consists of 60 hours of classroom instruction. Classes are typically held in the winter (January to April), during the weekday (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.)

A few counties offer an evening course. Boulder County offers an evening course on Tuesdays and Thursday, from 6 to 9 p.m., in the fall (mid September to early December). Students from neighboring counties may also participate in the evening class by registering with their home county.

Along the Colorado Front Range and in Grand Junction, the training is offered on a multi-county basis with on-site instructors. In rural counties, the training is offered at the local County Extension Office via distance education technology.

CMG Volunteers and CGC Students are required to attend at least 80% of the class sessions. Students should plan on attending all of the classes. However, that is not always possible due to illness, family emergencies, and weather-related travel issues.  When missing a class, the student is responsible for the content and should invest extra time with the study materials. Many of the lecture units are also available 24/7 online.

Curriculum content is focused for the home gardener (non-commercial) audience. However, 20% of the students are employed in the green industry and use the classes for career training. The curriculum includes a combination of lectures segments interspersed with small group discussions and lab-type activities.

Students are to provide their own print copy of the course materials.


Responding to local needs, topics covered in the basic training vary somewhat from location to location and from year to year. Refer to the schedule for specifics for any location. As space allows, CMG volunteers have the option to attend additional classes in future years as continuing education. Curriculum units include the following:

  • Diagnosing Tree Disorders - This popular class expands on the content covered in the Diagnostics and PHC class.

    After a lecture segment reviews the diagnostic process, student practice the process by diagnosing common tree pest in a lab-type activity. In small group activities, students practice developing management recommendations for common insect problems from real-life situations. While many real-life samples will not be as straight-forward as the examples used in class, it gives students experience with the process and confidence in their abilities.

    Insects and diseases account for only 20% of tree problems. The other 80% are abiotic disorders (soil compaction, planting problems, restricted root growth, weather, etc.). Due to rather generic symptoms, abiotic disorders are difficult to diagnose and are best diagnosed by working through a systematic evaluation of the tree. Through lecture segments, small group discussions, and out-door activities, student work through the process of systematic evaluation. Emphasis is placed on evaluating root/soil problems. (6 hour class)

  • Diagnostics and Plant Health Care - This class introduced the concepts of IPM: Plant Health Care (central theme through the entire course) and the diagnostic process. (3 hour class)

  • Herbaceous Plants (Flowers): Right Plant, Right Place - Hot, dry and windy, clayey or rocky soils, and short growing seasons are just some of the challenges faced by the Colorado gardener. Few catalog or plant descriptions directly apply to the unique growing conditions found in Colorado’s high plains or mountain communities. So what should the gardener interpret when the catalog describes the flower as “…requires little irrigation…”, “…needs a normal soil…” or “…spread readily…”? This class looks at interpreting catalog and plant description for Colorado growing condition, putting the right flower in the right place. (3 hour class)

  • How Plants Grow - This basic class covers plant structures and growth factors. Presented with lecture and hands-on activities, the class objective is to help students develop skills to examine plants close-up and relate observations with plant disorders. (6 hour class)

  • Identifying Insects - A typical client describes the insects as “green bugs”, but that really does not give clues for identification. In this hands-on class, student practice how to look at insects and insect body parts for identification purposes. It is fun and easy, and students have a blast working with actual insect specimens. (3 hour class)

  • Identifying Trees and Shrubs - This popular class expands on the content of the How Plants Grow class, enhancing a student's skills in identifying trees and shrubs. Through lecture and hands-on lab activities, students practice the process of plant identification including evergreens and deciduous, trees and shrubs. (3 hour class)

  • Introduction to Entomology - This class introduces students to the fascinating world of insects and insect management. (6 hour class)

  • Introduction to Plant Pathology - This class introduces students to plant diseases and plant disease management concepts. (6 hour class)

  • Introduction to the Colorado Master Gardener Program: Planting Gardens, Growing People - Class includes information on how people learn and an overview of CMG program. (3 hours class)

  • Lawn Care and Lawn Diagnostics - This class covers basic lawn care issues faced by home gardeners and lawn diagnostics. (3 or 6 hour class, depending on location)

  • Mountain Gardening - Mountain gardening has all of the common challenges of gardening in Colorado (poor soils, wind and heat, water restrictions, etc.), with the addition of several new ones! These include a shorter growing season, cooler nights, hungry wildlife, and a smaller plant palette. This class looks at how to deal with the challenges of gardening at higher elevations. (3 or 6 hour class, depending on location)

  • Pruning - The research base on pruning has added a lot of clarity in how to prune. This class covers several sections on pruning basics including: (6 hour class)
  • Basic pruning cuts
  • Structural pruning of young shades tree – Typical wind and snow load damage could be minimized with structural pruning while the trees are young. Structural pruning is easy for the home gardener to understand and do.
  • Pruning of mature trees is the job for a certified and bonded arborist. This class looks at the concepts the professional uses in pruning mature tree so the gardener will understand options and work to be done.
  • Pruning options to keep shrubs natural looking.

  • Small Fruits - Small fruits are easy and fun to grow for the home gardener. Class reviews techniques and common pitfalls with home production of small fruits. (3 hour class)

  • Soils, Fertilizers and Soil Amendments - Eighty percent of landscape plant problems relate to soil and root conditions. Content includes soil management, soil amendments and fertilizers. (6 hour class)

  • Tree Fruit - Tree fruits are challenging for the home gardener due to insect problems, spring frost and annual pruning requirements. Class reviews the techniques and common pitfalls with home tree fruit production. (3 hour class)

  • Tree Selection and Planting - Primarily due to problems arising from planting techniques, the average life of a tree in the landscape is only eight years! This class looks at the new standards for tree planting, enabling a long and healthy life for landscape trees. (3 hour class)

  • Vegetables - For gardeners, there is nothing more fulfilling than a dinner from your own garden. This class focuses on techniques to maximize yields and quality from home grown produce. Topics include soil preparation and fertilization, raised bed gardening, garden layout, irrigation, mulching, and frost protection. (3 or 6 hour class, depending on location)

  • Water Wise Landscape Design - This class has direct application for the new landscape and for the gardener wanting to update an existing landscape to be more water efficient. For years, xeriscaping has had a lot of attention in Colorado’s gardening circles. However, as a community we have not made significant reductions in the amount of water used for landscape irrigation. This class takes a new approach to water wise gardening, as an introduction to landscape design theory. This class introduces landscape design as a process, including the following key points: (6 hours)
  • Opportunities and challenges from site analysis.
  • Connecting the family to the landscape with a landscape storyline.
  • Use of line to define and connect outdoor rooms.
  • Hydrozone layouts, the foundation of water savings.
  • Basic layout with rectilinear, curvilinear and angular design style.
  • Adjusting primary lines for efficient irrigation.
  • Techniques to apply balance, scale, sequence and variety to color, texture and form, making the landscape sing.
  • Techniques to make amazing plant combinations.
  • Weed Management - Weeds are a common frustration for gardeners. This class addresses basic weed management techniques for the home garden and landscape. (3 or 6 hour class, depending on location)

  • Local CMG Orientation - In addition to the basic classes, CMG volunteers will have a local orientation covering county specific "hows" of volunteer work.

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Continuing Education for CMG Volunteers

A variety of continuing education opportunities are available to CMG volunteers. Actual offerings vary from county to county depending on local CMG program staffing and local resources. Contact the local county office of CSU Extension for county specific details.

A variety of classes are available 24/7 through CMG OnLine. Access is limited to active CMG volunteers. Access is through VMS.

Examples of other CMG Program continuing education opportunities include the following:

  • County and regional CMG subject matter updates presented by specialists, agents, experience CMG volunteers, and green industry workers
  • Monthly or quarterly CMG meetings and tours
  • Continuing education courses, like "clinic training" and "diagnostics training"
  • Re-attend basic training classes
  • Volunteer development training
  • Special classes on various CMG topics like the "writer's workshop"

Examples of other continuing education opportunities supportive to CMG volunteer include:

  • Green industry training (i.e., ProGreen, Turfgrass Conference)
  • Public garden classes
  • Academic classes
  • Garden club speakers
  • Gardening videos
  • Job-related in-service
  • Special research projects
  • Independent study project

Part of the criteria for CMG activity includes twelve hours minimum continuing education per year (after the basic training year). The continuing education requirement serves three purposes. 1) provides the opportunity for continual learning, thus enhancing the volunteer experience, 2) define a minimum participation level within the program, and 3) reduced liability by expecting our volunteer staff to be continually updated on research based information.

  • A minimum of six (of the twelve) hours must be from educational events specifically sponsored by CSU Extension for CMG volunteers. (All 12 hours may be from these events.)
  • Other educational activities may count 1) as it relates to horticulture and the CMG role AND 2) with prior approval of the local agent.

Most local CMG programs also have a monthly or quarterly newsletter and frequent communicate with CMG volunteers by e-mail. CMG volunteers routinely receive new and revised home garden related publications.

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Updated Tuesday, February 23, 2016 by Mary Small